26 April 2006

Doing What We Can

Edited to make the link here functional

Ianqui drew attention to a wonderful, fierce post at The Oil Drum today,
Discussions about Energy and Our Future
"The political discourse on [rising prices of gasoline in the US] is simply so devoid of fact, and constructive discourse so buried and out of the mainstream, that we felt we needed to raise a voice of reason. Public officials will continue to misinform and obfuscate if we allow it.

The only solution is to educate the public about the most important problem we face as a generation. We, the citizens of the US and the world, must move our attention to this the issue of energy more than any other. We must hold our representative governments accountable for having an open and honest debate on the subject.

Simply put, we must learn more about where our energy comes from."
The rest of the piece makes some sharp points about what we all should know about the price of oil, and the comments are also quite smart.

I've been an avid recycler for years--I recycle even when it's momentously inconvenient to do so, and I do what I can in terms of buying in bulk, shopping at garage sale, frequenting used clothing shops--to try to reduce my impact on the earth. I try to buy local produce, I try to cook in season. That said, I drive to work each day; Politica and I have two cars for our two-driver family; I'm not always as organic a gardener as I'd like to be. We're probably going to pave over the strip of grass (which looks more like a mud rut) on the driveway when the construction is finished. But I try.

If, like me, you think about these contradictions, read that post at the Oil Drum. It'll get you thinking more.

In a hail storm last week, our 1993 Corolla got damaged so badly that the insurance company wants to total it. We're thinking of buying a Prius (although I've read that the electric cars essentially let car companies trade off gas-guzzling big models with the CAFE emissions trades, so even that doesn't seem like a wholly virtuous move).

I'm wondering what you, dear readers, are doing to try to balance the needs of modern, sometimes urban, living with the needs for our earth to be well-tended?


Anonymous said...

Susan, you hit a nerve for me. I drive 25,000 miles a year. Most of the way we try to make up for this kind of horror is through food-related stuff. We compost every kitchen scrap in sight. We have a community-supported agriculture share in the summer, so we can support a local business, an organic business, and food that doesn't require gallons of gasoline to ship across the country. We don't use chemical fertilizer or buy plants at places like Home Depot that don't grow them locally. It never seems to balance out all the gas I put in my Mazda, or the hideous amount of oil we burn all winter. It's a constant struggle that feels very "ugly American" to me.

Anonymous said...

We think about this a lot. We do live within walking distance of the town, but the grocery store is a bit too far and we both often drive to work because of crazy after-school schedules for the kids.

Just the other day, we started looking at houses on the train line which we think we can now afford. That might enable us to get rid of a car.

We are not so good at recycling. We do our best, but the recycling system here is so complex, they make it really, really difficult. A different thing every trash pick up and colored glass (all those beer bottles ;) ) must be driven somewhere else. Sigh.

susan said...

And your comment hits a nerve for me, marisa, since composting is something I so want to do, and have done quite successfully for years at a time, and then sometimes stops for years at a time (it's like my paper journaling habits, come to think of it). I like to think of myself as a composting organic gardening type, but sometimes that just doesn't hold up. I hope we'll find a way to position a compost bin once the builders are all done.

At the same time, I don't want to angst myself into inaction about all this! Every little bit helps, right?

Anonymous said...

I was wanting a prius or hybrid too, until I read that article yesterday that said the lifetime energy use of a hybrid car was more than a Chevy Tahoe. Now I think it might be smarter just to buy a small car, like a honda, that gets good mileage. As for what we do now--I try to buy local produce. We recycle (of course!). I don't drive very much, and don't use the AC in the car. We don't even have AC at home, and because of the climate where we liv we don't need to use much for heat either. WE're adding solar panels when we do our remodel. But that's all. I'm sure we could do a lot more.

Anonymous said...

Honestly? I do what I can: compost, recycle, combine my errands, buy at farmers' market, non-fossil-fuel heating, yada yada yada. But I'm not doing anything that makes me feel miserable, or like an environmental martyr. Truth is, most of what needs to be done to make change has to happen at the societal level. I can pat myself on the back for making responsible choices when I do and rationalize it when I don't, but a lot of people can't afford to make the choices I make one way or the other. And I really hesitate to force those choices on anybody else, even people who can afford it. I mean, I don't even make Mr. Blue do some of this stuff. If he can't be bothered to compost his apple cores, I'm not going to nag him about it. And yeah, it makes me squirm when he turns down the thermostat on the air conditioner, but you know what? When the world really runs out of energy, he'll have to learn to put up with high temperatures. Until then, why make him miserable? No one is going to give us an award for voluntarily giving up our standard of living before it's necessary. And ultimately, the world is going to hell in a handbasket no matter what my little family does, and I don't see that making my partner resentful is gonna help at all.

Anonymous said...

good question. I think we all DO make a difference, if we do what we can. We all got here by making our individual energy decisions....

I think the suggestion of buying a good car that gets good mileage is a sound one ; we looked at hybrids (Honda is more affordable) and they are out of our price range.

I tried bike and scooter riding for awhile and ended up in the hospital and rehabbing for 2 years a crushed knee and broken tibia. I wear my efforts on my leg every day!!! But while I was doing it, I felt great. What can I do now? Leave home earlier, walk to the bus stop. Good for my exercise, good for the planet. Will I? Maybe.

