Monday, April 28, 2008

Tired of quarter measures

The CFL bulb has become the new face of environmentalism. Save the world! Screw in a light bulb! Now I'm not saying that you shouldn't replace your light bulbs with CFL's. And it is a good beginning..... if you move on to bigger and more important things.

The problem is that environmentalism these days is sold as 100 Simple things to save the Earth. This marketing method can be productive for those people who need to start with simple things. It's true, all the CFL's do add up - and make a "difference" - but such a tiny difference.

I'm tired of people ignoring the big changes that need to be made, denying the impact of their lives. We DO have to do all the little things. And then, do the BIG things. You can't screw in a few CFL's and expect it to make up the difference for your SUV, your plane trips to Europe, your grocery trips, your kids. You can't expect turning down the thermostat 2 degrees to make up for your laptops, iPods, lattes and bathroom remodels - all those things we currently believe we deserve and cherish.

No, we need to understand that first we need to reduce our impact 5% - and then 50% - and then 90%. It's going to take radical changes. We can't stop with the baby steps designed for first graders.

What kind of radical changes am I talking about?

I'm talking about localizing 80% of our food, and getting down to growing maybe 30% in our backyards.

I'm talking about using 75% less energy. That means yes, CFL's and Energy Star, but also ditching the dryer, superinsulating the house, getting solar hot water heaters and solar ovens. Maybe even getting rid of the refrigerator.

I'm talking about buying much, much less stuff. Not just buying green stuff - but a lot less stuff overall. A pair of shoes a year, a book a month, socks and underwear, maybe a kitchen and garden tool a year. We need to forget entirely about disposables and consumption for vanity sake. We need to despise when people get rid of entire kitchens of perfectly good stuff - so they can feel new again.

I'm talking about revolutionizing transport. Not just a nation of Priuses, but a nation of buses, trains and bikes.

I'm talking about renewing our water supplies. Not a centralized water facility (which uses up to 50% of a city's energy budget), but rainwater catchment on every building, waterless urinals, greywater recycling.

I'm talking about reforesting the country. We don't need to be spending our energy and our time mowing empty lots, highways and front lawns. We need trees to slow down the impact of global warming.

The problem with this is that it puts all the burden on the consumer. All of the above LOOK impossible - if you have to do it on your own. But with support from your city and country, from your friends and neighbors, it becomes bearable, and you can even begin to see the fun and benefits in a whole new lifestyle.

With an army of Master Gardeners educating and supporting amateur gardeners, with free compost and mulch from the city, we can grow our own food in the backyard. What do we get? We get better nutrition, exercise, better taste.

With a comfortable, efficient and reliable public transportation system, we can get where we need to go. What do we get? We get time to read a book on the way to work and less road rage.

With an environmental ethic, it becomes embarrassing to wear new clothes while your neighbors do without. What do we get? A reduction in expenses, the elimination of preoccupation with appearance.

So we really need to be thinking big. If you think small, you get small results. If you think big... you get bigger results. So if you're out there, don't be embarrassed to ask for used goods for your birthday. Don't be embarrassed by your mellow yellow policies at home. Don't be embarrassed if you plan to have no children. Be proud of your bike and your clothesline - and show them off! No one expects you to be a perfect environmentalist. I'm not. We're all in different stages of progress. The important thing is that you think big, and you do something to change every day.


Lewru said...

First off, I think you're right. But I think that radical changes are hard to make for most people for several reasons, chiefly fear and lack of resources. By resources I mean money for one (super-insulation, sun ovens, retro-fitting, etc. cost money) but also psychological resources. People are generally overwhelmed with their own lives. They are hurting or fighting or depressed or struggling to make ends meet or plugging into consumerism to avoid a deep fear or a dull ache or a void. Activists have struggled for years with how to reach the masses, and it usually comes down to local education, since large scale change requires a concentrated, organized, complex, and recursive social convergence of change factors (media, government, entertainment, and local access).
I think we have to address the fear and anxiety in peoples' lives before radical changes can be made. Or we have to be staring down the barrel of a gun (and realize that we are).
I think you're right, but I think there are legit reasons for the complacency. I struggle with knowing how to do both.

HausFrau said...

Unfortunately, global warming wasn't a big enough gun - but I think Peak Oil might be making our decision for us.

Most people are just trying to get along, and I agree most people don't have the knowledge or financial resources to make changes. Sometimes I just want to say, I don't WANT to figure out how to do this entire skill on my own (gardening, solar cooking, composting, retrofitting for energy efficiency, etc.)! Somebody please just show me how! It's hard enough living, let alone trying to learn how to live completely differently.