Really going green means having less. It does mean less. Everyone is saying, ‘You don’t have to change your lifestyle.’ Well, yes, actually, you do. – Paul Hawken
Going green may mean having less – less of some things – but that less also means more – more glaciers, more coastline, more species, more air quality… more planet and more future, in a nutshell. So really, not that hard a decision. And in fact there are lots of “less” that we can embrace, with widely varying impacts on our daily life, many of which you probably already do.
Driving just a bit slower produces significant savings in fuel consumption (and of course money). The best fuel economy comes around 55mpg: “gas mileage usually decreases rapidly [at] speeds above 55 miles per hour. Just slowing down from 65 mph to 55 mph can increase your miles per gallon by as much as 15 percent.” [fueleconomy.gov]
CarTalk – the wonderfully funny NPR show – has an excellent “Guide to Better Fuel Economy” that opens with an automotive version of “reduce, reuse, recycle”: according to CarTalk the best ways to achieve better fuel economy are “Not Driving, Driving Less… Or Driving Something Else.”
For me, that equates to a bicycle (currently, a Surly Long Haul Trucker) as my main means of getting around, augmented by public transit and borrowing the family car for heavy-duty hauling. Something like that, often also drawing on City CarShare or ZipCar, is fast becoming a popular alternative to the private car here in San Francisco as parking, traffic, fuel costs and insurance all make the car seem less and less appealing.
(In a later post, I will provide a detailed breakdown of costs associated with operating a car, compared to using a combination of bicycle, public transit and car share/rental solutions. Even with regular use of a car share and frequent longer rentals, it is still much cheaper to go this route than to own a car.)
This one seems so obvious that it shouldn’t need to be said, but based on my experiences with my family lately, sadly it still does… turn off lights when you leave the room. Even fluorescents (unless it’s only going to be for three or four minutes).
And of course, as your regular lightbulbs burn out, replace them with more energy efficient ones – like compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), though the energy savings from these have been somewhat exaggerated, and the issue of the mercury in the bulbs and proper disposal remains.
You can get lots more info on “Lighting Choices” from the California Energy Commission’s Consumer Energy Center – a useful resource for all sorts of energy issues.
Another one that ought not need to be said… An estimated 500 BILLION to 1 TRILLION plastic bags are used – and discarded – each year, and millions of them end up littering the planet, collecting in trees and contributing to vast deposits of rubbish in the oceans. Don’t be part of this plastic catastrophe, this bagging debacle, this ecological body bag – take your own bags when you go shopping.
In my building we are experimenting with having a stack of reusable shopping bags in the foyer, for all the tenants to use when they go shopping. At this point, we have enough as a group for at least two or three simultaneous shopping trips. (I would like to see reusable bags made from old plastic bags – it seems to me that this should be doable, and it has an obvious poetic justice quality that is very appealing.)
Turn down that thermostat. You own sweaters and blankets? You already paid for them, so why not use them?
Driving less or not at all, turning off lights and switching to compact fluorescents, taking your own reusable bags shopping, and turning down the heat are all pretty widely practiced and accepted ways to reduce your environmental impact. They are small steps, but you know what they say – every journey begins with a single step.
There are some other… less conventional steps we might consider taking, which I will look at in Part 2.