Monday, April 30, 2007

Going Green - Part 1

This is my first post in an ongoing series where I try to document our continuing attempts to green up our lives, our house, our cars, etc. This will include all the starts, stops, frustrations caused by availability, cost, usability, whatever.

Things that we already do include fairly fastidious shutting off of electronics and lights when not in use. This even extends as far as Michelle frequently completely unplugging the microwave and her computer. Sounds nutty, but devices still use power even when off. Standby consumption can be equivalent to a 75 or 100 watt bulb continuously on. Of course, there are power strips that will serve the same purpose, but we have not went that far yet. I didn't just want to get a cheap strip that doesn't do what we need it to.

During the summer and when we're not in the house, our thermostat is set at 84. Even when home, we rarely set it below 80. We have always used the local electric company's "Time-of-Use" plan which rewards you shifting some of your electricity usage to off-peak times. We have used compact fluorescent bulbs for years.

Just this week, we've stopped using paper napkins (and will try to stop using paper towels) and will use cloth napkins. We're even going to order hemp napkins. You can't get much more birkenstocky than that. In shopping around, I found several pretty cool sites that sell organic items:

Grassroots Natural Goods

Every year, we try to use our tax refund to get something that improves the efficiency of our house. A few years back, it was high-efficiency, low-water Bosch appliances. This year, it was going to be something along the lines of solar power. Nothing major, maybe just a panel that could power a few devices. But, unfortunately, it's not quite that simple and not that cheap. To really get something that will generate any sizable amount of power, you've really got to spend some money (on-grid residential solar). There a lot of incentives from the electric company and from both local and federal governments that reduce the price, but you are still talking a big outlay. If we had it all to do again, we'd have set it up at the time of building our new house. It's disgusting that in Arizona, where the sun pretty much shines all the time, solar power is pretty much an afterthought.

There's a cool tool at Nature Conservancy that helps you estimate the impact that you are having on the planet with your choices. With each change that you make, you can get a tangible feel for how much of an effect it makes.

This is not about doing something because it's trendy or because you think you are viewed better for doing so. Or at least it shouldn't be. But too much of anything - even a good thing - is a problem. Here's an interesting article that likens the selling of carbon offsets to that of the Catholic Church's selling of indulgences before the Reformation:

Carbon-Neutral Is Hip, but Is It Green?

That's like a double-bonus for me ... making fun of the Catholic Church and trendy hypocritical hipsters at the same time.

The environment and conservation weren't always "liberal" issues. You know, "stewardship of the earth", and all that crap. Conservative and conservation didn't use to be mutually exclusive. When did it become a partisan issue? Morons like Rush Limbaugh certainly have accelerated the process. Look, I don't care if you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, whatever. I don't care if you believe in God, Vishnu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I don't care if you don't believe in global warming. It's just smart to conserve what you have and to not crap in your own house. The earth is our house.

If you have 1 kid, don't have a 4,000 square foot house and a Hummer that you only drive to the grocery store. Don't be wasteful just because you want to get back at Democrats. Shopping and consumerism, despite what W says, aren't "patriotic". Don't be a friggin' skidmark on the Earth.

I'd be interested to know any further suggestions that you guys have. I know some of you don't have cars. Some telecommute. Some are vegetarians. (all things that reduce your carbon footprint)


Laura said...

Good for you! we try to do what we can. I take public transit and walk most places. We did finally get a car (bought it off a friend) but it's mainly used to take the dog to the park and shop at the better grocery store than the one within walking distance.

There's always something you can do.

Rent "Who Killed the Electric Car" if you haven't already. Totally depressing. But there's a guy who is developing super thin solar panels that you can shingle your house with! Even in Chicago, that could supplement coal power.

I have to get better with buying eco-friendly cleaning products. There is supposedly a phosphate free dishwasher detergent, but the don't sell it in Chicago for some reason.

Laura said...

Oh, and I resemble that cartoon... along with the car we have the Terra Pass. Though when we renew it, I am going to lie and double the emissions so that it seems more worthwhile. For the amount we drive the car it's something like $36 - which seems ridiculously cheap if you ask me.

Oh - another thing people can do. Instead of that Kentucky bluegrass everyone loves even though it only belongs in - you guessed it - Kentucky. Plant a natural garden with local plants, plant trees and shrubs and ivy instead of grass. They use less water, give back more to the atmosphere, and don't need constant mowing and fertilizing...

dbackdad said...

I wish we had a better public transit system. We did finally have our initial tests of the light rail that will be starting at the end of next year.

We did see the electric car movie. We had friends that had the EV1 and were pissed we they had it taken away. Last I heard, they were trying to build their own electric car.

As far as phosphate-free cleaners, you might want to check out Shaklee. I'm not sure how much they are but you can order them online.

