Blog Action Day: Climate Change – Why bother? Here’s why.

Today, Oct. 15, 2009, is Blog Action Day. This year’s theme is Climate Change. I’d like to say I have this highly interesting and educational NEW post put together all about climate change, but the truth is I don’t. Instead I am going to recycle (recycling is good, right?) an oldie, but a goody post of mine from Aug. 28, 2008, that addresses climate change called “Why Bother?

Why Bother?

April 28, 2008

This evening as Jody and Ava were out running an errand for me, I attempted to cook dinner while balancing a miserable Julian (due to his four canine teeth coming in at the same time) on my hip. After much fussing (on Julian’s part, not mine), I took a break from cooking, sat down on the couch, flipped on the TV and, hoping to make the poor boy feel a bit better, nursed him.

In skipping through the channels it became clear to me why I rarely watch TV (with the exception of The Office, LOST and occasionally Oprah). There was nothing on. I stopped on the local public access channel long enough to hear someone talking about global warming. My interest was piqued so I lingered.

veg-garden.jpgIt turns out it was a woman reading Michael Pollan’s recent New York Times article “Why Bother?” For those of you unfamiliar with Pollan, he is the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food – neither of which I have read yet, but I’ve heard great things about both.

“Why Bother?” is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’m nowhere near the point of throwing in the towel with regard to the things I do to help the environment, but after reading an article like Enjoy life while you can’ – Climate science maverick James Lovelock believes catastrophe is inevitable, carbon offsetting is a joke and ethical living a scam and watching a YouTube video (which has since been taken down) about Monsanto, you might start to get a little jaded and wonder if all of your efforts are in vain. At least that’s where I’ve been at.

Pollan’s article “Why Bother?” was exactly what I needed to hear (and then read in full on the web since I missed the first half of it on TV) to help lift me out of my funk and I highly recommend you read the whole thing. Here’s just a bit of it.

If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others — from other people, other corporations, even other countries.

Pollan goes on to suggest “find one thing to do in your life that doesn’t involve spending or voting, that may or may not virally rock the world but is real and particular (as well as symbolic) and that, come what may, will offer its own rewards. Maybe you decide to give up meat, an act that would reduce your carbon footprint by as much as a quarter. Or … for one day a week, abstain completely from economic activity: no shopping, no driving, no electronics.”

He also discusses how doing something as basic as planting a garden to grow even a little of your own food could make a big difference. This is another thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As the price of food goes higher and higher and we worry more and more about where our food comes from, organic vs. conventional (pesticide-laden), genetically-modified organisms, carbon emissions and climate change, it makes sense to me to try to grow some of our own food.

Pollan says, “It’s estimated that the way we feed ourselves (or rather, allow ourselves to be fed) accounts for about a fifth of the greenhouse gas for which each of us is responsible.” Yikes.

I don’t have a lot of experience in gardening, but I did help my mom in our family garden as a child and, three years ago, some friends and I had our own plot in a community garden. As I embark on growing my own garden for the first time this year, I’m thankful for my friends like Julie of Terminal Verbosity, Melissa at Nature Deva, Heather at A Mama’s Blog, and Woman With A Hatchet, who all have more gardening experience than me (and will hopefully help me out if I need it – hint, hint). I’m planting a small garden not only for the food it will provide to me and my family and to reduce our carbon footprint, but for the experience it will provide us all. Someday in the hopefully not too distant future (like next few years) once we move into a different house with a larger (and sunnier) yard, I’d love to have a much bigger garden. I’d like to know that if push came to shove and we needed to grow some of our own food, that I could do it. I am concerned that that day might not be too far off and Pollan agrees. “If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these (growing our own food) are skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need.”

But Pollan doesn’t end his article on a downer. Rather he is hopeful and his message is uplifting.

The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.

So, why bother? Because the future of humankind depends on it. Even if by some stroke of luck climate change doesn’t affect us during our lifetime (wishful thinking), I would hate to leave this huge burden and mess for our children to clean up. After all, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” – Native American Proverb

I think Pollan answers the question of “why bother?” best when he says,

Going personally green is a bet, nothing more or less, though it’s one we probably all should make, even if the odds of it paying off aren’t great. Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will.

Here, here. That is why I will keep on bothering. And I hope you will too.

=============================================

Since writing this post, for the past two summers I have grown some of my own food – adding to the number of things I grow from year to year. I’ve also become more mindful about buying food locally. And I got to see Michael Pollan speak in Boulder in May of this year. :) I continue to try to inspire others to live more deliberately through my Green Challenges.

If you wrote about Blog Action Day, I’d love it if you’d leave your link below so I and others can read it. Thanks!

Don’t miss a single CDG post, subscribe to my blog.

Pushing your way to greener grass : environmentally-friendly reel mowers

I’m not an big fan of large, lush (water-guzzling) lawns, especially in areas that often experience drought, like here in Colorado. However, if you have a lawn or patch of grass (or even weeds), chances are you need a way to mow it occasionally lest your yard become the eye-sore of the neighborhood. We don’t have a very big yard here and just got done converting about two-thirds of the backyard into a playground mulchy play area for the kids (as well as some raised garden beds for me), so the amount of grass we have back there is minimal. We still have a lawn in our front yard, but again, it’s not very big and of course we need a way to mow both of them.

