checks and balances

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I have never been a numbers person. Honestly, keeping track of anything in a formulaic way has always been  counterintuitive for me.  I’ve just finished week one of this “Cap and Trade” system and am finding that balancing my actual environmental habits to be less difficult and than balancing the points on the scoring card. I am now wishing I had been asked to brush up on some mathematical equations in my last logic chapter; it may have helped me create a tool for tracking all the miles of driving, cubic feet of waste, gallons of water, and hours of electricity I am using this month.

I have never even balanced my checkbook technically, but I also have never overdrawn. It may not be logical but I usually sense when something is off balance and then adjust as needed.  I just make sure that I keep to my moderate spending habits and try to stay on the frugal side of things. I have tried to adopt this mode of operation to this game. So I’m not sure what my point results will reveal in the end, but one thing has become extremely clear. I am now more aware of everything I do on a daily basis more than I ever thought I could be (or wanted to be!). I mean who tracks how many times they flush a toilet in a database?

Within days, I  determined what my highest point scoring habits include: driving my car, charging my laptop/phone, eating food that has an unknown origin and showering daily. Some of these things were easy to scale back right away. (like cutting back on my amount of showers and length of them) But others can not be changed overnight – giving up my car would mean giving up my job and giving up my computer would also mean giving up my job. I decided to avoid unemployment and focus on the areas in which there was potential to shift. Food and Water. These two things I have direct control over changing in my daily life.

Or do I? Even these decisions, in which I thought I had ultimate control over, are a lot more complex than I originally thought. I didn’t make it past my first meal of the month before I became tangled up in the logistics of how to “score” my eating habits.

Dinner number one:  I had a salad with greens from my own garden, a tomato from a neighbors garden, some packaged baby carrots, a non organic cucumber and some salad dressing (with a ton of random ingredients) all from… the “local” grocery store, along with a turkey burger bearing a label saying it’s meat was “distributed” in near by Landover, MD Hmmm… something harvested by me, something locally harvested – other veggies from unknown territories and meat from where? If “distributed” means raised and processed, I think less than 100 miles away?  So how many points is that?

Things got pretty complicated even after examining one meal.  Knowing I got my food from the local food store was not knowing where my food is from.  Living in Annapolis, I am privileged to have access to many places that sell locally grown food, but I did find, after checking, that those stores and markets are actually scattered around the area and are a farther drive away than my local Grocery Store. I would also have to go to several different places to get all things locally.  Would the miles in my car out weigh the choice of the food? Hmmm… I had to check out the point system to find out. After checking I still was not sure.

While focusing on water consumption, this different dilemma surfaced:  I’m in a pubic bathroom in my favorite coffee shop remembering that every time I flush a toilet I am essentially wasting water (and gaining .5 points). I am wondering how the proprietor and other customers would feel about me implementing the, “if its yellow let it mellow” motto. I never opposed this idea but I had also never really fully adopted it. This was the first time I actually found myself pondering this predicament.  Do I do what’s considered “rude” and leave pee unflushed in a public toilet or do I waste the water and enable this water wasting habit we have all taken part in for years? I caved that time and succumbed to the “avoid doing what is rude rule” that my mother taught me long ago.

It’s ridiculous that I even have time or head space to think about such a “dilemma” as this let alone ponder it for the rest of the day. Later that evening I brought it up again in a phone conversation with “Logic and Order” chapter writer Gabe DellaVecchia. “Do you leave pee in public toilets?” I asked.  He lived in Portland Oregon where he said that the “if its yellow let it mellow motto” is the norm, not only in personal homes but in public places as well. He said you may get labeled a “hippie” for letting the yellow mellow but heck that seems  a lot better label than being called “rude”.

Is it rude to save water? Are we still being labeled negatively for trying to conserve? Well I guess we all have opinions on the right and wrong ways of doing things and we all feel differently about what’s important (in this case our etiquette  or our conservation habits). But we can only make decisions for ourselves in our personal lives… OR do we need to work harder as a culture together to make these changes acceptable?

This game has filled my head with an overwhelming amount to think about and its only week one! Not only am I now thinking about how my personal choices are impacting everything and everyone around me but I am also pondering how and why we have come to make the choices we do and what kind of support we may or may not have for trying to make those changes toward a better outcome?

It seems like we are up against a lot of different obstacles when trying to do something like lower our personal impact on the environment. Beyond just the system in which we track our habits, there is the structure of the city we live in, our culture, our economic status and our upbringing.  These are just a few of the factors that I haven’t even touched on yet.  What were you taught as a child about how to make your decisions.  Were you raised to conserve water or conserve money? Did you grow up on fast food or grow your own food?

I am curious about finding a system that could help us all shift our habits while taking into account our different starting points.  (does this exist?) And are we even in a position to be able to make the changes we want to or will we have the access to do so? These are some of the bigger questions I’ve been wrestling with this week along with the “pee in public toilet dilemma”.

What do you think? How can we assess and accept the path where we have come from to get to a new place of balance where we’d all like to be?

8/9/13

Please join Chapter 3 writer Andy and I in the Cap and Trade Game and track your own habits! You may learn something about yourself and the possibly the environment in which you live and where you came from. Just click here and add your name to play.

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

2 thoughts on “checks and balances

  1. Gabe DellaVecchia

    Two weeks ago, I lived in Portland, Oregon, land of the mellow yellow, as Beth pointed out. It was also a place where cargo bikes were a normal sight, where the whole city has municipal composting, and where not owning a car is applauded.

    Now? I live in the sprawling city of Denver and the suburb I live in doesn’t even offer recycling. While this city gets press for its 850 miles of bike trails, everyone I have met so far drives. I just completed a week of meetings across town, so I have been commuting by bus, as I did in Portland for longer distances. But here, the bus is full of people taking the bus by necessity, not by choice.

    Last night, I passed a huge billboard advertising a website that allows you to track your mileage and calculate your vehicle emissions. For those of you (like Beth) that feel your auto usage may be your single greatest source of pollutants, you may want to check out this website and track your travel habits for a week: http://www.ozoneaware.org/calculator/

    Looking at that site led me to an interesting “impact calculator” created by the EPA that gets its data from your latest utility bills and some general estimates:
    http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/ind-calculator.html
    The EPA site even offers some helpful tips for realistic changes you can make.

    The things you learn riding the bus…

    Reply
  2. Beth Barbush Post author

    Greg Lank posted this comment on the Living Chapters Facebook page. I thought readers might be interested.

    “There are lots of challenges but opportunities with our waste. Currently we use potable water to flush our waste to a treatment all consuming massive amounts of energy. Yet there is no reason why we can’t use grey water to flush toilets and use our waste as a power supply via biogas digesters, processing with algae and then turning the algae to biofuels or using it for fertilizer which is exactly what it is. Check out this cool EPA P3 project from Columbia that separates the waste in Ghana to make fertilizer and energy.”

    http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/display.abstractDetail/abstract/9207/report/0

    Reply

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