|How Green Is My Lifestyle?|
|Written by Jim W. Harper -- BT Contributor|
Our resident eco-writer takes stock of his everyday habits
Stop reading this if you’ve heard my life story before. I’m kidding. Not that I could tell you my story in a few paragraphs, but I can reveal some personal achievements that demonstrate my commitment to living the principles that I write about.
These are continuous challenges. It is much easier to talk the talk than to walk this green walk.
I was inspired to take inventory of my personal habits by someone who recently challenged my green credentials because I could not assign a number to my carbon footprint. (Who can?) I have tried to calculate it, and I have found that various standards lead to various results. I would appreciate knowing which calculator to use so that I can compare my footprint to an average adult in Africa.
I am American and, by default, Americans have very high environmental footprints, double that of our British counterparts and other Europeans that have the same standard of living. Double! Until our nation cuts consumption in half, we can’t even begin to discuss footprints.
But we can talk about personal responsibility, which is an all-American value. Here is how I have tried to practice what I preach.
My yard has officially gone green. This year it earned the highest certification possible for a “Florida-friendly yard” from the state’s agricultural extension service. That’s a big deal to me, because it took a decade to achieve.
Starting with a landscaper who favored native plants, the transformation involved letting go of a “traditional” South Florida yard. No grass. No sprinklers. No ficus hedge. No showy flowers to fertilize. No fuss.
Besides being easy to maintain and earth-friendly, a yard dominated by Florida natives is also the most beautiful, in my humble opinion. It reminds me of my childhood in western Boca Raton, where the snakes slithered across the sugar sand on dappled shadows cast by slash pines. Wild Florida is beautiful Florida, and landscaping can capture a small slice of it.
My transportation habits have also changed. After my old bike was stolen from Barry University a few years back, I bought a new one for $300 and have probably saved at least that much on short trips that would otherwise require gasoline. I take shuttle buses as often as possible, and I have kept my 1999 car in good shape. When that one dies, my next car will be highly efficient.
My travel addiction has also faded. I used to think nothing of flying cross-country for a meeting or across continents for a vacation. But now I think about balancing and replacing such adventures with local meetings and staycations.
The good thing about my previously travel-heavy lifestyle is that I have seen firsthand how wasteful we Americans are in comparison to the rest of the world. We take so much for granted, particularly how much we take and take and take.
Food footprints are important, and telling. Because photosynthesis is the basis of sustainability, going green means leaning toward vegetarianism. Although I remain an omnivore, I have become vegetable-strong and a committed locavore. I gave up certain seafood, reduced my meat-based meals, and try to avoid highly processed foods from unknown origins. This struggle never ends.
When I walk to CVS or Publix, I carry reusable bags. When I go out for coffee, I either bring a mug or carry around the plastic lid I acquire until I find a recycling bin. Yes, I also turn out the lights when I leave a room. (Don’t you?)
I try to practice the three R’s in priority order. Before I recycle, I try to reuse, which means switching from paper napkins to cloth and from paper towels to rags. Before I reuse, I try to reduce, which means installing a low-flow showerhead in the bathroom and a rain barrel in the backyard. It means creating a compost pile, instead of tossing waste into the garbage.
Reduce garbage first, then reuse items, and, lastly, recycle.
I do all these things, yet I fail to achieve sustainability because I am a middle-class American. I habitually purchase and consume many things that I don’t need from unknown, faraway places. Thankfully most of the earth’s seven billion people are much less wasteful than we are.
So to all the readers who think they are green, take a look in the global mirror, a funhouse mirror that makes Americans look very fat. Except in this case it isn’t an illusion. Our collective footprint is massive.
So why not give up and live fat and happy until I die?
For me, mindless consumption does not bring much happiness. I have a suspicion that more and more people are waking up to this realization. We have been raised to consume, but we can choose to smell the flowers, instead of eating them.
My name is Jim, and I am a recovering materialist.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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