In the past we’ve (and when I say “we,” I mean Jody) cut our grass with a gas rotary lawn mower which has always been Jody’s responsibility. I’ve been opposed to cutting the grass for as long as I can remember because I have grass allergies and am not fond of the grass/dirt cloud created using a gas-powered mower. I also don’t like the gas fumes, the noise or the air pollution they create, so I’ve somehow managed to get out of mowing the lawn both as a child and as an adult – in other words pretty much all of my life. ;)

For Father’s Day this year, I decided to get Jody a manual push reel mower – the Scotts Classic Reel Mower. It seemed more practical for our yard now that we have even less grass than before and would be a good change for the environment. However, I suspected the gift might secretly be for me. I took the new mower for a spin in the backyard last week, which may have been my first time cutting the grass ever, and I liked it. I didn’t have to worry about a grass/dirt cloud, noise (my kids could happily stay outside while I did it), or fumes. My allergies weren’t affected by it at all.

What’s the difference between a reel mower and a rotary mower?
Using a reel mower is healthier for the grass. “A reel mower scissors-cuts the grass in its place as it lays. Grass blades are cut cleanly and precisely, with minimal disturbance to the plant. A rotary mower sucks all the grass up to vertical and then chops it off with the fast-moving blade, tearing and bruising the grass, and disturbing its natural growth pattern. This often causes the lawn to dry out and to brown.

The more healthy the grass, the thicker, greener and more beautiful. Reel mowers promote the health of the lawn by minimizing the impact on the grass plant and allowing it to maximize its own inherent properties. In other words, a reel mower helps the grass plant to help itself!”

How much air pollution does a power mower cause?
“Garden equipment engines emit high levels of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, producing up to 5% of the nation’s air pollution and a good deal more in many metropolitan areas like Los Angeles.

A conventional lawn mower pollutes as much in an hour as 40 late model cars (or as much as as much air pollution as driving a car for 100 miles).

A typical 3.5 horsepower gas mower, for instance, can emit the same amount of VOCs — key precursors to smog — in an hour as a new car driven 340 miles, say industry experts.

The replacement of every 500 gas mowers with non-motorized mowers would spare the air:

* 212 pounds of hydrocarbons
(smog ingredient)
* 1.7 pounds of nitrogen oxides
(smog ingredient)
* 5.6 pounds of irritating particles
* 1,724 pounds of carbon dioxide

To top it off, lawn and garden equipment users inadvertently add to the problem by spilling 17 million gallons of fuel each year while refilling their outdoor power equipment. That’s more petroleum than spilled by the Exxon Valdez in the Gulf of Alaska.”

Wondering which manual reel mower is right for you?
Check out this handy chart comparing push reel mowers.

Looking for an alternative to a lawn?
Read more about xeriscaping, which is landscaping or gardening that minimizes outdoor water use while maintaining soil integrity and building aesthetics. Xeriscaping typically includes emphasis on native plantings, mulching, and no or limited drip/subsurface irrigation.

This Sunday I mowed the front yard and I enjoyed it too. See that lovely unwashed hair smile on my face? ;P The more I get into gardening and doing things outside, the more I realize that I really enjoy pretty much all aspects of yard work. I know the reel mower was meant to be a present for Jody, but now that I’m the one mowing the grass and he no longer has to worry about it, it really is a gift to him (and a gift to the Earth too). Now if only I could get my neighbors to quit smoking while I’m out there cutting the grass, I’d be a happy camper.

Questioning Earth Hour and a reminder to beware the candles


It’s that time of year again. Earth Hour 2009 will be celebrated from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. (your local time zone) this Saturday, March 28.

Last year I wrote about Earth Hour and asked everyone to participate and turn off his/her lights for just one hour. I also gave tips for making it a fun family event, and, without giving it too much thought, suggested lighting candles as an alternate lighting source. The problem with this idea has come to my attention since then on more than one occasion, but most recently Crunchy Chicken wrote about the negative impact of paraffin candles in her Earth Hour bashing post.

For those of you not intimately knowledgeable about standard paraffin candles, paraffin is essentially hydrocarbon, or a heavy alkane fraction distilled straight from crude oil. Even if 80% of your electricity comes from coal and fossil fuel fired power stations, burning candles is very polluting and certainly very greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions intensive, even more so than electric lighting. In other words, for every paraffin candle that is burned to replace electric lighting during Earth Hour, greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the one hour are increased by 9.8 g of carbon dioxide.

That’s a rather disturbing thought, no?

She continues,

Beeswax candles, on the other hand, can be considered “carbon neutral” in the sense that, even though it produces carbon dioxide when burned, it’s carbon that is naturally cycled through the ecospheric carbon cycle – not from fossil fuel.

So if you do plan on burning candles this year while participating in Earth Hour (or really if you plan to burn candles at all anytime), please make sure they are beeswax candles. An even better option though is to just hang out in the dark for an hour. :)

Aside from the candle issue, I have to admit I’m torn on the efficacy of Earth Hour. While I believe it has the power to affect change, I think if people, businesses, corporations and governments just do this one thing – turn out their lights for one hour – without changing any other of their habits, it’s really moot. And I question how many people are doing it just to be a part of something trendy and make themselves feel good. Turning out our lights for an hour isn’t going to solve global warming. However, if everyone uses Earth Hour as a springboard to take another step and another step and find little changes they can make to live greener and more sustainably, then it’s a great thing.

I’m trying to lean towards optimism rather than pessimism and keep the hope that each and every person who participates in Earth Hour is not doing it just to pat them self on the back for one evening, but that he/she realizes this is only the first step of many (MANY!!) to make a real difference in the future of our Earth.

Like I said in my post last year,

Earth Hour doesn’t have to end at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, you can incorporate it into your everyday life by doing little things like:

  • turn off lights when you leave a room;
  • switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs;
  • turn off appliances when not in use;
  • unplug things like cell phone chargers, the toaster, microwave and TV when they aren’t in use;
  • use less hot water;
  • switch to green power.

So what say you? Are you in? And what steps do you/will you take beyond turning off your lights on Saturday night?