Archive for the 'guilt' Category

Carbon Offsets: Theory

Yeah, finally- I fly out in four days  (:D!).

Ahem.  Today, theories of offsetting carbon- what counts?  Do you have to buy ‘offsets’ specifically? Why not just donate to environmental projects and call it a day?  How does one decide how much to give?  What do you mean by ‘offset’ anyway?

Think it might help to answer my last question first.  A carbon offset is a financial transaction where you pay some person money to do something that will cancel out the “extra” carbon you’re creating by doing what it is you want to do.  So the total amount of greenhouse gases released in the world doesn’t go up at all when you do that thing you want to do.  It only really works, though, if by paying someone an offset, you reduce ghg emissions that wouldn’t have been reduced without that payment.  Your payment should spur new emissions reductions.  Wikipedia has some more information here.

So, ok, in order to really offset emissions, you have to figure out how much you’re emitting by doing a thing, then you have to find someone to pay some money to, to remove that amount of emissions from the earth.  Plenty of companies will take your money for this, and there are plenty of projects out there that claim to offset your emissions based on donations.  But they don’t all actually work.  Business Week enumerated some examples of shady deals in 2007.  There are third-party verifications of offsets out there, but they’re not always accurate- even the Kyoto Protocol’s standards, CDMs, seem to have funded some sketchy projects in hindsight.  If you pick a project or just pay an offset broker, do your homework.  That’s why they invented the internet.  Double check everything.

For what it’s worth, No Impact Man, who’s wrestled with this much longer than I have, likes E+Co offsetting projects.

Right, so, it’s simple to find someone who will tell you how much money to give them to maybe, possibly, make your carbon go away.   It’s slightly harder to double-check them.  But that definition of “offset” is clearly too easy, and maybe you weren’t bored by this post yet.   Let us mull other things.

When I first blogged my offsetting intentions, intrepid commenter bullmooser suggested I look into ways to fund projects that would not just offset ghg emissions, but look to find ways to make flying more sustainable in the first place.  Fund research for electric planes or magic baggies to put over engines to capture the emssions or something.  I really like that idea, but it’s certainly harder to verify that your contribution did the equivalent of ‘offsetting’ that way, especially since it will take at least years for the technologies to come to fruition.

And what if you just used the money to start a vegetable garden instead, and home-farmed your way to lower emissions?  Again, less third-party checking on that, but it would help out, and make your life more sustainable in more ways than just emissions.  You’re going to have to grow a lot of tomatoes before it starts technically canceling out a flight, though.  Plus, just like brokered offsets don’t count unless the payment has specifically triggered greater ghg reductions, for personal offsetting, you’d want to start a new ‘project’ in response to emissions-heavy plans you’ve made.  My personal offsetting would be going vegetarian for a bit, then.

With a personal offsetting project like one of those, the necessary lifestyle changes force one to directly acknowledge the consequences of an emissions-filled life.  It seems more real, and respectable.  Like doing your own laundry instead of paying someone to do it for you (even though the people you pay make it smell so nice and always get it cleaner).

I’m gonna go with a mix of easy and verifiable offsets, and personal offsetting projects.  That works best for me.  If you find a mix that works for you, I’d be interested to hear it.  I’ll put up another post about whatever offset I do end up buying later.

Plane Tickets: Putting the Guilt to Use

While sick and babbling at you the other day, I mentioned my tickets to New Zealand.  Not just the ravings of a madwoman:  I have plane tickets to New Zealand.

I’ve always wanted to get out and see the world, but I wanted to pay my own way, and go in as untouristy a manner as possible.  So I waited, saved, and assumed a better time would come along.  It didn’t, but now I have a passport and a twenty-fifth birthday approaching, and it’s now or never.  Well, probably not ‘never’, but definitely later.  I emailed an old friend in NZ for some advice a couple weeks ago, and, having been promised hiking and penguins, bought the tickets Sunday.

Let me digress for a moment to direct you to the new link, Cr!key Creek.  It’s my kiwi friend’s blog on water issues- focus on NZ, but he gets around.  Along with all the other parts of this trip I am completely excited about, hanging out with a  dude who’s done so much work on sustainability ranks pretty high.

But see, now I have a dilemma.  I’m flying halfway across the world twice.  This is a big ol’ suckerpunch to my environmental changes.  According to Terrapass, by flying roundtrip from Washington to Auckland, I’m responsible for 7,120 lbs of carbon emissions.  That’s like driving my car (Civic Hybrid) around for a year (also according to Terrapass).  Actually, hey, I thought it was going to be more like driving a Hummer to the moon.  Not feeling quite so guilty now.

