Chapter Three

IMG_3093 IMG_3096

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.

PART ONE

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.

PART TWO

Cap and Trade For The Rest of Us

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 livingchapters@gmail.com.

5. I’ve divided the point system into four categories: Food, Air, Water, and Waste

FOOD

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.

WATER

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

WASTE

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.

lc andy beth

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about.

2 thoughts on “Chapter Three

  1. expedeherculem

    Love it. A long quote (sorry) to think about during this challenge:

    “Let’s say I go to a food court at a mall and eat a meal with a disposable plastic fork. Let’s say I use the fork for five minutes before one of the tines breaks (as always seems to happen) and I throw it out. The fork goes in the garbage and is buried in a landfill. Let’s say this particular type of plastic takes five thousand years to break down. For every minute I used the fork it spends a thousand years as waste: a ratio of one to 526 million, a number so large it’s hardly meaningful to human minds. On a scale that’s easier to fathom, if we compressed the fork’s five thousand years of existence to one year, the fork would have spent only six one-hundredths of a second as an object useful to me.

    We can also take into account the millions of years previous that the carbon the plastic fork was made of spent as oil deep underground. In that even longer time frame the useful life of the fork is an imperceptibly short instant sandwiched between a very long time spent in the ground as oil and a very long time spent in the ground as waste. This is true for almost every physical item civilization produces, from cars to computers to fast food containers – they spend many eons in the ground as iron ore or coal or sand, are used a staggeringly short time, and then left as waste for thousands of years or longer.

    It’s pretty easy to argue that, from a long-term perspective (and indeed from a short-term perspective), industrial civilization is essentially a complicated way of turning land into waste. It is, in all truth, ‘laying waste’ to the earth.”

    – Derrick Jensen

    Reply
  2. Pingback: simplify… step by step | Living Chapters

Thanks for reading and your comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s