Thursday, March 22, 2007

Here you go, Al Gore.

The big buzz in the news lately is Al Gore's discussions with Congress on Global Warming. His movie, An Inconvenient Truth, brought to light a lot of issues that have been researched and proven ad nauseum in the last 20 years or so.

And yes, they have been proven. Even Bushie himself admitted it. The earth is heating up and there are dire consequences and we have to do something about it.

Many Americans feel that this is kind of an insurmountable task. Too much to deal with. We don't know how to do it--we're of a culture of all or nothings. If we're going to do something, we're going to do it to the MAX! And we're going to be the BEST! And the most efficient and the highest paid and the most advanced and we're going to lead the world!!!

Or else, we'll just ignore it and pretend it's not happening, put it off for "later", make excuses about how we need that big gas-guzzling SUV (you know, for all that off-roading we do in the Target parking lot) or else save it for when we can do it best.

After all, eventually we'll figure out a way to completely reverse the whole global warming thing and clean up the entire environment with technology creating tons of jobs and solve all the world's problems. We're American. It's what we do. Right?

Well, no. At least, I don't buy that. Or I'm not patient enough to wait until then.

So, in our house, we're trying to do our part. Even if it's just a little bit. Because every little bit helps. You do what you can, when you can, because it will make a difference to someone, even if it's not a lot. You don't have to go full-granola super-hippie to change something. You can wear your leather jacket to the food co-op, while carrying your designer purse, and buy something organic and not feel guilty about not doing enough. Do something, it will help.

So here's some of the stuff we've incorporated into our lives. We're not perfect. We still use some Ziploc bags (though I try to rinse and reuse whenever I can), and I sometimes forget to take the center of the toilet paper tube down to the recycling bin. But we're trying. Here's a few things that are working for us. Take from it what you will.

*Driving a Hybrid. Yep. We got lucky. Found one used. We get between 42 and 55 miles to the gallon, depending on how we drive and if it's cold out. (Running the heater really drops the mileage, so when we can, we turn it and the fan off.)

*We share a car.
Dr. B often walks or buses to work, and I pick him up sometimes. We live close to his work, which helps.

*When weather permits, we walk to local stores and restaurants, patronizing our local economy and saving gas. (It didn't permit in February. It was too cold.)

*We recycle. Glass, plastic, paper. This is state law in WI, and has been since like 1978. They pick up every other week. We don't even have to sort it!

*We compost. Got lucky again--the previous tenants had put in a composter. We keep a tupperware under the sink for coffee grounds and filters, fruit and vegetable peels, eggshells, etc. (No meat.) We've found that it really doesn't get smelly, despite what you might think. Maybe because it's not aerated by all the other stuff in the trash, I don't know. When it's full, we dump it in. The little buggies work on it, and we shovel out beautiful potting soil. Bonus: our garbage never, ever smells. And there's very little of it.

*We don't buy or use paper napkins or towels.
We have a big stash of cloth napkins, and I throw them in the laundry with towels. We'll each use ours until it's dirty, and we have our own napkin rings in a basket to keep them in, so we don't share germs. (Which we share anyway, because we're married, but at least I don't have to wipe my piggies on his mess.) I got a mega-pack of cheap thin washcloths at Shopko, and we use these for spills, etc., that you'd use paper towels for. They also get thrown in with towels. I have been amazed at how much waste this simple change has reduced--and not to mention the cost! Haven't gotten to cloth hankies over Puffs yet--a bit too squeamish for that.

*I got a mop with a head you can wash, and a floor sweeper (like a swiffer) with a cloth head you can wash. Ditto for dust cloths.
Why pay repeatedly for boxes of throw-aways that will fill up the landfill, and cost a lot (money-wise and ecologically) when you can throw it in the machine and it works again? And don't get me started on those toilet cleaners and shower systems. A can of Comet ($0.89) and a little elbow grease do amazing things--and won't clog our landfill in 3 years when you get tired of paying 8 bucks for refills.

*We use compact fluorescent light bulbs. Saves energy, big time, and you hardly ever have to change them. They last years. The light they emit is virtually indistinguishable from regular incandescents, and you can find them on sale for about a buck each. Well worth it. They are recyclable, and you can read about it here.

*We have a programmable thermostat
, set at 68 only when we need it (5:30-7 AM, 4-9:30 PM.) The rest of the time it's at 62, because we're usually not here or sleeping. We use lots of blankets on our bed, and have a space heater in the bedroom for really cold nights. Our landlords put the thermostat in, but we love it and will install one wherever we go.

*Dr. B uses a stop valve that he installed on the shower. When he's soaping up or shaving, he stops the water, and restarts it when he rinses. I don't do this. I get too cold. I tried, really. But at least he does!

*We don't run water while washing our face or dishes. We fill the sink, and use that. You'd be amazed how much goes down the drain when you're picking at your blackheads or soaping up a dirty pan. I clean the sinks often, so the germ thing is negligable.

*We don't buy anti-bacterial products.
Dr. B was a geologist before becoming a nanotechnologist/chemist/photovoltaicist (I made that word up!), and he's very passionate about this one. Anti-bacterial products leach into the groundwater, making SuperBugs that are resistant to everything. We use plain old Ivory bar soap, and don't use Colgate Total toothpaste (did you know it has Triclosan in it? That's putting pesticides directly into your mouth!!! YUCK!) Note: I teach middle school band, and substitute all over the district. I have kids spitting/coughing/sneezing on me constantly, and am not sick very often. Your body can fight amazing things with just the help of soap and water. Let it.

