Eco-Thought: Avoiding “Green Fatigue”

Can we pretend that it’s last Friday and I posted this on Blog Action Day? Actually, Ross’s post that day about the advantages of a “green” business park was both thoughtful and underacknowledged, so let’s revisit that one and consider this the one-week anniversary post. Maybe every Friday can be Eco-Friday… and green is the new black.

A recent article in the UK publication The Independent asks, “Have You Got Green Fatigue?“, and addresses the cynicism that can set in about huge global or systemic issues like climate change, and questions whether an individual’s lifestyle choices really have any impact. Last summer, the New York Times had an article about buying one’s way into eco-heaven, pointing out the conflict implicit in a consumption-based model of “going green”. (According to the NYT article, “Consuming is a significant part of the problem to begin with. Maybe the solution is instead of buying five pairs of organic cotton jeans, buy one pair of regular jeans instead.”)

Why is this particularly relevant to Locally Grown? you may ask. Well, I may be cynical on the outside, but deep down I’m a relentless optimist, and I found a nice silvery lining in the cloud: According to the article in The Independent, part of the solution to the problem of “green fatigue” may be found in local action and involvement:

Progress on a small and local scale – such as saving a beloved local shop, voting in a councillor who will push green issues, or increasing local recycling rates – and even a desire to keep up with the Joneses (“if everybody’s ditching the gas-guzzler, I’ll do it, too”) are far more effective motivators than media-inspired guilt and vague fears of an uncertain future. . . [H]istory has shown a thousand times that “regular” people are capable of extraordinary courage, dedication and ingenuity when asked to answer the call. It’s time we put out that call, rather than another marketing pitch.

So if each one of us makes changes based on the specific details that are most important to our lives and closest to our hearts, we can make significant, positive changes in our local community. My own pet issue is local food. (It’s tough, when one lives in Minnesota is an almost-vegetarian.) I’m not yet very knowledgeable or very consistent in my choices, but I’m getting better at both.

I read somewhere recently that switching out a 75-watt incandescent bulb and replacing it with a compact fluorescent equivalent (26 watt) will save about $7.15 and the bulb will pay for itself in four months (assuming energy costs of $0.10/kWh). Despite those great stats I confess that I haven’t switched more than a couple of bulbs to compact flourescent. But If anyone knows of a broad-spectrum CFL that can help people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, please let me know ASAP!

Here are some other small actions that can make a big difference:

  • You’ve heard it before, but changing to energy-efficient light bulbs really can make a difference. Lighting uses 20 per cent of the world’s electricity, the equivalent of burning 600,000 tons of coal a day. Phasing out old bulbs would avoid the release of 700 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year.
  • Shop local. If your food shopping amounts to £100 a week, that’s £5,200 a year that could be going into the pocket of a local butcher, grocer and baker, rather than the supermarket till. Imagine if 100 people in your area had the same idea.
  • Is recycling really worth it? Yes. Recycling one glass jar saves enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for four hours. Glass can be reused an infinite number of times. Think of all the jars recycled in your street in a year.
  • Recycling a ton of paper saves 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water.
  • Turning your thermostat down by two degrees can save 2,000 pounds of carbon every year. Just imagine if everyone in your family and everyone in your office did it.

10 thoughts on “Eco-Thought: Avoiding “Green Fatigue””

  1. The problem with eco friendly individual action is that it is easily thwarted by the one person in the household that doesn’t get it. By this I mean, the person who stands with the front door opened in the middle of winter for no particular reason. And what about the claim EPA makes that the indoor air quality is actually worse than the outdoor air, calling for liberal airings of the home. I know, I know, you can take your energy saving steps anyway. But do they really balance out all the energy abuse?

  2. Where did this sudden obsession with the minute come from? It seems that relatively recently, society had decided that if only we give up — say — bottled water, our environmental problems will just go away. I bet you never thought that Aquafina you drank on August 3rd would destroy the Earth.

    Probably because it won’t. Your bottle of water (which I thank you, Tracy, for not mentioning in you piece) will not destroy nature. Nor will the incandescent lightbulb you have in your upstairs hallway.

    Just imagine if everyone in your family and everyone in your office did it.

    I’d also like to imagine them skipping with butterflies, picking apples, and rescuing puppies in their free time: they won’t do it, that’s the problem. We should focus less on personal change and more on large-scale and regulatory change. This talk about banning traditional lightbulbs is a great start. Even on a smaller scale, I’m a fan of Northfield’s energy proposal.

    As for personal, voluntary change, though: it’s an effective way to massage one’s conscience, but it’s no way to make a significant difference.

    All that said…

    But If anyone knows of a broad-spectrum CFL that can help people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, please let me know ASAP!

    Check out Feit Electric’s “Daylight” bulbs.

  3. Sean- Good thoughts on your part. The sum total of all the CO2 contributed by all of mankind on Earth, according to the studies I have found, ammounts to about 3.5% of the annual total. Even if everyone could get to zero contribution, we still wouldn’t affect much change. (You can’t even get zero contributioin if you die, because your decomposing body emits some CO2.) So, even large scale change is not going to reverse our climate change right now.

    It is evident that we are in a cycle of climate change, but I think the jury is still out as to what is causing it. There is a body of scientific study that attributes the warming to sun activity. We are entering a period of low sun-spot activity. Historical evidence shows that in high sunspot activity, Earth temperatures run cooler. As the activity decrease, the temperature rises on Earth. There really isn’t much we can do about that.

