Friday, May 21, 2010

DCMM: Declaring War on the Earth: Part 3, Should We Sweat the Small Stuff?

First came the baby in the baby carriage, and the warmer house. That’s the day we declared war on the Earth. Next came another baby in a baby carriage that could haul two kids around, and a bigger house—The Big Move. Now, I have to figure out how to at least control this war on the Earth so that some day, I might live in harmony once more. Please, please, let this conflict not escalate any further.

I could do something extreme and sell my home, downsize, and instantly reduce my carbon footprint. The trouble is, housing transaction costs are high. It’s not something you just do overnight. Plus, a move would threaten my sanity, and that’s something I don’t like to tinker with. It prompted the initial move.

So here’s what I do – which follows all those posts on DCMetroMoms that got me thinking about this topic in the first place. And that’s when I realize that I, too, am missing the forest for the trees.

My children wear almost exclusively used clothes. I buy and then later sell them at a local consignment sale. Doing this provides efficiencies in at least two ways. First, in only two trips each year, I’m able to purchase nearly all the clothes they’ll need for the coming two seasons. That’s collectively a lot of gas saved in errands I avoid. Second, I delay the eventual entry of these items into the trash heap. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to do this. My own son recently showed me his trick of sliding down a slipper slide on his knees. My thought? “Oh my goodness that’s hard on those jeans! No wonder I’m having such a hard time finding his size at the consignment sale.” I have a feeling he’ll be putting his share of holes in clothing in these next years.
Few of the toys in my home have a battery. As a friend of mine and I were agonizing over all of the environmental damage wreaked upon the Earth in the name of our children she practically cried “and the batteries”. Yahoo Answers assures me that tossing batteries out is bad, bad, bad. After all, lead, mercury, and cadmium from batteries not disposed of properly eventually find its way to the environment. I need to get a box for the few dead batteries generated in my house and at least make sure they get disposed of properly.

I visited a friend in my daughter’s playgroup not too long ago and learned that she never uses a plastic trash bag. Instead, she saves bags from items like carrots and celery, sorts her trash so that anything that is “yucky” gets placed in these bags, and then she tosses them out. I thought this represented some pretty fine resource usage. When I marveled at this over dessert one evening, another friend chimed in that she did the same thing. Luckily, Arlington provides incredible recycling resources, taking nearly everything I can think of in the recycling bin each week. I like that. I remember when I lived in DC over a decade ago and I had to drive my recycling (except for cans and glass bottles) to a parking lot every other week. What a pain. Please tell me this has improved by now.

I never, never, never get a bag when I purchase lunch. But I admit, it's because I work in DC and it costs a nickel for a bag. A NICKEL! I’m way too cheap to pay that, and it provides enough incentive for me to bring my own reusable bag. My husband is champion of all champions when it comes to bringing his reusable bags to the supermarket. I’m still working on that.

My children and I maintain a vegetarian lifestyle, as does my husband much of the time.

About a month after my family moved into our current house, we had all of the old windows replaced and we had some of it insulated. (And note, I did not say reinsulated as my husband and I learned when we had AC installed that parts of the house had no insulation. Zilch.) More of this is on the way. Earlier this year, Arlington ran a very generous program that I am participating in where my home energy audit was subsidized and now I have up to $2,000 to redeem for energy improvements in my home. On the flip side, Arlington designates some homes as "green home choices" and I think this program is shockingly bad. After all, the house across the street from mine carries this designation (which I challenged). The house across the street is a newly constructed mini-mansion that was built only after knocking down a perfectly beautiful and functional home. Apparently, the act of tearing down a usable structure and hauling it to a dumpster doesn't count against installing energy efficient appliances. Uh, seriously? You tell me which impacts the environment in the long-run more. Even the short run!

I grow some veggies in my garden, belong to a CSA - something that is relatively easy for people in Arlington, and probably the whole metro area, given the large number of excellent farms around here. I'll be picking strawberries at this farm this weekend.

I once had a Thai au pair who would hop into the shower, get wet, turn the water off, do all her washing, and then turn the water back on to rinse. I have to admit, I'm not that dedicated. I like to stand under the hot water first thing in the morning. But I bet the entire year she lived with us she used less water on showering than my family does in a week.

But are these the things I should focus on? What’s the environmental smoking gun out there that, if everyone followed, would have a huge positive impact on our planet? Is there one? Is anyone looking for it? Does it even make sense to do the things I do on a regular basis or is it just a lost cause until my kids are older and I move into a small villa on the French countryside?

My friend Denise, always the environmental optimist, pointed out to me that if solar energy or other alternate energy sources were available, I’d convert. And certainly my parents did back in the 1970s with the Carter energy tax credits. Anyone know if this is a realistic possibility for future financing? Is the technology getting good enough that it ought to be widespread?

As I sit typing this post, my rain barrel is filling up, the lights have been lowered for the evening, and I’m eagerly awaiting your tips.

This is an original DCMetroMoms post. When Elaine isn’t fretting over her carbon footprint, she likes to immerse her kids in nature. She writes about it at Connor and Helen!

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Posted by ElaineMM on May 21, 2010 at 09:00 AM in Elaine | Permalink

Environment, children, conservation tips Comments

Sue @ Laundry for Six said...
I have loved this series! Honestly, I'm still trying to get over all the disposable diapers I have contributed to landfills over 10 years. MY environmental guilt is huge.

I don't have the answers, but I agree that little changes, when taken on by multitudes, DO make a big difference. Even CFL lightbulbs - if every household in America switched just one incandescent to a CFL is would prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to those of 800,000 cars. (Of course there is the mercury issue... nothing is ever cut and dry, is it?)

I was reading the paper with my husband this morning and lamenting that there never seems to be enough money to invest in alternative energy sources to really get us far enough down the road to making them practical for most of America, and yet, how many BILLIONS of dollars is it going to take to clean up this oil spill in the Gulf? Imagine if all that money had gone into research for alternative fuels instead. (sigh)

Reply May 22, 2010 at 07:19 AM ElaineMM said in reply to Sue @ Laundry for Six...
Substantial investments in alternative energy could go far. My parents were among the relatively small number of people who benefited from the Carter-era tax credits for solar homes. As soon as Reagan came into office, he decided that all alternative energy investments would be in nuclear power, and there went the possibility for most home-owners to ever be able to afford solar. Ugh.

And I just want to cry at the oil spill. Cry.

Reply May 22, 2010 at 03:13 PM Thrift Store Mama said...
The idea that the house across the street from you can be designated as green absolutely incenses and angers me to no end. "Apparently, the act of tearing down a usable structure and hauling it to a dumpster doesn't count against installing energy efficient appliances." This is clearly a case where local government is missing the forest for the trees. or just stupid policies and regulations - maybe both !

Reply May 24, 2010 at 05:05 AM Steph @ Consignment Sale Queen said...
Wow, seasonal consignment sales saving Gas.... I never thought of that! :D

Reply May 24, 2010 at 08:40 PM

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