It’s Not Easy Being Green?


For some inexplicable reason, I TiVo Oprah every day. I generally only watch about one out of three episodes, because so many of the topics are too inane … that whole “The Secret” thing, for example, or shows with celebrity guests in whom I am not interested, and all those silly giveaways.


Sometimes Oprah will host a show on a topic that is so important that it makes me very glad that her show has the following that it does. She can give ideas and causes the kind of exposure that no one else can. And so I was really fascinated by a show she did last year (or maybe it was earlier this year, I don’t remember whether it was a rerun or not) about simple things that everyone can do to reduce the amount of damage they are doing to the environment.

Fortunately, these issues are getting more airplay in other media outlets as well. Just this past week, the New York Times ran an article about bottled water. And Salon (just click the ad to read the full article — it is a great, eye-opening one) ran a fabulous piece about plastic bags. These are two things that absolutely everyone is capable of changing in her or his own life — use a reusable container to carry your own water with you, and use reusable canvas or other cloth bags when you shop. David and I have started working on these and other changes in our lives (including switching to cloth napkins and becoming educated about our local recycling program). Earlier this year, Slate ran a series of articles with a ton of information on a number of topics, including transportation and paper waste. So, at the risk of sounding preachy, I encourage all of you to explore the small changes you can make to help save energy and use fewer resources. Several of them are relatively simple, and many will actually save you money you would otherwise be spending, too!

And I haven’t even seen “An Inconvenient Truth” yet. That thing about the polar bears is just too freaking sad.


10 Responses to “It’s Not Easy Being Green?”

  1. alsturgeon Says:

    There are certain things I know to be good things to do that I cannot seem to get going on…

    a) exercise (finally, after many attempts, I’m doing some of this)
    b) flossing my teeth (brand new to this, first-timer)
    c) backing up my computer files
    d) learning basic automotive care
    e) recycling

    There are more.

    The thing with recycling is that not only am I well aware of its importance and am sympathetic with its proponents, but also I believe it is the “right” (read: moral) thing to do. And yet I do not (to date) recycle.

    Why is that?

  2. urbino Says:

    Because the world is doomed, anyway? πŸ™‚

    Probably it’s because, unless your community is unusual, one still has to go noticeably out of one’s way in order to recycle in this country. We each have only so much mental energy to burn in thinking about and caring about things every day; using more of that energy on our garbage is something most of us are just subconsciously resistant to doing.

    I haven’t gotten to the point of carrying a bag to the grocery store with me — and I’m not sure that’s even a feasible approach, even in environmental terms, outside of urban areas — but I do at least ask for paper bags at the checkout, and I’ve got one of those filters on my kitchen faucet, so I rarely buy bottled water.

    What about diapers, Sandi? That must be one you and David are facing right now. Are the disposable ones still horribly environmentally unsound, or have they been improved in that regard?

  3. msmiranda Says:

    Al, I am terrible about all of those things too — except for recycling. I think DC is probably pretty good about recycling except that their plastics recycling is very limited. They do take junk mail and magazines, though, which is great since we get a ton of it. We also joined an organization called GreenDimes, which works with companies to get you off their lists and reduce the junk mail you get. I don’t know what Ocean Springs has to offer, but most places have curbside recycling at this point. It’s not that hard to get into the habit, you just have to keep your recycling bin next to your kitchen trash and know what you can put in it.

    JU, disposable diapers are terrible for the environment (says the mother who is currently using them). In an ideal world, there would be no human waste in landfills at all, but diapers are the major exception to this. Interestingly, Oprah’s show did not tackle this topic, a pretty glaring omission. I wondered if that was motivated by not wanting to alienate such a large segment of her audience. We actually have cloth diapers and haven’t been using them since the diaper covers were too big for Casey when we brought him home. We need to try again, since he may be big enough now to fit into them. The intention was to use cloth while I’m at home, so we need to get back to that. My mother used cloth diapers because disposables hadn’t become affordable yet … they really are cheaper and better for the environment. But the convenience factor wins out for most people because, well, poop is gross.

    I don’t know if they’re available everywhere, but Whole Foods sells great cloth bags for $1 that are large and can be carried on the shoulder. I would use them anywhere — except for very large items, most things we buy will fit in them. They even sell insulated bags that keep cold items cold. We just have to remember to put the bags back in the car after we unpack them, and to take them into the store with us. I think reusable bags should be feasible for most people. You may get a few weird looks from store clerks, but that’s about it.

  4. mrspeacock Says:

    Al, I completely agree that recycling (or caring for the earth in any way) is the moral thing to do. In face, I’ve had a little beef with Christians ignoring the topic. Thankfully, we’re starting to see that change.

    An old friend just visited me for the weekend, and she’s become an ol’ hippie since having her baby. She uses cloth diapers and doesn’t find them more inconvenient, but she’s a stay at home. I wager it would be much different if she had an outside job.