I did think that cartoon was pretty funny. In theory, I like the concept of the carbon offsets. There are a lot of companies that are very conscientious about how they do it and they serve a real purpose. But, like anything, we have to make sure there is some follow-up.

I agree on the grass idea. I'm getting totally irritated at trying to keep our lawn green. If it had been my choice, I wouldn't even have had one but the wife wants that little piece of Iowa in our back yard. It takes too much water, introduces non-native species, and still looks like crap. If she wants a little piece of Iowa, we can put a broken down tractor in our back yard. lol.

In general, I like the concept of high-density urban living and I think if people choose to live in the city, they need to get used to it also. Too many, especially out here, want to have country living in the middle of the city. Our house is definitely in the 'burbs but they are doing a decent job of creating some mixed-use areas (Westgate) that encompass shopping, residences, sports, entertainment, etc. and they are all within walking distance of us. I wish they'd get a grocery store out here a little closer but we still have one about 2 miles away.

Now, I just need to get a job that doesn't have me driving all over the city, or I need to get a hybrid. Stay tuned ...

Sadie Lou said...

Laura-- dbackdad did a review recently of "Who Killed the Electric Car".

I have a few things to say. First, you know those lightbulbs we are supposed to use instead of the cheap lightbulbs we all have been using? I heard that if you break one while you're trying to install it, your home could have to be professionally cleaned up by a company that handles mercury poisoning--to the tune of 2,000! Is that true?

Also, I heard that Al Gore takes his personal jet everywhere and has like 4 homes and uses four times the amount of energy the average American uses--that's a big carbon footprint! Is *THAT* true? I honestly just hear this stuff in passing--I haven't looked it up yet. I also heard his carbon footprint voucher system is a scam.
I need to visit his website!
I think your steps towards being more green is admirable and inspiring.
I do make sure all the lights are turned off when we're not using them and I recently explained to my husband that we need to shut down the computer instead of letting it just go to sleep all day.
I'm glad you're going to do this post series. It's educational.

dbackdad said...

Here's a pretty good explanation of Gore's usage:

Al Gore's Energy Use

Basically, it is true that his home uses a lot more but there are mitigating circumstances. His and Tipper's offices are housed there and they also spend a lot extra each month to purchase electricity from renewables (solar, etc.)

On compact fluorescent light bulbs:

Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury: about 4 mg, compared with about 500 mg found in conventional mercury thermometers. If you break a compact fluorescent light bulb, use a wet rag to wipe up and collect the glass and throw the rag and pieces of bulb away.

But it is definitely worth considering how we dispose of these bulbs in the long run. Perhaps, as usage of them increases, our trash departments may have separate disposal of them from our regular trash.

Sadie Lou said...

Okay. I read that article on Snopes and I'm still asking myself, why such a huge house Al Gore?
I mean, if this man's true passion is for going green, it would be such a good example he could set by sizing down.
We all know he can afford multiple homes and HUGE homes but he could really send a message to other rich folk by toning it down. Don't you think? I mean, Leonardo DiCaprio is right behind Al Gore on this Global Warming issue and let's take a look at his lifestyle...
I'll be right back with some facts.

Sadie Lou said...

A committed environmentalist, DiCaprio has received praise from environmental groups for opting to fly on commercial flights instead of chartering private jets, which use more fuel. He has also mentioned that his house has solar panels, that he owns three Toyota Prius cars, and has bought hybrids for family members.

That's awesome.

dbackdad said...

I bought that copy of Vanity Fair with Leo on the cover. It's very good. He's a very involved environmentalist and has been for quite awhile. Like you said, I admire him quite a bit for walking it like he talks it.

Jeff said...

That's great that you're going green. I've been continously working on it, I guess one of the most notable things I've been doing the past few months is taking public transportation (Train) to work opposed to making a drive. I'm not sure if I'm spending more or less by using public transportation but I feel a bit better about myself because I do which is a plus. Also recently I just stopped getting bills and statements in the mail, not much but every little move helps.

dbackdad said...

"I'm not sure if I'm spending more or less by using public transportation but I feel a bit better about myself because I do ..." - That's an important distinction. I know a lot of the things that we'll do may cost more in the short run, but I'm willing to do it. We have to start thinking about things in the long run ... past even our own lifetimes. That's why I really somehow want to get solar. If I could tell the electric company that I don't need some of their electricity, that would be great. Even better, they may pay me back for some of mine they use. Same with getting a hybrid or electric. It sucks driving around every day in a vehicle that is being fueled by something that starts wars around the globe. Instead of "blood" or "conflict" diamonds, it's "blood" and "conflict" oil.

Great job in riding the train. It's definitely a shortcoming to live in the 'burbs in a sprawled city like I do.

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