Triumph of the Weeds

Long Time, No Post
January 4, 2009, 4:40 pm
Filed under: energy, general

Long time, no post. That’s mostly because of real life busy-ness; since the last time I’ve posted, I’ve moved out of my apartment and into a townhouse with 2 other girls. The price (less than half of what I was paying previously) makes the move totally worth it, though on the minus side, my roommates are not nearly as eco-conscious as I am.

If it were up to me, I would turn the heat way down to 55 (part of the rental agreement involves not turning it off entirely), while my roommates had it set to 72. I was sneaky though, and before they came back after going away for Christmas and New Year’s I turned it down to 65. Hopefully, they won’t notice and we can can save some energy and some money.

Since I share a bathroom with one roommate, I’m not able to conserve water by not flushing if it’s “mellow.” My roommates also have to habit of leaving fans and lights on after they are done using them. I’ve walked downstairs in the morning quite a few times to find all the lights on; I think I finally understand what my father must have felt all those times he scolded me for wasting energy when I was little. I’ve also tried to keep track of my utility use, but that is difficult because I can only average the usage rates and it’s difficult to tease apart who’s using how much. On the first electricity bill, the average kwhr usage was higher than the amount I used before I started paying so much attention to my energy usage. Of course I shouldn’t make too many comparisons, because so many factors are different. Here’s to hoping that I’ll have a positive influence and our utility usages will drop eventually.

Many more posts to come soon, I hope, including posts about food, Christmas, and gardening.


Starting Out
October 5, 2008, 10:52 pm
Filed under: general

Having decided to take action, I next had to decide what actions to take. Since I’m currently a student and so a) have little money, and b) live a semi-nomadic lifestyle, renting apartments and moving every couple of years, what ever changes I made, at least to begin with, had to be economical ones that didn’t increase the amount of possessions I would have to take with me when I moved. Also, I soon realized how quickly one could become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information, some of it conflicting, available about sustainable living. Becoming overwhelmed was not what I had in mind when I started this endeavor. So I started small and started slow.

Here are some general guidelines that I’ve developed for myself. I believe they will be helpful for anyone who is trying to “go green:”

*Start small and start slow. Focus on one aspect of your life at a time, with small changes that can have a large impact. For instance, first make changes to your eating habits cleaning and your use of electricity; worry about things like sustainable vacations only after you’ve made changes to your everyday life. Also, look for changes you can make without having to buy anything or require a small initial investment that will save you a great deal of money in the long run; you’re likely to find that these changes are the easiest to implement.

*Look for changes you can make that are beneficial in more than one way. For instance, make choices that not only have an environmental benefit, but an economic one and/or a medical one as well. Since I hate shopping, I look for choices that also reduce the number of items on my shopping list. I also prefer to spend as little time cleaning as possible, so one of my priorities has been to replace disposable items, such as kleenex, napkins, q-tips, acne pads, and feminine hygiene products, with reusable ones. This reduces the waste I produce (environmental benefit), the amount of money spent on household items (economic benefit), the number of products I routinely need to buy (less shopping), and the number of times I need to empty my trash (less cleaning).

*Do what’s best for you in your circumstances, and be sure to take other people’s suggestions (including mine) in context. As a single, young woman living in an apartment, for instance, my priorities and the changes I can feasibly make are different than a family living in their own home. Everyone happens to have certain items “just lying around the house,” but they may be different from household to household. Finally, everyone values certain aspects of their lives differently, so making a certain change for one person may be no big deal, while for another it may represent a considerable sacrifice. Extract what advice you can use and don’t be affronted if advice given is inapplicable to you.

*Think critically about what you read. In particular, pay attention to the source of the information. It’s good advice in any situation, but there is a huge amount of information out there about environmental issues and sustainability and some of it conflicts. Also, the green movement touches on many political issues, and politics can obscure objectivity. Finally, the green movement has now attracted the attention of the major corporations, so there is an ever growing number of products on sale that are marketed towards environmentally minded people. Some of these products are indeed very useful. The utility of others, like this soy couch from Crate and Barrel, are dubious at best.

Above all, “going green” means gaining an awareness of yourself and society that is greater than you may be used to. It means thinking very carefully about why you do what you do and what is really important to you. In a way, it’s much like finally waking up after sleepwalking all your life. In the end, I believe that people make the best decisions they can, based on their options and their knowledge about those options. Seek to expand your options and learn what you can and the rest will follow.

What Changed
October 5, 2008, 10:29 pm
Filed under: general | Tags:

As I said in my last post, despite a strong sense of frugality that my parents instilled in me and the few a “green” practices that they taught me, I had little inclination or skills to really change my middle class American lifestyle. Nevertheless, my discontentment with the negative consequences this lifestyle on the world around me.

