Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day 2008

A professor of environmental economics once told us that every time we enter the marketplace, we're admitting a failure - that something had failed to satisfy a need.

How often do we Americans shop for something we actually need? How often is shopping merely an act of entertaining ourselves, of volunteering ourselves to the lure of the marketplace?

Over the past few days, I've reflected on some personal efforts in recent years, some with origins in my late 60s-early 70s "Ecology Now!" days, some inspired by traveling light on a motorcycle, some inspired by the exposure to other cultures where a little must be stretched a long way.

Thirty-eight years ago, when President Nixon established "Earth Day", it was a daunting challenge for the nation to consider the "ecology" for more than one day a year. It is encouraging to see momentum building, and the once-fringe topics of ecology, global warming, conservation and moderation becoming increasingly mainstream.

We can learn. Behaviors can change.

(Most of these "tips" I follow. Some, due to present circumstances, I can only aspire to. Please excuse my judgmental tone that often slips through. I do consider this stuff important.)

  • Motorcycle only (and I try to remember that how I ride affects the longevity of the vehicle.)
  • Try to make no more than a single circuit or "run" each day, combining all errands and tasks into one path. (Plan my travel before I leave - visualize the circuit.)
  • Avoid single-purpose trips
  • Use less than 1/2 gallon of gas per day (This is about 15-20% of my average consumption level over past 40 years!)
  • To save fuel, keep tire pressure adjusted to the proper level
  • Assure proper fitting gas cap - reduces evaporation
  • If possible use public transportation
  • If possible, walk
  • If possible, ride a bike in place of driving a car or motor vehicle
  • "Keep it simple"
  • Live small. (How much house do I really need? How much "stuff" do I need? Presently, for me, 300 square feet is almost enough.)
  • Set the thermostat at 55-58 degrees (layer up clothing as needed)
  • Turn off the furnace pilot from March through November (not a problem in California)
  • Set refrigerator low (1 of 10 in winter, 3 of 10 in warmer season)
  • Avoid perishable foods that require extreme refrigeration or freezing
  • Buy fresh foods more often. If I could, I would have a refrigerator without a freezer - or with a freezer that is independently controlled and could be turned off when not needed. (Which, for me is all the time.)
  • Light only the room I am using (rather easy since I essentially inhabit one room.)
  • Conserve water. Hand wash dishes in a dish pan. Air or towel dry.
  • Minimize electrical appliance use (except my air popper, computer and radio, that is)
  • Make maximum use of daylight versus artificial light, fresh air versus air-conditioned or fan-forced air (Actually, I can't recall ever living in a house with AC!)
  • Lower the thermostat on the water heater
  • Wear clothes longer between washings (everything that touches my body doesn't immediately need washing)
  • Hand wash, air dry laundry (December - February, machine dry)(again, not a problem in California)
  • Save ironing of clothes for "special occasions"
  • Wear things out, then repair them rather than discard them
  • Purchase no paper towels, plastic wraps, foils, plastic bags, etc. (use cloth towels, re-use produce bags for wrapping leftovers)
  • Buy powdered detergents in chipboard box (no plastic containers - liquid form has higher carbon footprint - higher transport cost, essentially transporting water)
  • Avoid individual serving containers - the most inefficient of packaging
  • NO bottled water. Use city water - don't let municipal water utilities off the hook for supplying fresh, clean water to all
  • Xeriscape - no lawns, no landscaping that requires gas-consuming equipment for its maintenance. Landscape consistent with native, naturally-adapted species
  • No newspapers (read them at community sources - if taken from a news box, return it after reading)
  • Buy natural products
  • Avoid heavily processed foods (packaging and processing are the main value-added features that inflate prices)
  • Avoid heavily-marketed products. If it's advertised, you probably don't need it (and will likely pay too much.)
  • Consume less meat (I eat meat, chicken primarily, about once a week, beef, at most once a month)
  • Try to use less of everything than I think I need
  • Grow your own food (can't do this right now, since I have no yard!)
  • Lower the thermostat on the water heater temperature (use solar heating if possible)
  • Limit showers to 5 minutes or less
  • Take cooler showers
  • Don't shave, brush teeth, lather up etc. while the water is running
  • Toilets don't need flushing after every use (maybe after every #2)
  • Bar soap only
  • No plastic or metal containers of shampoo, conditioner, shave cream, antiperspirant, air fresheners, etc.
  • NO aerosol cans (ridiculously wasteful)
  • Use up products completely - no waste
  • Razor blades can last for months - discard when they no longer work
  • Buy products/cleaners that are multi-purpose (AVOID specialty products)
  • Carry cloth grocery bags
  • Re-use plastic and paper bags and other containers
  • Take my own containers to refill (where allowed)
  • Buy fresh!
  • Buy local produce, support local farms
  • Buy seasonal local produce (Learn what is seasonal in my area! Avoid apples and oranges in Spring and Summer; avoid strawberries, grapes, melons and tomatoes in winter)
  • Buy bulk
  • No frozen foods. Minimize use of foods that require refrigeration (shop regularly to assure freshness rather than rely on refrigeration/freezing)(I now shop one day a week.)
  • Try to avoid purchasing items that require packaging
  • Avoid any item with EXCESSIVE packaging. If I can't avoid it, write the producers to complain.
  • In deciding what to buy, prioritize items: buy reusable containers first, disposable containers last
  • Buy things that can serve multiple purposes, avoid specialized tools, implements, containers and products, if possible
  • Frequent community spaces - share utilities
  • Use the public library (and donate those books gathering dust on your shelves)
  • If possible, borrow rather than buy
  • Redistribute possessions that are no longer used, and merely being stored - help avoid others' unnecessary consumption (http://www.freecyle.com)
  • For exercise, walk
  • For exercise, help a neighbor
  • Avoid exercise facilities that require heating and air-conditioning, artificial lighting, elaborate equipment (and excess quantities of cologne.)
  • Adjust the attitude: find pleasure and exercise in physical labor (exercise doesn't have to look like what is marketed to Americans)
  • Force stores to take responsibility for the products they sell - especially if excess packaging is involved
  • Avoid restaurants that serve too much food - those that typically oversize portions resulting in excessive use of take-out containers
  • Avoid the businesses with a "frontier chuck wagon mentality" (Costco, Sam's Club, etc.) For most Americans, it is not necessary to "warehouse" six months' supply of paper towels, bath tissue, cleansers, a side of beef, etc. We are just a short distance from the nearest store, not a day's ride from the nearest settlement. By creating bulk packaging, retailers encourage excess consumption and waste through a perception of abundance. They turn our homes into supplies warehouses. This binds our hard-earned dollars in inventory carrying costs, and that "inventory" is prone to careless use, waste and spoilage.
Workplace (Not applicable at the moment, since I don't work!)
  • Cut the commute. Telecommute as much as possible. Better yet, work close to home.
  • If your workplace requires air-conditioning, find another job
  • If your workplace doesn't utilize natural lighting, natural flow of fresh air, find another job
  • If your workplace seals you off from the natural world, find another job
  • If your workplace does not actively promote a concern for the planet, find another job

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