    I don’t believe we should just give up because of this, but I think we need to assess how the climate changes are going to affect populated areas and begin some steps to deal with them. What new deseases or parasites are going to come in? How do we build up immunities to them? I don’t know of any research being done right now in this area, but I think this would be a more effective long range investment than trying to reduce CO2 emissions. If someone does, I would sure like to read about it.

  4. John,
    Even if you are skeptical about human-caused global warming, there’s still something to be said for large-scale conservation: it creates a more efficient world. The U.S. bans incandescent lightbulbs, so you spend less on your electricity because you use less and a power plant isn’t build because there’s less demand for energy. Taxpayers pay less to subsidize power companies because there’s less to subsidize. It prevents and reduces bloat.

    Of course, you can take that the other way, saying that if we use more energy, we can create more jobs, but that’s just plain silly: cruft for the sake of cruft is no way for our country to function.

  5. Sean, you said:
    “As for personal, voluntary change, though: it’s an effective way to massage one’s conscience, but it’s no way to make a significant difference.”

    I don’t buy this Sean. I changed the light bulbs in my store and home and see the difference in my pocket book and labor. I was constantly changing bulbs in the store. I’ve changed one since the conversion was complete. I spend less on bulbs, less time changing bulbs and assume my elctric bill is smaller.

    I ride my bike more and drive less. My health is better and I save money on gas and wear on my car.

    It is a significant difference.

  6. Jerry, I didn’t mean to completely discount personal change, I just meant to say that it’s a foolish way to go about trying to save the earth. See my response to John, above.

    Changes you make in your own life — especially transportation changes — can make a significant difference to your own life. They’re not worthless, but they’re not enough to make a global difference.

  7. What I ‘ve been mulling over is the assumption that with global warming comes an automatic save, in that we use less energy to live comfortably in
    our homes temperature wise for an extra month or two every year now.
    This should offset quite a bit of carbon emissions all by itself. But, I have
    no proof…and I speak of the midwest portion of the country only.

    Also, I am gonna back Sean on his comments as stated above.

  8. Sean- You said, “Taxpayers pay less to subsidize power companies because there’s less to subsidize.” I’m not sure I follow your logic on this one. If power companies reduce their size, what do you do with the employees that will be laid off? They have to make money somewhere. It is almost like farm subsidies, where farmers are paid NOT to produce certain crops. So you have money flowing out of the GNP, but no goods or services being provided for this money. This negative cash flow only adds to the deficit. I think it would add more subsisies somewhere.

    I’m all for conservation, but I think I’m using different criteria to support it. Saving any resource is wise. I’m just saying that this energy conservation is not going to help our climate situation, and we need to be proactive on dealing with the effects of this change rather than being reactive.

  9. I believe in making personal changes, primarily because I think waste of finite resources and unnecessary degradation of our environment are inherently wrong, even if they help power economies. But I also worry about managing the economic changes that would result from widespread behavior change.

    For example, I find the goal of eating more locally-produced foods very inspirational in terms of energy saved, and pollution and carbon dioxide emissions lessened, through a reduction in routine, large-scale cross-country transportation of food. The positive effects on local land use and local farmers and local economies also seem self-evident.

    But I realize that if by some amazing chance a very significant percentage of the population start making eating locally a priority, truck drivers will lose jobs; large food producers will lose customers and close plants; whole regional economies based on particular crop production (citrus or bananas, for example) could go sour if large numbers of people eschew those foods most of the time. These are not inconsequential effects. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim to make those changes, but that we should also consider the consequences and plan for economic transition. I don’t want traditional regional economies (olive oil, coffee, bananas, spices, wild rice for example) to be decimated when people from other areas stop buying so much of those products, if those regions have a true natural advantage in producing those crops and are less suited for other uses.

    Some economic impacts can be offset by investment in new technologies, but there will be some painful transitions.

    I also believe that people who are trying to reduce the negative effects of their own lifestyle choices are going to make a more involved and more effective populace when it comes to pushing for legislative or other large-scale changes. And, as we’ve seen in the media, some people get snippy and dismissive about those who call for change but are seen as not always walking the walk in their own lives. (That often seems to be just an excuse to discredit views those people are likely to reject anyway. Al Gore’s plane travel in support of his message has been offset many-fold by the power and results of that message, and it shocks my conscience when people say that if he “really” cared he wouldn’t have used the most effective ways to get that message out.)

    And lots of small changes really do add up to significant change. Energy companies call for conservation so that they won’t have to build new power plants as populations grow. (Then when people do conserve they seem to whine that they’re losing income, and ask for rate hikes.) Not building additional power plants is significant.

    Interesting point, Bright, about higher temps meaning shorter or milder heating seasons. They probably also mean longer or more intense air-conditioning seasons, and air conditioning is electric (powered significantly at this point by coal, which is a leading carbon-emitting culprit until carbon sequestration technology becomes more mainstream) whereas a lot of home heating is natural gas powered, which I believe to be a cleaner-burning fuel, or at least one with lower carbon emissions than coal. Technology changes — more solar and wind energy, figuring out the carbon sequestration for coal plants, etc. — can improve matters, and I hope they will move ahead rapidly.

    My bottom line: let’s make big changes AND small changes! And let’s do it NOW! But let’s be thoughtful about how to change and how to help ease the economic effects of our changes.

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