Sunday, November 09, 2008

Going Green: Are We There yet?

We are a just one family trying to make the transition from an unsustainable lifestyle to a reasonable one, and this blog has chronicled some of our discoveries and experiences about the "easy" green things to do.

We still are not as green as some, much more green than others. The journey continues.

Meanwhile, contemplating what to do next it occurred to me that we had hit a plateau; we seem to have maxed out most of the easy options, and our next steps are all a bit bigger.

Buying that electric car, for example -- either the all-electric pickup truck here, or (the one I really want) the Aptera, here -- is a step we are not ready to take right now. (Mostly because we are not ready to buy a new car.) Or making a commitment to 100% sustainable food options --organic, local grown, fair trade, etc. (Largely because some clean foods are still priced in the region of luxury items, and we just can't justify the cost; in other cases we have our over-processed, chemically grown food vices we are not willing to give up.)

"What next?" I have recently asked myself.

It's hard to know where to go if you don't know where you have been, so in a coming post I hope to review the sustainable elements we already have in place, list-style, and "wish-list" those we want to implement, and set some goals and priorities.

In the meantime, I will note that we have achieved something like success on overcoming one of the three main obstacles to sustainability, a green mindset. We (and I include most of our family members most of the time in this "we") have reached a stage where we have internalized the concepts of sustainability such that when only non-sustainable options are available we at least have the good grace to cringe, and may, in fact, skip buying or using or doing something at all until we can do it cleanly.

Three Obstacles and an Objection

What are the three main obstacles you say? Well, one is obviously Mindset. This itself includes several elements, not all of which can be achieved at once: The recognition of the basic need to live sustainably is the beginning; an understanding and awareness of the natural cycles that affect our lives and make our lifestyles possible helps; a commitment to live so as to not affect those cycles adversely; and finally, the integration of those things into one's life so completely and seamlessly that it happens without much conscience effort, as a way of living not something layered over an existing non-sustainable lifestyle.

The next obstacle is Cost. This includes the sometimes actual additional cost of a more sustainable product, but also includes upfront costs on retrofitting sustainable solutions for long term savings. (The latter can be legislated away, in part, by rules requiring deeply sustainable new construction, for example, and retrofit-on-sale type rules.) Cost also includes the more common "wrongly perceived additional cost," which is related to (because it fails to account for) hidden additional costs and public subsidies for unsustainable practices.

Hidden additional costs include things like personal illness from chronic ingestion of chemical food, to higher costs of education for masses of kids developing learning disabilities due to poor chemical nutrition. Hidden costs include indirect subsidies such as allowing free waste "disposal" by dumping it into the air and water. And they can include taxpayer-paid subsidies for certain products or industries known to be unsustainable and which would be economically unsustainable but for the hidden subsidy.

Availability is the final obstacle. Sometimes one wants to do the sustainable thing, but finds that manufactured products or those one chooses not to make for oneself by hand, are simply not available. From time to time clean technology is hard to find; green options are not very green. One does what one can to encourage products and services in this vein, and moves forward. (This obstacle should not be confused with the false objection and/or "would-but" that relieves one of the need to find a sustainable product or service because it is more difficult to locate than the unsustainable variety.)

Finally, The Objection is a really any one or more of a large set of (false) rationalizations for ignoring the need for sustainability. The Objection has many causes and guises, and although rightly a part of the Mindset obstacle, often seems to act as a block to sustainability.

Within The Objection sometimes is a belief that the deity gave man dominion over the earth and its resources -- and thus humans may loot and pillage that trust property without guilt.

There is also the (sometimes deliberate) confusion of "Sustainable Impact" with "No Impact." Every plant and animal has an impact on the environment, and a role to play in natural cycles; we need not eliminate ours, merely change and moderate ours so that it does not threaten to destroy us and the system of which we are a part. The sneering taunt "your locally grown, organic hemp reusable bag used resources, so why should I feel guilty about a plastic bag?" is an example of this confusion.

Which bring up the fact that Guilt is another factor that motivates the basic Objection response. So much about sustainability implies that if one has been doing something in a non-sustainable manner for years one must be a bad person, stupid, or maybe even malicious. People don't accept guilt readily.

Finally, sometimes the Objection comes down to simple embarrassment: Caring for the environment is seen as a weak, touchy-feely, tree-huggerish, emotion-laden activity -- which is inconsistent with the aggressive self-image that seems to dominate popular culture.

One rarely encounters a person for whom The Objection can be removed directly. Largely it is a matter of finding a point of entry to an Objector's world view, and finding sustainable practices that are consistent with it. Once the Objection is overcome, even a little, it is simply a matter of working on the Three Obstacles one bit at a time.

With this grounding then, we can look to my households current and future practices and see where to go next . . . for a sustainable, not an undetectable, interaction with our biosphere.

Coming Soon: The Checklist: The Good, the Bad, the Etc.

1 comment:

Ryan Klein said...

Evening Roger,
The path to green obviously has many forks in the road, and there are many different arena's that can be taken, but I'm trying to highlight one that can help as much as any other:
Just drive the speed limit.

You could see a 15-20% gain in your fuel economy, which depending on how you want to look at it would mean that you are either spending 15-20% less on gas or are emitting 15-20% less of the toxins that are released by burning said gas.

That aside, I was wondering if you would like to exchange links on our respective websites. I am the admin of and am trying to encourage people to drive a bit slower so they can save a bit of gas. We are both out for the same motive, so any cross pollination would be beneficial.

I can be reached at if needed, and I'd ask that should decide to post this comment that you remove the link exchange portion, as I'd like to keep my comment to the point of the post.