I live close to work, always have. That's a big one. I put about 10k on the car each year. I recycle (Laura, put pressure on the local utility to make recycling easier!), shop local, buy at farmers markets, don't use pesticides, herbasides.

Thanks for inquiring...we're all going to have to do a lot more of this as the gas prices rise.

Anonymous said...

Susan, the link in the post is broken.

We own two cars, but it's actually more energy-kind for us to do so -- if we only had one, we'd get rid of the small fuel-efficient sedan (a 10 year old Escort) and have to use the minivan even when it was just one of us. I metro to work, so we're rarely using both cars at once.

Living in a townhouse is very energy-efficient -- since we share walls on either side with neighbors, we don't lose any heat through them.

susan said...

Thanks, Elizabeth, for the note on the link. I fixed it.

Care of the earth is a total free rider problem: what any of us does makes hardly any difference in the big picture.

I have been pleased at the movement in my city to put more farmer's markets in more neighborhoods, so the market attracts a wide range of folks from the neighborhood (while the Saturday morning, not so conveniently but more beautifully located one seems to have more of a yuppie audience, of which I am often a part).

We're currently mulling over the hybrid vs. small car debate. Well, we'd buy a small hybrid in any event. But is it better to spend thousands more on a hybrid that demands more energy to produce, or to spend less on a car that gets 10 mpg less? Politica leans towards the small car, I lead more towards the hybrid.

Anonymous said...

Hail storm? My mother told me about one near her last week that sounded horrendous and awful. I mean, hail sucks, but I don't think about it as truly destructive. I hope you do get something you like.

Anonymous said...

We live in an urban centre, in a geothermally heated home, and own no cars - although we are a member of the local Co-operative Auto Network, which rocks the free world. Also, we recycle relatively religiously, use mainly cloth diapers (disposables at night, because of all the bloomin' laundry. Our laundry room is in the alley). We buy used, or try to buy things from environmentally conscious companies.

HOWEVER: I don't buy organic all the time, I don't eat in season enough, and I do buy produce that comes from California. Also, I'm guessing we overuse water. We've got a low-flow toilet, but I'm a bath lover and we do about a zillion dishes a day. (Rough estimate). Since we don't have double sinks, or any space for a basin in our postage stamp kitchen, the water goes on for rinsing.

I totally agree with Phantom: part of our eco-friendly ways have to do with privilege and circumstance, and it would not be possible for many, many people.

Susan: in our Co-op Auto Net, there's a Prius, and it is our favorite car. We get the car maybe twice a month (more around the holidays), for visiting grandparents or other far flung journeys. One of the great benefits of doing this Auto Network thing is that we get to test drive a bunch of different cars. The big surprise? We both disliked the Mini Cooper. It wasn't great on mileage, the shocks were horrible, and the design seemed to maximize for aesthetic while ignoring the driving part.

Anonymous said...

Something to think about when buying a hybrid: They ARE more efficient if at least 80% of your driving is stop-and-go city driving. And with gas prices rising and the tax break, you'll make up the price difference in just a few years.

However, if highway driving makes up a significant portion of your driving time, then you should go with a small regular car. On the highway, a hybrid uses a gasoline engine and the electric part of it is just wasted.

Anonymous said...

We love love love our Prius. It's fabulous for city driving, it gets great mileage, and it's a comfortable, well-designed, and fun car to drive. And as people with asthma living in an area with so-so air quality, we care a lot about reducing emissions.

(I Metro to work and walk a lot on the weekends, but it's great to have the Prius when I need it. It's DH's car and he uses it more.)

Anonymous said...

I moved from a place where there was a real effort to make recycling easy, and where it was possible to buy good organic products, to the city where recycling was also easy, and I could walk or take public transportation and shop at the Greenmarket. Where I live now, however, none of these things are true. No public transportation, not possible to walk where you need to go, everything is really spread out, recycling is a pain in the butt, few good shopping options. So it has become harder to be responsible about these things than it used to be.

I drive a small car already, and I try to drive no more than I have to. I try to buy organic when I can, and I try to recycle, although I am not nearly as consistent about it as I used to be. I have some bad habits, too--my guilty pleasure is, I guess, long hot showers. Very long. I hate to think how wasteful that is...sigh.

I want to believe that every little bit helps. But we really need some systematic changes in the way we organize our lives, and I don't think we ready to make them.

Anonymous said...

The usual: compact flourescents. Programmable thermostat. Conservation. Recycling. I want to get back into vermicomposting, and sign up for organic grocery deliveries. The "low hanging fruit," in other words.

I plan to stop driving to work when the local rapid transit system is running. We have two very energy efficient cars (not hybrids, but we couldn't afford them at the time--we'll look at them seriously, though, when my current car needs to be replaced in another four years or so).

Mostly, I try not to buy wasteful crap that I really don't need. It's the buying that's killing us. If we didn't buy so much useless stuff--stuff that needs to be manufactured (which pollutes) and then shipped (which creates smog etc.) and then sold (in stores that waste a lot of energy) and then when it breaks it goes to a landfill, not to mention the resources used to make them and all of the human/social justice considerations--I think that's where our biggest impact can be made. Not buying stupid crap.

Which is hard.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't remember the name of the book I was thinking of last week, but I found it -- it's The Consumers Guide to Effective Environmental Choices.