I took a long journey since the last post to the French bar exam and back. I studied and stressed and made everyone crazy but in the end I triumphed and now life is returning to its normal schedule - metro - boulot - dodo.
I had started this post around Earth Day but never got around to finishing it. Earth Day is one of those holidays like International Women's Day and International Human Rights Day in that it should really be celebrated all year long. But it was this article in the NYTimes that got me thinking, almost laughing out loud.
In previous posts I've mentioned our efforts to be a little more conscious about the impact of our consumption on our environment (whether that be our home or the Earth). I like to think of our actions like this rather than using those loathsome environmental buzz words like "going green", "eco-friendly" and "carbon footprint". Because for me, it really breaks down into three things: an action (buying something), a purpose (what you do with it) and an effect (the impact of the purchase on the environment). We recently took a trip to Emmaus (like Goodwill or the Salvation Army) to look for some funky old furniture for our apartment. Not only did we leave empty handed but I left feeling gloomy and repulsed. There is nothing like rows of old vinyl couches and piles of outdated electronics castoffs to make you think hard about the impact of consumerland on the environment. If that junk doesn't make its way to someone else's home, it will make its way to a landfill where it will rot and pollute the ground but never disappear or its will be incinerated and its toxic fumes will fill the atmosphere.
In many cases, the action is just as selfishly motivated as it is purely altruistic in form even if the end result is a net positive for all. Take, for example, the use of household cleaners - my main concern is the impact these toxic cleaners have on my immediate environment - on my skin, in the air that I breathe, on the plates on which I eat. It just so happens that they are also better for the Earth - less pollution and less packaging waste (whether recyclable or not, don't forget that it takes energy to recycle!). Other decisions such as using compact light bulbs and line drying clothes are largely economically motivated but also provide a pleasing sense of personal virtue - save a buck, save the environment! A win-win game. When you think about it like this, your "sacrifice" for the environment is minimal and your gain is personal, economic and beneficial to the World.
Getting back to this article...the author tries to get her family to participate in an environmental "race" to see who lower their CO2 emissions the greatest using the tracker website CarbonRally. Aside from being amused that we Americans have to turn everything into a competition, I think the idea is great - your actions can be selfishly motivated (beat your neighbors by being more energy efficient!) and have a positive impact too. I had to laugh because it made me realize how much I have changed my habits since moving to Europe. Three quarters of the recommendations made are already ones I have incorporated into my daily routine, and mostly unconsciously. In France, line drying clothes is pretty standard, as is using cloth napkins, they're not in to to-go coffee, and supermarkets now make you pay for plastic bags. Here are some simple ways Carbon Rally suggests you can change your habits and I've included some of my own as well. What changes have you made?
1/ Avoid drinking bottled waters, teas, sodas and the like. If you do drink them, make sure to recycle the containers.
2/ If you can, compost your kitchen scraps and garden trimmings.
3/ Cut your paper consumption at the office by printing doubled sided. Better yet, set your default printing to double sided and you'll no longer have to think about.
4/ Turn off your computer when you leave work for the night. Turn off the lights in your office when you're out to lunch.
5/ Line dry your clothes.
6/ Clean the lint from your fridge coils.
7/ Power shower - knock off 2 minutes from your daily shower (or better yet, turn off the water while you lather up!)
8/ Go one week without using disposable coffee cups but don't deprive yourself, bring your own mug to Starbucks.
9/ Unplug the appliances your don't regularly use - even when they're "off", appliances like stereos and computers still use energy.
10/ Bring your own bags to the supermarket, pharmacy etc. Keep them in the trunk of your car, or if you're a citadine, fold one up in your purse. Chez Pim has a round up of some fun and fashionable bags. If you are a superstar, you'll even bring your own reused plastic or cotton bags for fruits and vegetables. Biocoop provides brown paper bags for fruits and vegetables that can be reused multiple times.
11/ Use cloth napkins instead of paper ones. They're much prettier anyways.
12/ Replace regular light bulbs with compact florescent bulbs as they burn out.