Thanks for the positive comments Kfen and regalringneck.
Kfen wrote:Jonathan- Can you give some examples of the way you have changed your lifestyle to have less of a carbon footprint?
Please don't take that as an attack, I am asking so that maybe I, or others reading, can try to incorporate them into our own lifestyles. I think it would go right along with what you are saying about leading by example and challenging others. Think of all the views this thread has gotten.
I think this would be a fine idea.
Here is my fuller answer to that question. It is extensive, so just scroll down unless you really care a lot about my life and/or living a simpler lifestyle.
I should note that my wife and I did not choose this kind of life only out of “desire to reduce our carbon footprint due to global warming projections”. I believe that when wealthy people (as 90+% of Americans are) choose to live a sustainable lifestyle, it is better for the environment right now
, it is better for poor people across the world right now
, it is better for the other rich neighbors
, it is better for future persons
, and it is better for our own hearts and souls
. So often several different factors, not merely environmental ones, have led us to make decisions that may appear radical to some.
Most of what we do isn't a big deal, but you might think it looks that way as a whole. I don't feel we live a weird sacrificial life or anything like that. It's more a different way than a lesser or more difficult way. It's only getting past the constant mantra of advertisers and society that the “different” way must be missing something or “bad”, because we consume fewer of their products. Of course, I don't believe that I've adopted every good strategy out there, and I don't believe that everyone needs to do everything I do (or say).
I should also add that corporations and advertising agencies have done everything to question your masculinity if you don't buy their products. You're not a "real man" if you don't drive a huge truck or an SUV. You're not a "real man" if you don't own a huge home, and a boat, and God knows what else this particular year. You're not a "real man" if you don't eat a lot of meat, especially beef, and drink a lot of beer. You're not a "real man" if you don't buy diamonds and gold for women. That list could go on for a long time. Try not to fall prey to that as you read through my alternative choices.
: Other than a 2-month period in the summer of 1998, I've avoided commuting by car. Some years I lived close enough to work (about a mile or less) to walk. When I was 7-8 miles away, I biked 3-4 days a week instead. When I took a job on the opposite side of Los Angeles, I combined a bus commute with walking, and managed to avoid driving to work a single day that year. Car commutes feel terrible to me.
Still, I used a car for other purposes, and I regret the amount of miles I put on it. If I had to do it again I'd significantly reduce all my car use.
My wife biked to work nearly every day of her adult life, so we were always a 1-car family (a '98 Civic my wife got from her parents). In 2010 we gave that car away to charity and haven't owned a car since, nor do I ever expect to own a car again. Here we walk a lot, and take public transportation a lot, both for short and long distances.
Flights are something we take seriously. I don't have much to say about that, except that it should be done as little as possible. India has an adequate railway system, so we never fly in-country.
: I've never lived alone, always sharing an apartment with others prior to marriage. I think that the lust for enormous homes doesn't add much to life and takes a lot away, and that contemporary American homes are far too large and resource-heavy. We didn't use heating or A.C. - though heating is difficult to avoid in some parts of the country. A.C. can be avoided everywhere unless you have serious health problems. We almost never used major appliances. We've washed and dried our clothes by hand and sun since 2010. Dishwashers seem ridiculous to me. If you have a choice, use a sustainable energy source, whether via the grid or with a personal system. We have a solar lantern, which isn't much but the only other things we hook up to electricity are our fan and rechargeable batteries. Most water use is way more than necessary too, especially bathing, washing, and outdoor use. We now get our water by bucket, and it's driven home to me how little water you really need in a day if you use it responsibly (we use perhaps 10-15 gallons/day per person at most).
I don't think there's anything wrong with the home being situated on a large property if it is managed well. To me that either means maintaining a wild, natural landscape, or farming in a sustainable way (especially soil and energy sustainable) that is friendly to the local ecosystem. We've never done this ourselves though, always renting an apartment or a room from a family instead. Large manicured lawns and large expanses of concrete both repulse me in a private setting, although I think there can be a place for both in public common space.
: This is a huge one for me. Agriculture may be anywhere from 10-50% of the contribution to global warming, depending on how you crunch the numbers and which parts of the process you place in the category of “agriculture”. Half of the world's available land is now being used for agriculture, most of that for the support of meat production.
Remember, when you think about the environmental effect of farming, you have to consider:
the natural landscape that was lost to put the farm there (and the soil loss that continues)
the pollution created when nature was destroyed and the farm was built
the pollution created and energy used in the everyday operation of the farm equipment
the pollution emitted by farm animals themselves
the pollution and energy and land loss required to produce the animals' feed and water
the pollution and energy and material expended in processing/packaging the final product
the pollution and energy created by disposing all of the waste
all the transportation costs every step of the way
The total environmental costs are tremendous. Food matters more than we realize.
Around 14 years ago, when I learned more about how beef was produced, I choose to stop buying beef for environmental and social justice reasons. (There was also a twinge of animal rights reasons involved, plus the health benefits.) Soon I stopped purchasing any mammal meat. Later I began buying meat again for a couple of years, but then about 7 years ago quit everything except chicken and fish for good, and I try to be careful about which fish. As of two years ago my wife and I began buying even chicken and fish only a few times a year.
Remember, more than a quarter of the Earth's available land space is being used in some way to support meat production. That seemed impossible to me, so I encourage help in correcting that number if I'm wrong, but it looks like meat production really is that resource-intensive.
That doesn't mean that no one should buy meat. I think that responsible hunting is great and environmentally friendly. I think that even farmed meat can be done with respect for the animal and the land. However, this could only happen in certain landscapes, and at levels far below what is being done today.