*We try to buy local food whenever possible.
It doesn't have to travel as far, using less gas and packaging. Plus, it tastes better and has more vitamins. Who wants lettuce that has traveled further in its life than you have?

*Packaging: if we can buy something with less, we do. Simple as that. Bar soap, wrapped in paper (degrades quickly by itself) vs. liquid soap in a bottle that had to be created, shipped, stored and eventually will have to be shipped again and energy used to recycle it. Pretty easy decision, but not one you always think about.

*We try to bring reusable bags to the grocery store.
Try. Don't always remember, and often don't have enough so we end up coming out with a mix. But sometimes we do remember, so that counts!

So, are we perfect? No. Of course not. We still do stuff that's not great for the environment. But these things are helping, if even just a little. Dr. B commented today, after putting out the garbage and recycling, "you know, we really don't produce very much waste anymore." The little things are adding up. Imagine if everyone in the US did just a few more little things--how much of an impact could we make?

So here's my question for you: what else are you doing that we haven't tried/thought of/heard of? I'd love some more ideas! Doing good makes me feel good--and I like feeling good.

I am an American, after all.


energy probe said...

I am having some concerns about compact fluorescent lamps.

First they contain mercury.

There is a worldwide ban on even manufacturing mercury batteries because they ended up in landfills and the mercury in our water table well why are fluorescent lamps different if they are?

And now the Electrical Safety Authority up in Ontario Canada is warning consumers never to use the compact fluorescent lamps in "enclosed fixtures" because of heat buildup and many reports in the Canadian media about fires!

Sarita said...

Great ideas! I can't think of anything that we are doing differently or en plus...Oh! We have a rain barrel to collect rain water in the summer. We also save the water from our hard-boiled eggs or pasta to water the houseplants. We use loose-leaf tea. I would love to learn to make my own yogurt. Even though the containers can be recycled, I would rather just reuse containers. Hanging laundry outside to dry when it is possible. Using boiling water to kill weeds (before you drain something that is cooking).

Thanks for the inspirational post! Hope you are feeling ok! We are all thinking of you over here.

Anonymous said...

Those were some great tips--especially regarding the antibacterial products. I had no idea! We're big recyclers, too. It does cut down a lot!
My husband and I have two cars, but only one gets driven all week because we carpool to work. Also, I hang dry as much of our laundry as possible to conserve energy. I still throw towels, sheets, socks and undies in the dryer, and my clothes don't seem to wear out as quickly if were to put them in the dryer all the time. Yeah, not much, but we're trying :)

mj said...

Good for you for doing so many things to help the environment. So many of our convenience products, i.e. disposable, replace common sense items that are better for the environment: dust cloths made from old clothing vs. swiffer/pledge cloths, gold coffee filters vs. paper filters, glass jars/re-useable plastic containers vs. disposable food bags/containers, good old lunch box or cloth bag vs. paper bag. These are just a few of the things we do in addition to all the great things you mentioned in your post. Here's to a better world for your baby-to-be and all the world's children.

Anonymous said...

Very nice. We also use a rake (not a leaf blower) and a shovel (not a snowblower, we are the only people on our block who do that) and we have an electric lawnmower (with a cord). We rarely use our garbage disposer because the husband says food should not go into the sewer system. Also, clothing not next to the skin (sweaters, jeans) is worn more than once before washing unless it reeks of pizza or something.

BTW we used to use only bar soap until we had a toddler. Said toddler enjoyed doing all kinds of stuff with the soap--floating it in the sink to make a mess, chipping pieces off and leaving them all over the room, etc. And he didn't really get the idea of how to wash his hands with bar soap. So, until he's 12ish, we are using liquid soap in the sink where he washes his hands. But it's not antibacterial, it's some organic thing we picked up at the Soap Opera.

Anonymous said...

Jon has been preaching against the use of anti bacterial soap since it arrived on the scene. Says that the body builds up a resistance to antibiotics and antibacterial products from overuse. Too many people want a quick fix when they have a cold or flu....demand antibiotics. When they can't get them mmove on to the next Dr. Have seen this happen many times. Another good reason to not use these products. Watched some of the talks on tv and several questioned some of Mr Gores info and an article in NY Times about this we must all do our own research. Have recycling etc and do so at lake too...but I must admit living in ND and driving in bad weather and heavy snow I am glad I have an SVU....we have Lexus Toyota and actually get quite good mileage. And sure don't bother with liquid my bar soap in the shower. Babysitting for K/R this wk as they are in Ixtapa and I fell prey to Mattie's bug....amazing how we catch everything from this grandkids! Just recovered from a flu bug and now have Matthew's cold....yuk. One nice is beautiful here....76yesterday and today....have the windows upon and smells so good. B

Anonymous said...

Thought the programmable thermostat was such a no brainer....doesn't just about everyone have one?

Monica said...

Too funny Ronica. We're pretty conservative in our family but have a healthy respect for our earth. As my daughter said when we decided to do something more than every day recycling, I'm not a tree hugger mom but we should do our part."
We've always rinsed our ziploc baggies & reused them, unless totally disgusting! A mother of a great friend of ours here in florida always did the same. She was the only one I knew of besides us that did that. Till we visited my best friend in france. She was totally surprised to see us do it there.
It's all about the little steps right?

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