It’s Not Easy Being Green
Terms like ‘green’, ‘sustainable’, and ‘eco-friendly’ have become increasingly common in our day-to-day lives. We see them on packaging, menus, in TV ads, and in the speeches of our more progressive politicians. It may at times be dismissed as trendy, but overall this is a good thing. It means that as a society, the environment is on our minds. But as the terms become more commonly tossed about, they run the risk of becoming diluted palliatives, geared more towards making us feel better about ourselves than inspiring real change. Your dishwasher detergent may be phosphate-free, but your dishwasher still wastes a lot of water.
The fact is, leading a sustainable life can’t be simply a matter of informed purchasing. After all, the term sustainable really means never-ending, which in this context means a complete independence from non-renewable resources. Striving towards such a goal requires transformative changes in how we live our lives. In this month of Living Chapters, I encourage Beth to approach this goal through introspection and advocacy.
Take A Position, Make It Known
I’ll start with advocacy since it’s shorter. Beth has spent the last few years doing some impressive work around environmental issues in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore. In Western Maryland, she organized community events to discuss natural gas extraction, and on the Eastern Shore, created a series of videos and community events highlighting different perspectives on the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Both projects inspired much-needed dialogues in their communities, but lacked one thing: Beth’s own voice.
Now that she has spent time in these places learning about these issues, Beth has become if not an expert, at least a well-informed citizen when it comes to natural gas extraction (fracking) in the Appalachians and water quality in the Chesapeake. By now, she must have opinions about what should be done in these communities to move forward.
During the month of August, Beth will create two ‘opinion pieces’, one on each topic. The pieces can take the form of her choosing (written, audio, visual, etc) and must be shared in a public forum (newspaper, radio, gallery, etc). The pieces will be timely, responding to current events in the realms of fracking and Bay protection, but will be grounded in her experiences working with the stakeholders in both places. The pieces will be clear, concise, well-researched, and heart-felt. Should she choose a medium that requires jurying (for instance an op-ed section in a newspaper, or a curated show at a gallery), actual acceptance is of course out of her hands, but submission is required. They also must be posted to the Living Chapters blog and Facebook account.
The EPA first tested the effectiveness of a ‘cap and trade’ system for the abatement of acid rain in the 1990’s, by restricting the amount of sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions allowed by industrial polluters. It proved effective enough that they’ve expanded the system to cover carbon emissions, a move that has been replicated internationally, creating a global carbon market and reducing emissions in many countries.
How does it work? Very simply put, the government established an emissions limit that polluters must adhere to (the cap). If a polluter manages to pollute less than the cap, the company earns credits, which they can sell to other polluters who cannot or do not meet the limits (the trade). The system rewards innovations that reduce emissions, but still allows some flexibility for industries to comply.
During the month of August, Beth and I (and any of you who want to join in) will participate in our own cap and trade game. This is where the introspective part comes in: this game will require close attention to the actions in our own daily lives.
Using the point system I’ve devised (below), we’ll tally our wasteful practices against our sustainable practices. At the end of each week, we’ll have the opportunity to trade credits, hopefully balancing our collective point consumption under the cap. At the end of the month, anyone whose points are still over the cap must donate the equivalent amount in dollars to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. There is no reward for having the fewest points; we’re all in this together!
A few notes about the point system:
1. The goal is to have as few points as possible. “+” points are bad.
2. I’m not a numbers person and this system has very little to do with any kind of accurate metric. It’s just a game. But if you happen to be someone that knows a lot about measuring embodied energy, please feel free to suggest amendments.
3. Additionally, if readers want to suggest other activities to be counted in the game, feel free.
4. Participants will have to track their point count daily in this Google spreadsheet.To join the game, email Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. I’ve divided the point system into four categories: Food, Air, Water, and Waste
Eating a meal whose origins are unknown = +1 (vegetarian) +2 (with meat)
Eating a meal that is sourced locally (100 mile radius) = 0
Eating a meal at least part of which was grown or harvested by you or a friend = -1
Throwing away food (not composting it) = +2
Eating food that’s going to be wasted (either your friend’s left-overs, dumpster diving, etc.) = -2
AIR (assuming non-renewable electricity and fuel sources)
Driving a car = +1 per 20 miles
Taking public transit = -1
Carpooling = 0
Riding a bike = -1 per 2 miles
Flying in a plane = +5
Charging your phone = +.5
Charging your laptop = +1 (if a desktop user, equivalent to 7 hours of use)
Lights and other household appliances = +1 per hour used
Hanging clothes in the sun to dry = – 1 point/load
Converting your BGE/energy supplier to a partially or entirely renewable source (solar/wind) = 1 time applicable – 20 points (some energy companies now offer the option to pay a bit more and have your power sourced from these options). People can contact their supplier for more information.
Taking a shower = +1
Flushing a toilet = +.5
Running a dishwasher or washing machine = +2
Other faucet uses = +.5 per gallon
Re-using water (i.e. dish or bath water) = -1
Installing rain water catchment system at your home (or a friends) = -10 (one time only)
Using harvested rain water = -2
Bathing in a natural body of water = -1
Producing 1 cubic foot of garbage = +1
Producing 1 cubic foot of recycling = 0
Producing 1 cubic foot of compost = -1
Creative re-use of anything (for instance, wine bottles, shopping bags) = -1 per use
The weekly cap for each participant is 56 points (8 per day) (note: this may be adjusted at the end of week 1 if that is way too hard or too easy). Credit trading will happen on August 10, 17, 24, and 31 (August 10 will be a ten-day point tally with a total cap of 80). Participation will require fastidious attention to all your activities (it may even require keeping notes). Hopefully it will also require all participants to rethink their consumption habits and make changes for the better. It may be difficult, but in the words of Jim Henson as sung through a frog puppet: It’s not easy being green.
Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about.