In general, I think that we need to totally reorient how we produce food. I'm a fan of buying locally and from responsible farmers to whatever degree possible. Most current farming methods use far too much energy, far too much outside pesticide/fertilizer/water/feed/antibiotics, are completely unfriendly to the local fauna, and destroy the long-term productivity of the soil. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I only read Wendell Berry for the first time last year, but I'm already a huge fan. He's been saying and practicing these things for 40 years.
Also, we buy almost entirely unprocessed and unpackaged food and use reusable bags. We try to save time and energy in our cooking processes (using a pressure cooker, cooking more than one meal at once, etc.). We don't have a refrigerator, which is a huge energy sink, but in America we did and it did help us to cook 4-5 meals at one time which then could be eaten over the course of weeks. We don't waste food – uncooked food scraps are fed to the neighbors' goats and there isn't uneaten cooked food because we only buy and cook what we will eat. In America over half of all edible food is thrown away, and a good bit of that is in the home.
I don't buy based on trends and styles and advertising. Ever. My wife and I own one simple phone between us, plus a small laptop. We don't feel the need to replace these things every year just because a new one with an extra feature came out.
I'm not saying that technology is bad. Though I don't own a smart phone or tablet, I think that a good one (which could replace a camera, cd player, laptop and/or television) might be a worthy investment if you bought it instead of those other things
rather than just in addition to them. But I fear that technology has become extremely over-commercialized, and is driven by advertising and the attempt to create false needs in the consumer rather than actually making the lives of consumers any better.
We rarely buy new clothes, and when we do we either buy clothes made by people we know or those certified as having been produced in an ethical way. We refused to get diamond engagement rings (DeBeer's, the most successful advertising B.S. in history!) and when I learned more about the awful environmental problems associated with gold mining and production we stopped buying gold as well (until then, our wedding rings and simple earrings for my wife were the only gold I'd ever bought anyway).
We buy gifts in line with our values. I try to be extravagant with Christmas and other gifts, but it almost always involves some form of doing things for people, making things myself, getting people experiences (especially if they're educational), books, donating to causes in people's names, and spending time with people. I figure that there's no need to fill people's homes with more crap that they hadn't chosen to buy themselves, and I try to use personal thought, time, and love to replace fancy packaging and material trends.
This might be controversial, but we gotta face it: cats, dogs, and other large animals are an environmental resource drain. This can be mitigated, but if you own a warm-blooded carnivore and you feed it store-bought food, the total environmental cost over the course of the year is astounding.
Like I've already said, buy locally-made products whenever possible and live as locally as possible. Know the people in your community, know the land you live around, spend as much time as possible in it, and help your community work to take good care of their place. Learn from each other and invest in the land and each other. The ultimate responsibility for taking care of any piece of land will always fall on the people who live on or near it. I would advocate living among the poor, both to learn from them and to share what you know. I don't think we have a chance of sharing the limited resources we have equitably as long as there's a social divide between the rich and the poor.
It should go without saying, but don't work for businesses that survive by polluting, overconsuming, or encouraging others to overconsume. And work to influence your workplace culture.
Personally, my wife and I live in an Indian slum. We've only been living in this particular slum for a year and are still building relationships and learning the language and life in general, but over time we hope that through our presence we can help to reduce the suffering that happens here on a daily basis. We've already learned and gained a lot from the people we live with. We also hope that we can be a bridge between the rich and the poor, to make the difficulties faced by the poor real to those who live completely distanced from them (I focus on this in my blog a lot). When we lived in America, I worked as an inner-city science teacher, living in the same gang-infested neighborhood as my students. I also worked in NGO's that focused on education and outreach to the homeless.
I try to be an influence on any organization I'm associated with (part of why I'm speaking out about this stuff on FHF, of course). I've started recycling programs that continue today, educated coworkers on environmental issues, and tried to affect the workplace commuting culture. Recently I chaired a climate change task group for an international organization. I was quite proud of the recommendations we made, and several were adopted organization-wide, including writing environmental care into the stated organizational principles, educating new members on environmental issues, and spacing out international meetings in order to reduce environmental impact. It remains to be seen to what level the more specific team-based recommendations will be adopted, but the teams are already doing an excellent job on these issues and I think we made some quite good recommendations for continued work.
As I said earlier, all the evidence we have shows that overpopulation is best addressed by eliminating poverty and increasing women's education and access to family planning and health care. Continued poverty, famine, disasters, war, etc. actually incentivize people to have more children (for a large range of reasons). Across every religious and cultural line, family size has reduced when education increased and the uncertainty of poverty was taken away.
Support programs across the world that achieve these goals ethically and effectively. Don't support businesses who succeed by tapping into the cycles of uneducation and poverty. Buy ethically-made products that support people – which means buying a few things that are better-made and require skill, rather than buying tons of cheap, sweatshop or slave-produced goods. Try to support businesses that value people. (Of course, this is all easier to monitor in your local community than in some place on the other side of the world, which is why I support buying locally.)
I'm mixed on carbon offsets. There are abuses, they're sometimes hard to verify, for many there's no guarantee the benefits will continue over time, and as long as we're still way over the sustainable limits globally then we each need to reduce our own impact as much as possible no matter how many offsets we buy. However, there are good carbon offset programs that have side benefits beyond just trying to take a bit of carbon out of the air. Last year I bought 40 tons of carbon offsets (something like 8 times greater than our family's own carbon use) because the program involved (subsidizing people to replace their wood-and-trash burning stoves with more environmentally and economically efficient ones) has great local environmental and social benefits.
I'm happy to answer any questions about any of those points, especially if we can keep it issue-based rather than personality-based.