Well, either way, that’s a pretty big negative impact on the environment, which I need to do something about (blog being all about channeling the guilt to environmental use, yup yup).  But what!?

Rhetorical, I’ve already decided what I’m going to do.  But first let’s talk about the “not going” option.

The simplest way to not rack up this carbon guilt is to not go to New Zealand.  Stay home, find some pictures of it online, and email the kiwi when I want to chat.  Going to New Zealand to bum around and walk on mountains is purely a privileged, selfish act.  Money would be better spent donating to local food shelters while I spend the two weeks volunteering to muck out the Anacostia.  This is all true.  But I don’t feel guilty about that at all:  I’m stoked about every part of this trip.

Mine is not an abstemious sustainability.  Perhaps you guessed from the frequent Salvation Army trips.  I want to do as much and live as well (according to my idea of well) as I can with as little as I can manage it on.   I get that lots of environmentalists aren’t comfortable with that balance, and why, but I am. So let’s recap the guilt nuances:  trip to NZ, sweet, impact of ghg emissions, lame sauce.

Here’s how I’m going to use this:  first, I’m going to offset my carbon.  Yup, can’t buy a green conscience, but if I can afford the tickets, I can afford to support serious emissions-reduction programs.  I will look for programs that actively remove emissions and donate enough to cover my flight.  I’ll report back, of course.

Second, my time in NZ will be spent environmentally.  Start with supporting the local economy- no chain hotels or restaurants, no ‘Made in China’ junk for the folks back home.  I’m researching B&B’s to stop in along the way.  I’ll tread lightly on the mountains- pack in, pack out, pat the trees soothingly, etc.  I’ll use public transport as much as possible (apparently they have a great national bus system, so no need to rent a car).

And third, I’m using the promise of this trip as a carrot for my efforts.  Literally.  I’m going vegetarian, starting as soon as I’m done with the Sha Cha chicken delivery leftovers, until I get on the plane.  Doesn’t seem so daunting now- though I will draw a line at pizza (I’ll try for all-veg but if it’s plain cheese or pepperoni only, like I’m locked in a room for 12 hours with nothing but a cheese pizza and a pepperoni pizza, I’m eating the pepperoni, but it’s not going to come to that), and food other people make for me in good faith.  If I go home and Dad cooks me shrimp, I’m having some shrimp.  (Dad cook me veggies.  Mom will help.)  But I promise 98.9% vegetarian intake, at least.  It’ll be easier with a reward at the end.

So that’s how I’m going to deal with that.  For the interactive part of this feature:  whatcha think?

Green Makes My Life Complicated: Disinfecting Dishes

I run into a bunch of situations where wanting to do the environmental thing makes my life ridiculous for a while.  This week is a good example:  while at home celebrating my brother’s wedding, I found my set of family china and repacked it to bring it back with me, since I mysteriously lost 80% of my dinnerware in two shared kitchens over the last year.  So far so good.

But these dishes have been in my folk’s basement in the wilderness for decades, give or take.  Mice have lived amoung them, and used the wrappings as latrines.  Yes, ew.  So,  I have 150 pieces of pretty china that I must assume has the black death all over it.  And the Seventh Generation dish soap isn’t the “DEATH TO GERMS” kind, it’s a lavender scented regular degreasing kind.  It’s great, I love it.  But I want the stuff on those plates dead, and then I need to scrub the countertops they’ve been sitting on with something similarly deadly.

But I haven’t found an environmentally friendly cleaner that also promises to rid me of this plauge.  All the no-phosphate, biodegradable green stuff is gentle on living beings of all sizes, it seems. And today at Whole Foods a helpful clerk told me an all-purpose natural cleaner would kill germs (it didn’t say that anywhere on the bottle) and then I could wash them regularly.  I don’t believe it.

So, I have a couple options.  I could a) boil the dishes (I’d need gloves and tongs and a big pot), which is the most environmentally sound way I think this could happen, but isn’t really hot water bad for china?  Also I have to do this to about 100 pieces, and drying space gets complicated, b) get some antibacterial soap and suds away, lakes and streams be damned, or c) scrub them with the soap I have and hope my fears of bacteria are unfounded.  They have a gold rim and I have no idea how old/classy they are, so dishwashing for the heated water and strong jets isn’t a good idea (though I’m testing a tea cup now to see- grandma had a ridiculous number of teacups).