    Someone stole my recycling bin a while back, and I wasn’t sure whether to be angry at the thief or happy he was going green. Not to worry, I got a replacement.

  5. urbino Says:

    I still remember my mom washing out poopy diapers in the toilet before putting them aside for the washing machine, too, Sandi. It’s definitely more labor intensive and gross than the disposable models.

    “I think reusable bags should be feasible for most people.”

    This gets into the difficulty of measuring the overall environmental impact of things. In the ‘burbs and rural areas, where the distance to grocery stores can be large and mass transit is usually unavailable, people tend to stock up when they go to the grocery store. They buy waaaay more than could be carried in a single or small number of reusable bags.

    The alternative to this would be to have people go to the store more often and buy less each time, as is typical in more urban neighborhoods. (A lesson I learned the hard way when I moved to NYC.)

    But each trip involves the use of a car, so increasing the number of trips in order to use a manageable number of reuseable bags could very well result in a net loss for the environment. My guess is it probably would, in fact.

    Identifying and measuring the overall environmental effect of a thing is always difficult and usually counter-intuitive to some degree. Recycling, itself, is a net energy consumer (as compared to manufacturing the same quantity of the same goods from scratch), and thus, in terms of energy, environmentally worse than not recycling. The offset in landfill savings, etc., however, is large enough to make it worthwhile, but still, it’s less worthwhile than most people would think. And the time may come when the energy penalty is so great that it’s environmentally sounder not to recycle.

    (The classic case of this is the electric car. Yes, an electric car burns much less fossil fuels than a conventional car (or none at all), but how much fossil fuel is consumed in generating the electricity to power it? Quite a bit. The electric car still turns out to be a net winner in environmental terms, but not as big a one as people think. Solar power is another example, given the environmental impact of manufacturing the power cells.)

  6. alsturgeon Says:

    Because the world is doomed, anyway? Smart aleck. πŸ™‚

    I think you answered my question precisely, JU, with the “mental energy / subconscious resistance” explanation. Yet, as msmiranda mentioned, there are definitely things I could do that aren’t hard at all. I just haven’t taken the time to do what I believe to be right.

    And my dear Mrs. Peacock, I think you are right on the money. Christians have ignored the topic, and it does seem to be changing (some). I think msmiranda would agree with my hypothesis – I think Christians have been on the “other” side of environmental issues because of their choice of politicians, not because of any real moral/theological reasoning.

  7. unicorntx Says:

    We do have re-cycling pickup in Ocean Springs – newspaper, tin, glass and some categories of plactic. So, I do my share there.

    RE: Plastic bags at the grocery: All that has been covered above. My observation is that the checkout clerks and baggers seem to own stock in the bag manufacturers – 2 tomotoes in one bag, two cans of tomatoes in another; separate bags for 1/2 gallon of milk and 1/2 gallon of juice!, etc. – for a $60 grocery order (and you know you don’t get much for $60) I come home with 15-18 plastic bags!

    But, I also remember churches in the 70’s who eschewed styrofoam cups and everybody had their coffee cup on a shelf at the church, with extras for guests. Likewise, minimized use of paper towels and napkins (Save the Trees). But, somewhere that sensitivity got lost.

    Likewise, reared four children in the 50’s and 60’s and never used a sinngle disposable diaper. (Either they weren’t avalable, or we couldn’t afford them – I can’t remember).

    You are right. Bein’ green ain’t wasy. And sometimes seemingly impossible.

  8. urbino Says:

    Christians have been on the β€œother” side of . . . because of . . ., not because of any real moral/theological reasoning.

    In other news, the sun rose in the east this morning.

    (Sorry, Al. Couldn’t resist a giggle.)

    Great point, unicorn, about the excess use of grocery bags. It’s absolutely insane, innit? I mean, I know there are some things they can’t put in a bag together (produce and detergent, for instance), and they’re terrified of a customer having an overstuffed bag break, but come on.

  9. msmiranda Says:

    For a family of four who only goes to the store twice a month, it *might* be difficult to use solely reusable bags … but not really, you would just need more of them. David and I have four bags — three regular ones and one “keep it cold” bag, we shop once a week (drive to the store) and our groceries never exceed the capacity of these bags. (They are pretty big — I looked all over the internet for a picture and couldn’t find one). So I don’t think you’d have to go to the store more often in order to use reusable bags. Alternately, one could easily reuse the plastic or paper bags they already have (and hopefully are not throwing away) from previous shopping trips until they fall apart. Or you could use tote bags you already have — most people already have some on hand from going to conferences and such. I found this article from the NY Times last month that talks a little more about the issue. (Does anyone know how to insert links on the comments board?)

  10. msmiranda Says:

    Oh, it does it automatically. Cool.

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