Let me admit right up front: My day-job is working for a non-profit environmental group. And yes, this is my second stint with a bunch of treehuggers (albeit a different bunch than last time). There are certain advantages to working progressive non-profit. Though salary isn’t one of them.
You get to smile in your shorts, sandals, and t-shirt as you walk by all the people forced to wear business dress on days when it’s 80+degF at 8am and it’s only going to get hotter.
You can get up and leave your office for two hours in the middle of the day and everyone will assume you’re “at a meeting.” (Though there are a couple of people at my office who abuse the hell out of this.)
At most non-profits they recognize that they pay shit so you get more time off than most places (sadly, my current employer isn’t one of those which is probably why I won’t stay more than 5 years).
Theoretically, as long as the place where you work hasn’t turned into a scam – so…the March of Dimes was all about collecting money to find either a cure or a vaccine for polio which it helped do and then promptly turned around and found another cause, in this case the exceedingly generic “…to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality”, with which to justify its continued existence thereby becoming the first non-profit to fulfill the life cycle constantly quoted to me by my friend Jim (“Most non-profits start out as a cause, become a movement, and then eventually turn into a scam.”) – you’re actually getting to do some good when you go to work and, perhaps, learn about something that interests you.
These days I spend a lot of my work time forwarding e-mails from our supporters to our policy people. The quality, tone, and demand of most of them is the same: connect your stated mission to why you’re asking me to do something about global warming.
And with all this talk about carbon footprints and reducing C02 emissions, and why the hell Al Gore won both an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize for what was essentially a glorified Powerpoint® presentation, I’ve been thinking about how to make less of a negative impact on the planet with my daily life.
Though I live in what is probably one of the top 6 most public transportation friendly cities in the country (New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia being the other five), I can’t quite bring myself to follow Jim’s example and go all pedal power for my commute. For one thing, I hate the cold; for another, well, let’s just say that the neighborhood between me and work is not exactly friendly.
So, I own a three year-old car that has less than 4,000 miles on it, a fact that routinely astonishes the boys at the dealership when I take it in to be serviced, and when I go to work or I want to go out for dinner yes, I hop on the subway to go across town instead of driving.
It helps, too, that I’m a windows-open kind of person. As I write this it’s probably 80 degrees and about 70% humidity (if not more), which is pretty typical for a DC summer. Yet, all told last year I think we used the big air conditioner on the first floor of our house so few times that you wouldn’t even have to use a second hand to count the number.
Oh, and did I mention we have the ultimate in zoned cooling in our house? Yes, window air conditioning units. While they may not be as environmentally friendly as newer, whole house units, some part of me is convinced that I’m doing less damage cooling just the space that needs to be cooled (melted hard drives not so conducive to productivity) than cooling my whole, unoccupied house while I’m at work.
Let’s talk about energy efficiency for a minute. One of the major things proposed by Al Gore’s new We Can Solve It group is choosing energy efficient appliances. OK…I’m cool with that, but what do I do with my perfectly good, older, non-energy efficient appliances? Since there is no “away” when you throw something away (more on this later in the week), what kind of impact am I having by discarding perfectly good appliances in favor of ones that will use less energy? Both my brain and my gut tell me a negative one.
Then there’s the great light bulb debate. Sure, compact florescent bulbs use less energy than regular incandescent light bulbs but they require more energy to manufacture and they contain mercury which toxic beyond belief. In fact, the Department of Public Works in DC recommends that you save them up in a separate container for disposal and take them to the bi-annual hazardous waste disposal days. Plus, the damn things can’t be used in any closed light fixture.
Am I supposed to go out and buy all new light fixtures (consuming more resources in a situation where it isn’t absolutely vital to do so because my existing fixtures work just fine) to accommodate these new bulbs? That sounds like a really bad idea to me.
What about the food question? You can’t stop eating. You can eat with less of an impact though. Trying to be a locavore is fine, well, and good, particularly if you live in a place that hasn’t been targeted by the CDC as producing salmonella laden produce, but ponder this for a minute: unless you live in Africa, Central America, or Hawaii if you really want to be a committed locavore you have to give up coffee. Yes, that’s right, out the window goes your morning jolt, your cup of joe, your blessed caffeine fix. And don’t look at tea either as most of that comes from Asia so that’s out too.
So while I’m perfectly happy to eat mostly vegetarian by reduce my animal-protein consumption, and to buy humanely raised animal-protein when I do eat it, I’m not giving up bread (live pretty much anywhere on the coasts? to be a true locavore you’re giving up bread too ’cause wheat grows in that big, currently flooded middle section of the country), or tea, or coffee.
Recycling has gotten to be such a big issue at my house that we now have two recycle bins out in the alley. I find it mildly ironic that our trash cans are still 2/3 again as big as our recycle bins but I digress. Yes, we still get the daily newspaper, which we’re thinking about giving up since we can get comics online in a very eco-friendly manner, but we’ve started recycling a lot more white paper and reducing the number of magazines we get that we just never get time to read. Steel cans, long the bane of the home recycler’s existence (what do you mean I need to wash it out before I put it in the recycle bin?) are now rinsed with a minimum of water and sent out to the blue Herbie Jr.
I’ve been carrying cloth bags to the grocery store for close to five years so those ubiquitous plastic bags have (mostly) been banished by now. We’ve reduced the amount of plastic we recycle by cutting out soda, a good move for both the Earth and the body, and we’re even thinking about composting to cut our waste stream further (after all, tomatoes you grow in your own yard are less likely to be tainted with salmonella producing shit than ones that have been trucked in from some place else).
And finally comes the least logical and most sour part of my calculations when it comes to greening my own life: I know that as a single individual I can not make one fucking iota of difference in stopping climate change or reducing the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (or watch on YouTube or on VBS.TV which is much more interesting) when all of those other motherfuckers out there are still driving around in their Ford Expeditions (14 mpg combined for the 2006 model), running their air conditioners down to 60degF, buying tons of plastic crap like there’s no tomorrow, and, lest I forget the most environmentally unfriendly thing you can possibly do, breeding like fucking rabbits.
Why should I do more than I already am – reducing my waste stream, driving less, eating more environmentally friendly – why should I make myself completely miserable (yes, I like the occasional cup of coffee) or make choices that make little economic or environmental sense (no, I’m not replacing my refrigerator until it dies; then I’ll by an Energy Star rated model) so that the bulk of my fellow citizens can keep their blinders on and live life as if what they do has no effect no only on their fellow humans but on the other hapless inhabitants of the Earth?
Because I work with a bunch of tree huggers there is a lot of pressure to be greener than I am. Could I do more? Sure. As much as I love a gadget I’m thinking about skipping the consumption piece of doing my electricity assessment and just getting some more power strips to turn off the things I don’t really need when I’m not using them. I’m already unplugging my cell phone charger and the iPod dock so why does the stereo need to be drawing power when it’s not on?
So, right now I’m going to stay light-green making my incremental but not drastic changes in the hopes of making a difference, or at least not more damage than I absolutely have to. It’s the only thing that makes sense on balance.
* With apologies to Kermit The Frog