50 Ways to Help

50Ways Excellent summary of (mostly) easy things you can do to reduce your footprint – carbon and otherwise: 50 Ways to Help the Planet. A quick read. Focus is on individual action, and doesn’t ask the impossible. I thought the call to use clotheslines was especially interesting — in the U.S., we obsess about how energy-efficient our dryers are. But when I lived in Australia in 1983, nobody had a dryer – to own one would have appeared wasteful and indulgent. Recently talked with friends just returned from living in Australia, who confirmed that dryers are still uncommon. And talking with others a couple of nights ago, confirmed that this is still the case in many (most?) countries. Dryers v. clotheslines are a great example of the degree to which a culture is willing to be inconvenienced to avoid waste. The U.S. is extremely adverse to inconvenience, and cultural norms are extremely difficult to change (n.b.: We own and use a dryer too).

The counter-argument to this kind of list is that it ignores the big picture (big oil, big industry). But change has to happen at all levels (“Think globally, act locally.”) Every action you take, every decision you make, is a vote for how you want things to be (the Categorical Imperative). If you want a habitable planet, you must act towards it. If you want a habitable planet for your children, you must at least try to set an example, show them that not every action need be wasteful.

Lately I’ve been more wrapped up than I probably should be, obsessing about the fact that – by this point in time – we need to be beyond the point of asking whether we need to be taking drastic steps to stabilize the environment before it’s too late, but how. I’m bothered by two groups: On one hand the apathetic – people who hear all the science going down, but do not act to change their lifestyles. On the other we have the actively oppositional – people who continue to dispute that the mountains of evidence that we are facing dire consequences for our neglect is real, or that all this talk about consequences is just a money-making scheme for Al Gore. Yes, people with this view are real, numerous, and influential. And I personally think they’re dangerous.

I recently confessed to friends how chewed up I was feeling about all of this, and one said something to the effect of “But this is all just your opinion, and you want to force your opinion on others.” Well, I do believe that humans don’t want to be inconvenienced, and that we’re not going to get to where we need to be without lots of enforcement. If we allow the apathetics and the conspiracy nuts who either ignore or deny the critical state we’re in, we have no reason to hope that we can save the human race from what is now pretty much certain destruction at our own hand. So, yes, I do feel like we need to “force” environmental care on everyone. If we don’t, we’re doomed. But … what exactly is an opinion? How overwhelming does the evidence have to be before something crosses over from opinion to actionable fact? Is this really just the “opinion” of the vast majority of scientists?

The world runs on bread, and financial incentives help. When it’s financially beneficial to go green, people and corporations do. The question for me is, how can we get to a point where our motivations are more than just financial? For example, that we agree to reduce the speed limit not because it will save us money, but because it reduces carbon emissions, i.e. because it’s the right thing to do, i.e. because it satisfies the Categorical Imperative? I see people on Twitter talking about the move to reduce the national speed limit as an example of a “nanny state.” Well… if people were motivated by their sense of responsibility to the planet that gives them life rather than just to their wallets, we wouldn’t need a nanny state, would we? But that’s never going to happen.

What’s missing? How can we get everyone on board?

Music: Paul Bley :: Nothing Ever Was, Anyway

10 Replies to “50 Ways to Help”

  1. Educate and legislate. Especially legislate. Really legislate.

    Humans are herd animals but there are always a bunch of sheep who want to nibble that tempting grass outside the farmer’s field, even if nibbling that grass will lead to bad relations with the neighboring farmer or cause environmental damage. That’s why you need a border collie to nip their asses back in line.

    BTW, I’m not saying I’m a big supporter of legislating all sorts of behavior, but sometimes it’s the only way to change our behavior.

  2. Government is rarely the answer. It’s just a way to feel like you’re doing something without really doing anything.

    Turning the environment into the DMV doesn’t really seem to be helpful.

  3. mnep: The free market got us into this mess. As long as profit spills over to greed, and I don’t think that aspect of humanity is going to change anytime soon, enviro problems will continue to spiral. What’s a workable alternative to legislation?

  4. I’d argue that having the EPA and DOE and other alphabet soup agencies mitigating our personal responsibility is what got us into this mess.

    Why should I worry about this stuff? That’s why I pay taxes, right? RIGHT?

  5. What’s a workable alternative to legislation?

    Fear and guilt, along with limited or targeted legislation?

    I don’t think things will change without any legislation. It doesn’t have to be all-encompassing or prohibitive. It just needs to provide an encouraging nudge.

    For instance, attempts to get Americans to wear seatbelts failed until the government introduced the child seatbelt law and safety organizations brought up the specter of crippled and dead children due to parental neglect (i.e., not buckling up their children).

    So parents started to protect their children with seatbelts and child-seats, but still declined to wear seatbelts themselves. That is until their children started asking them why they weren’t wearing seatbelts themselves. Soon there was a steady increase in seatbelt wearing by adults.

    Indoctrinate and terrify the children and have them guilt their parents into changing their behavior. Add some legislation to give them an exta boot in the ass.

  6. But what about all the legislation that doesn’t get passed because it doesn’t benefit corporate America? We need to get them out of the pockets of our politicians.

  7. We used a clothesline when we lived in Southwestern Colorado. The air was dry, and it was sunny most of the time. So 7-8 mo. out of the year or so, it was practical. I imagine that you could get even more acceptable months out of the year in Australia (fewer cold months).

    But not all climates lend themselves to this. So. Calif. ? Sure. Seattle ? Maybe not so much ;) And it’s a real pain when you frantically try to bring the wash in when a sudden rainstorm looms (dropping stuff, wrinkling it – and so back in for a second wash :)

    So yeah, the more ideas the merrier. But practical ones in the appropriate circumstances, please.

  8. I so look forward to the warm weather when I can hang clothes on the line. The biggest benefit (besides saving energy) is not having to iron my clothes (which also saves energy!).

    I heard that throwing a dry towel in the dryer with your wet clothes helps to reduce the amount of drying time.

  9. @David: Yep, that’s true of all of these solutions – they won’t work for everyone or in all circumstances. The key is to do what you can, reasonably, and to be mindful enough that you can apply what you can when you can.

    @gattaca: Very true about dry towels – we use that technique when we’re in a hurry. Also, the LG washer we switched to a year ago spins so much water out of the clothes that much shorter drying cycles are needed to begin with. You’re right about politicians in pockets too.

  10. We upgraded to a front-loading Kenmore washer & dryer last Summer and what Scot said about his LG is true for us, too. The front-loaders also use much less water per wash than the old top-load models, too. It’s a win all around :)

    Had to replace our A/C units last May as well. And while I wasn’t crazy about the expense, it had to be done. It’s amazing how much more efficient modern units are than even units from 10 yrs ago. Our Bryant A/C not only cools the house properly vs. the old system, our electric bill was over $50 less this month vs. last month – even tho’ it was hotter (we’ve had quite a run of 100 degree days lately) We’re also scheduling an insulation contractor to come in and shoot some more into our attic. I’d like to get that up to about an R60…

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