Votes or suggestions?

Progress: Volunteerism

Welcome to my failure.  I don’t do activism, I don’t do volunteering, I mostly do sleeping late and donating online.  That’s what I’m comfortable with, that’s what I’m good at.

I actually have volunteered since I set it as the October goal.  I spent a couple hours canvassing for Barack Obama November 2nd.  That took two days of personal guilt trips and John McCain’s stance on women’s health to get going.  I started a new job and there were midterms and this wedding and it was cold and I am fantastic at having a ton of excuses to not leave my basement.

So yeah, I lose.  But this is it.  This is what I’m bad at, and it’s always been my problem:  I am no good at giving my time to other people that I do not personally know.  Also I get a little cranky when people invite me to parties while I would rather stay home and sew, but that’s a different issue.  Maybe not.

Point is, I have to work on this until it’s gone.  So, this month, it’s volunteerism again.  Volunteerism and um.  Giving.  Like Christmas, but the organic whole wheat soy fairly traded version.  They’re kinda the same premise, I guess, doing for others the wholesome way, and I need to work on it.

Volunteering/Activism/Acting in general will continue to be a monthly goal until i get it right, and I’m redirecting all the guilt I can muster at it.  I’m finding a local food bank and taking them a bag of groceries a week, in person.  I’m going to see where I can tutor or clean up or something.  I’ll get a friend to harass me until these things get done.  You can help.  Make me feel bad.

I’m looking forward to Giving, though!  A Gift guide!  Recipes, perhaps!  Anything to distract me from argh.

Pesky Kids?

The NYT published an article last week about how some parents stay green because their kids hound them about it.  This is characterized in the article as cute, noble and totally annoying behavior.  “Heh heh! Those little rascals!  Now stop making me feel all guilty and eat your dinner.”  What particularly struck me about this article is how the parents tend to complain that their kids are really good at remembering to be “green”, sharing what they’ve learned, and expressing their convictions.  One telling bit:

Liz DiVittorio, of Raleigh, N.C., a mother of three, recalled walking with her 10-year-old son, Michael, this summer after a rainstorm and seeing a neighbor running his sprinkler.

“My son looked at him and said, ‘Why are you watering your lawn? It just rained,’ ” said Ms. DiVittorio, who works for a software company. “I sat there and cringed.”

Cringed?  Seriously?  Kid, that was a good question.  Do not listen to your mother; keep asking questions.  Just because you know that overwatering is a bad idea, both for grass and the planet, does not mean that these things occur to other people.  Go ahead, push them outside of their comfort zone- and after they stop being appalled at your “rude behavior”, they’ll come to their senses.

One interviewee does get to the heart of the matter.

“One of the fascinating things about children is that they don’t separate what you are doing from what you should be doing,” Ms. Bovey said. “Here’s this information about how we can help the environment, and kids are not able to rationalize it away the way that adults do.”

Yeah.  So the next time your kids or anybody else asks you why your actions don’t conform with your ideals, be prepared to admit your hypocrisy.  Maybe you have a good reason.  Explain it, but don’t excuse it.  We’re all hypocrites about something.  Don’t blame the tiny messengers.  Sheesh.

PS.  In what I assume is an attempt at journalistic unbias, the article helpfully points out that some people think “turning children into stewards of the environment is an inappropriate use of taxpayer money.”  Who are these people, these citizens who honestly think that it’s a bad idea to instill a respect for their environment in schoolchildren?  Will one or more of these people please get in touch with me so we can have exchanges of opinion?  I’ll refrain from telling them what I actually think of them if they give me one good reason why they make any sense at all.

Green Design in my Basement: Part 3

Part the last, mostly dealing with my decision to invest in a minifridge.

Minifridges are great.  They combine fridges, which make wonderful things wonderfully cool, with tiny-and-cuteness.  But:  1) There’s already a fridge upstairs, and 2) I bought it from Walmart.

Now, the fridge upstairs is usually full, and I can barely squeeze in OJ, milk, and a tupperware container or two.  With a fridge in my basement, my food is easier to access, they have more space upstairs, and I have plenty of room to keep beer and leftovers for lunches.  Upstairs, space is not guaranteed.  So, while the fridge was not necessary for survival, it solved lots of potential problems for everybody in the house.

