Saturday, August 8, 2009

The big environmental hurdles

Despite professing my desire for greener living and lowering my environmental footprint on this planet, there are changes I have not embraced. These include:

My diet
I was raised with meat and potatoes as the staples of my supper. As the daughter of a dairy farmer, I consumed plenty of meat and dairy products except for Fridays because we were Catholic and did not eat meat that day of the week. While I now drink 1% milk rather than raw whole milk, the quantity has not decreased. However, I have decreased my meat consumption but never to zero. I find myself craving a hamburger if I have not had red meat for a while and I desire milk when I have not consumed for as few as two days. Asking me to part with cheese is like asking me to mow 10 acres of lawn--extremely undesirable.

I know that the environmental costs of keeping me in a meat diet are much greater than eating lower on the food chain (i.e., a vegetarian diet). I can mitigate some of the evils of my diet by going local and organic but I have converted little of my diet to grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and sustainably harvested fish. While I might incorporate more of locally grown and harvested food in my diet, I still enjoy eating meat I can easily find at a grocery store.

My car
I live in a suburb in the United States of America. I was raised in a country that has a love affair with cars and thinks little of jumping in one and traveling to wherever his or her heart desires. While I may combine errands, enjoy my occasional telecommute to work and try to park the car at least one day a week, I still use my car at least five times a week. While I may not feel a strong attachment to my car like some, I have few other options to get me to my workplace, the doctor, my family and necessities. Therefore, I consume gasoline, pump out carbon dioxide and otherwise pollute to use the easy transportation of a car. Unfortunately, I see no way around it. Despite looking for a carpooling buddy and knowing people at my workplace drive from the same city, I still drive alone because few seem interested coordinating rides with another person. I could look harder than I have for someone to carpool with but I have had no response when I have made attempts.

Even with a desire to carpool or even park my car for five or more days of the week, I work at a distance greater than I am able to bicycle and there are no mass transit options. Because my desire is leading me to a rural location, I anticipate my future driving needs will stay the same or even increase.

My electrical and natural gas consumption
While I am conscious of my fossil fuel use and what burning it does to the environment, I still use it. I keep my thermostat low in the winter and high in the summer. However, I also have a refrigerator, a chest freezer and in the summer, two dehumidifiers, all keeping my kilowatt hours high. Currently, I have four computers (three laptops and one desktop), an electric toothbrush, electric lawnmower, electric snow thrower, TV, electronics and lights with occasional contributions by my iPod and iPhone when they are recharged. While the use of some of these are optional (e.g., television), I leave them all plugged in when not in use. I also like having warm water at the turn of faucet handle, all heated with my natural gas water heater.

While I try to reduce how much electricity I consume, I am not planning on replacing my refrigerator (~12 years old) or my air conditioning unit (~15 years old) just to reduce my electrical usage. I can think of no good alternative to running two dehumidifiers in my basement and there are too many things like my MacBook Pro and electric toothbrush I just cannot give up without a fight. Nor can I completely abandon use of the air conditioner (temperatures are predicted to be above 90 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity for the next two days) or my furnace. Therefore, I will continue to use my devices of my modern, convenient life including my natural-gas burning furnace and water heater.

It is not easy to walk away from things that would have the greatest effect on my use of finite resources. I plan to take advantage of the local farmer's market for some of my needs but it does not replace my monthly run to the grocery store. I continue to be conscious of my fossil fuel use but will attend the monthly family dinner that requires me to drive 150 miles round trip. My love affair with my MacBook Pro will not end anytime soon. Therefore, I will continue trimming here and there and hope I can reduce my consumption of nearly five times my share of this planet to a more reasonable two or less. My planned changes get me closer to four so I will continue to seek ways to reduce my environmental footprint.

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