Monday, April 23, 2007

Baby steps

Switching the light bulbs really was inexcusably easy, and should have been done long ago. Maybe I should start giving family and friends compact fluorescent bulbs for their birthdays until they are all switched, too.

I am just starting to get better about reading food labels, trying to pay attention to how far my food has to travel. So last night I made another tiny change when I opened a bottle of California wine. (McManis Family Vineyards, cabernet sauvignon, 2005, surprisingly good at only $8.99) What do you think? Does this count as an environmental action? I figure that having it shipped from California is some improvement over the carbon-cost of the delicious wines I usually buy that are imported from France, Chile, Argentina and Australia . . . baby steps, right?

I’ve also been checking the number of miles I drive – my workplace is 15.6 miles (one way on a freeway) from home. I can’t walk or ride a bicycle to work because of the areas I need to travel though, but I will take this into account if I ever change jobs or homes. But my local drugstore and my aerobics class are each less than a mile from my house, and I am trying to commit to walking. I have been using a pedometer for the past several months so I know that I only walk an average of 2 ½ miles a day, so that extra mile and a half would be a huge commitment for me, and frankly, one that I dread. But the weather was so beautiful this weekend that I managed to walk to the local 7-Eleven for my morning paper, then realized that I should have read it on-line. I have so many bad habits to address!

Monday, April 16, 2007

This little light of mine

I’ve decided to begin the public part of my project with the easiest change I can think of, to help me keep my nerve, because I am terrified at the things I might have to sacrifice later in the game. (Coffee? Wine?) So I am starting with light bulbs. Yes, yes, yes, I should have done this long ago. As with so many of the necessary changes, there is simply no excuse for not making more of an effort sooner, so I am clearly in no position to throw stones at anyone else.

According to, compact fluorescent light bulbs use 60% less energy than a regular bulb. Changing ONE light bulb will save about 300 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. They claim that carbon dioxide would be reduced by 90 billion pounds if we all made that little change.

Unfortunately, the compact fluorescents are a lot more expensive than the regular light bulbs that I can get for pennies apiece. I counted, and was surprised to find that I have 21 regular (and an assortment of fan, appliance and night light) bulbs in my very small house. 21 fluorescent light bulbs would cost me a small fortune. I can’t possibly afford to change them all at once to the compact fluorescent bulbs, but I will change a couple of them each week until I have replaced them all. This week I replaced 4 of them (the old ones cost me about $2.00) at a cost of $19.58. I am also writing to my legislative representatives and asking that they support legislation to phase-out of incandescant bulbs.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Getting started

How does one person even begin to make a dent in a problem as enormous as global warning? Using the online carbon calculator at, I learned that my average carbon load is 9.5, larger than the normal 7.5 tons a year. I was shocked. How did this happen? Even if I am not a poster child for the environment, I really thought that I would at least be on the “less than normal” level. Is it because I live alone, so my household use isn’t spread over anyone but me? Is it because I fly to Florida or New York a couple of times a year? Or is it because the calculator didn’t offer my Toyota as a vehicle option, which surely would have given me bonus points. (I really love that car!) I am saddened by my results, and by the negative impact I've already had on the planet, which is even more reason to get serious about becoming part of the solution. I need to list the things I can consider changing, so that I can figure out where to start. What things are really important to my health and happiness? Which are essential? What can I do without? How can I minimize the pain of things I have to give up even if they add to the quality of my life? And especially, which things are really more important than my grandchildren's future . . .

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The times they are a'changing, and maybe it's time for me

As my childhood church would have said, I was “convicted” the other day when I heard No Impact Man, Colin Beavan, on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. No Impact Man has gotten a lot of press lately, and reportedly even a book and movie deal, by creating a year-long project where he and his family hope to make changes that will result in their zero net negative impact on the environment. Although I was not sure that his changes would be the right ones for me, I guess I finally got it that one person can do more than sit and despair. Hopefully by now we’ve all seen An Inconvenient Truth. So we all know, on some level, that we need to make changes.

I have a good life, but I’ve always tried not to take too much advantage of the universe I live in. I don’t think I’m a bad person, or as enviro-greedy or insensitive as I could be. Hey, I listen to NPR. I drive a 1997 Toyota Corolla that has somewhere around 200,000 miles on it (the odometer is broken), and still gets better gas mileage than many new vehicles. I keep my car well tuned (I love my car) and I check the tire pressure about every six weeks. I don’t litter. I don’t travel as much as I want to (doesn’t that count for something?!) I try not to waste food. I dial my heat down and keep my air conditioning at (I think) a minimum; I use a programmable thermostat. I turn off, unplug, and am careful about the use of my electrical appliances. I’ve added insulation to my home, I recycle, within the limits of my city services. I eat many (or at least some) fresh and organic foods. I occasionally donate to green organizations (if there is money left after I buy useless things for my grandchildren). I don’t use pesticides or fertilizers on my lawn (to the embarrassment of my neighbors). And I try not to buy everything I want, even for my grandkids.

But once my grandchildren were born, I became increasingly aware that I am not doing enough. The way things look now, my grandchildren – and yours – will need to make serious sacrifices just to survive. The environment always mattered to me, but it matters to me more now that my grandchildren are living, breathing realities, so they are going to be my incentive for this project. I realize that we – that I, at least - can no longer put things off. Things are deteriorating much too quickly. According to, more than a million species could be extinct, and the Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer by 2050. My grandchildren were born in 2004 and 2006. Do the math.

Unlike No Impact Man, I don’t live in a place like Manhattan where I can walk everywhere, or even where there is mass transit. And frankly, I think it is unlikely that I will compost my own poop, or that I would do it even if I were a vegetarian, which I am not, although I am concerned about the meat and poultry industries. But I am going to see what I can do to alter my own lifestyle in ways that will make a difference, hopefully so that the sacrifices that my grandchildren will later have to make won’t be as severe as it looks like will be necessary at this point.

I have no idea what difference I can make, but I have to believe that one person can make some difference. I also have no idea how to blog my ideas effectively (or, as yet, how to insert a photo or a link!) This is all a new adventure for me. I am hoping that doing it "publicly" will help keep me accountable and help me make the tough choices when I don’t want to. I will experiment with a new goal every so often, hopefully each week, and will incorporate as many as I can into my life.