Now, as to Walmart:  Since I decided on getting the fridge, it needed to be efficient.  I did some research on small Energy Star fridges.  Haier makes a 4ft^3 one with a tiny freezer, and it uses 270kwh a year.  That was about as low as I found on the EnergyStar site- Samsung and Sub-Zero also have a few models with very low energy usage.  Most minifridges with EnergyStar ratings use above 300kwh a year.  When I was trying to figure out where to buy it, however, Walmart came back as the area store that actually stocked Energy-Star minifridges, and they had the Haier model available online with free site-to-store shipping.  Go figure.

This maybe should not be a surprise, though.  Walmart has been making impressive efforts to add ecofriendliness to their entire process- pushing organics and CFLs on their customers, installing solar panels on their stores, bullying their suppliers into more environmentally friendly packaging, and so on.  Since they’re the hugest retail chain ever, this is having a massive impact on the supply and purchase of green goods around the country.  I’m all for supporting companies who are actually making big, helpful environmental changes, and I like to communicate my support by buying green products I need from them.

But.  But! Of course, these green initiatives are not without their mistakes.  Plus, Walmart is intensely skeezy to their workers.  I’ve read the Ehrenreich book, I keep up with their latest anti-union antics, and they’re still mostly selling cheap junk from China.  Also, their teen fashion section is terrifying.  I get all the very good reasons to not support them, or the way they run their business.

Here’s the conundrum.  Few places sell the eco-friendly things that I want.  But finally, a nearby store with the minifridge that only uses $24 of electricity a year!  Why does it have to be Walmart that’s providing the stuff I want?

So, there.  I’ve given you the various impulses surrounding my decision, I’ve told you how it worked out (I bought it, and it’s awesome, and having it’s made lunches much easier).  Under the same set of circumstances, I bet a lot of environmentally concerned types would have done the same thing- and many wouldn’t have gotten the fridge at all.  Some people might have searched further afield for it, or settled for a different model.

It’s hard to know the right thing to do when faced with these questions.  The answer lies somewhere between primitivism and consumer excess, and just where depends on what your particular priorities are.  Waste less water?  Buy only reusables?  Make it yourself? Buy nothing?  Recycling fiend?  Some combination of the above?  I think the act of carefully weighing the different impacts of your decisions is about 60% of the way to making a good one.  Which, I hope, is why I spend so much time agonizing over some of mine.

Progress: All Washed Up

So this month I was supposed to be reducing my water usage and refining my relationship with what I wash down the drain, aaaaand.  Well.  I’m taking shorter showers now!  But I started biking in to work, so now I take two showers a day.  I am switching to biodegradable soaps and shampoos, but that I was already doing anyway.  My friend made a rain barrel!  But I haven’t changed the way I water my plants or wash dishes.

I’d say my progress this month ranked about as low as February, when I failed utterly at composting.  But in February, I had tried, and failed.  I didn’t try very hard this month.  For instance, these are the things I should have tried:  I could collect pre-shower water to douse my plants.  I could brush my teeth from a cup of water, instead of letting the tap run (works while camping in Wisconsin.  I could do Navy showers- getting wet, soaping up with the water off, then rinsing.  While I can’t in good conscience shower less while I’m getting this much exercise morning and evening, that would at least minimize the extra-shower harm.  I could also find a low-flow showerhead.  May I mention that I hate that idea?  But I should try it.

Ok, I didn’t take my challenge seriously enough this month.  No excuses, really, but some pretty exciting other stuff did happen the past few weeks.  Which might explain why I’m recapping July in mid-August.

Anyhow, I’m fixing this lack of focus this month.  For the remainder of August, I’m regrouping.  I’m slipping on my vegetarian pledge, I haven’t harvested my successful compost, my garden is being ravished by displaced woodland creatures, I have a huge pile of sewing and mending to do, and I still haven’t checked to make sure the Eco-City Alexandria thing got through City Council a couple months ago.  So, for the remainder, I’ll work on getting back into those monthly grooves.

I’m already revisiting biking quite successfully, that is one area I can feel good about.  I actually look forward to my ride to and especially from work, which is not something I was expecting.  I rode with traffic on busy streets for a bit today, and I’m pretty sure I obeyed signals and followed road rules well.  Washington Area Bicyclist Association has a handy table of cycling ordinances for MD, VA, and DC.  Note that In Alexandria, cycling on sidewalks isn’t allowed, which means I need to rethink my morning detours.

I’m getting distracted from this endeavor, so a month of catching up with myself is needed.


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