This past winter I finally reached the tipping point. I had broken my arm in the fall and it took about 3 months for it to heal. Several weeks, more or less, I spent housebound not doing anything of importance and several more weeks I spent awkwardly trying to go about my daily business with only one functioning arm. I think it’s all that extra time I had to think and the frustration and sense of uselessness I was feeling more than anything that made me receptive to the spirit of the burgeoning green movement. While dealing with my broken arm, life seemed to me very overwhelming, on a personal level as well as a general one. In times of stress, one of the most effective coping mechanisms is to take action; even if said action has no effect on curbing the stressors, being proactive gives an individual a sense of control over his or her circumstances. I decided that if I could do nothing else, either about my injury or the problems of the world at large, I could exert some positive control over the lifestyle choices I made. If nothing else, at least it would make me feel better.

In addition, I came to realize, as Michael Pollan explains in his essay Why Bother, that my actions resonated with everyone that I interacted with. Many of the habits that I am now trying to change I had adopted because they were the habits of my parents and/or the people around me. It should follow that my new habits should influence others to consider changing their own for the better. As the old saying goes, “if you’re not part of the solution; you’re part of the problem,” or as they say in Red Mars (paraphrasing) some one has to start living this new life in order for it to come into being. It feels good to be on the right path.

In The Beginning
September 19, 2008, 8:40 pm
Filed under: general | Tags:

My parents are Baby Boomers, but, as far as I know, they were never “granola crunchy hippie” types. They did, however, incorporate several practices into their lifestyle that are today seen as “green.” My parents always emphasized frugality and living below one’s means. Part of that frugality manifested as energy consciousness; when I was little, I remember the constant scolding whenever I left a room with the lights on, left the door to the house open when the heat or AC was on, left the water running when I wasn’t using it, or wanted the heat turned up in the winter (my parents kept the house at 55 on winter nights). We always bought the cars with the best mileage possible and, when I learned to drive, my parents taught me what are known today as hypermiling techniques. We shopped at thrift stores and garage sales, particularly when I was very little. We always reused and re-purposed (and recycled, when that came in vogue) old possessions, and then tried to donate them if we couldn’t. My mom shopped at farm stands and bought fresh off the boat seafood when ever she could; she avoided highly processed foods and used herbs and sometimes vegetables from her kitchen garden. For the most part, however, we had the same habits, shopped in the same stores, used the same products, and made the same choices as the majority of other middle class families in America. We never questioned these choices which were rarely based on environmental values; even our emphasis on frugality was more about saving money than conserving resources.

Striking out on my own, I, by and large, adopted that same lifestyle. I was actually a bit worse, because I rejected several of the green practices that my parents did teach me. I hate cooking and shopping so I opted for packaged meals rather making my own and I spent as little time as I could thinking about the items that I bought. I left the lights on and the water running occasionally for convenience and kept the heat at a more hospitable temperature in the winter. Of course, I was concerned about the laundry list of problems I had learned about in school like global warming, overpopulation, resource depletion, waste accumulation, extinctions and habitat degradation, and poverty and hunger in the Third World. But, as I said above, I hate cooking and shopping. I had little interest in gardening. My grandmother taught me to knit, but I resisted learning too much about handicrafts, seeing them as an attempt to pigeon hole me in the traditionally girlly domestic sphere. I never learned much about building things or other traditionally masculine crafts either. All in all, I was so involved in my studies, work, and various hobbies to have much time for anything else. While I was concerned about the environmental crisis that the world faces and felt an underlying discontentment with the live I was living, I had no inclination, nor the knowledge or skills to do anything about it.

Who Is Terraphany?
September 19, 2008, 8:35 pm
Filed under: general

My handle was inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars Trilogy. The trilogy depicts in depth the fictitious future colonization and terraforming of Mars. In the novels, the characters often evoke the concept of aerophany, the appearance or manifestation of Mars, a Mars that they create. All the mistakes made throughout the entire human existence on Earth serves as lessons that will help create a new enlightened society, whose people are in tune with their environment and each other. Of course, the reality turns out not to be so simple and the colonists prove not to be as enlightened as they’d like to be. Nevertheless, they still struggle to realize their vision of what Mars can be.

Similarly, terraphany is the appearance or manifestation of Earth, an Earth that can be, if we humans learn the lessons from our mistakes, that have resulted in the Earth today teetering on the brink of uninhabitability, and face the reality of the Earth as it is today. The problems facing humanity seem insurmountable, and it is tempting to spend all our time talking and fretting about what them. Recently, I’ve come to realize instead of just fretting, I must also act, to change the way I live my life as best I can, adopting a more sustainable lifestyle that recognizes that as a human being I am constrained by the environment in which I live. ┬áMaybe, if I make that commitment, I can inspire others to do the same, and with that commitment, we can bring forth terraphany, the manifestation of the Earth as it can be. In the end, it’s all we can do.

September 17, 2008, 8:08 pm
Filed under: general

I’ve recently started working towards creating a more sustainable lifestyle. The purpose of this blog is to talk about the changes I’ve made, from eating habits, to consumer products, to energy conservation, and so forth. I’ll also discuss “green” issues of interest to me, future changes I’m planning on making, and resources that I’ve found that have been very helpful to me. I’ll also try to give some tips for people who are thinking of making similar changes to their own lives.