Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What we CAN do

Something I've been realizing of late is just how much can be done today to change the way that we as people live and the impact that we have on the world around us for our generation and those to come.

Like many I'm sure, I really thought that many of the bigger changes required money or legislation changes, of which in either case, I'd be waiting for another day. But what I've been finding is that this is simply not the case. I believe Nickie already quoted him, but Ghandi made a great statement "We must be the change we seek in the world" or something to that effect. Sustainable living is really much closer at hand than might be thought at first.

For example, let me address a few areas of our existance. Assuming it is feasible, commercialism will almost always follow consumer demand. Take, for example, wind power. According to some pretty exhaustive studies, there are enough locations ideal wind-wise and cost-wise to provide 5 times the current power demands of the whole world. So feasibility aside, wind power is something that we as consumers have the ability to demand of our energy corporations. Even our small town of Longmont has wind power tie in's so that for a meager ~4-5% hike in our electrical bill, our we are using a renewable resource for our electricity. Since companies must legally meet that demand, we the people of this country can basically move renewable energy forward by our demand.

Making it even easier for energy corporations to make this shift in supply, its remarkable how much can be done to reduce the energy needs of the average house. We've been replacing a few light bulbs each week with CFL's (compact fluorescents). And instead of relying solely on our AC as the temperatures increase, we open our windows at night and close them in the morning as it starts to warm up, and despite getting up around 90 degrees for a high we've haven't really had to use the air conditioner at all yet this season. Our electric bill this year is half what it was last year, which it wasn't particularly high then either, and that's accounting for the wind power surcharge.

Regarding the resources used in transporting food nationwide, many areas have farmers' markets within decent proximity, and sometimes organic at that. With us for example there's a farmer's market here in Longmont every Saturday starting in the spring and running pretty well into the fall. Buying local is also a very large step in reducing our energy footprint and for what you're saving on your electric bill you can afford the local organic stuff.

Speaking of organic farming... Since organic produce isn't grown using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, it basically ensures on some level that farmers use more responsible practices in order to get good crops such as crop rotation and putting organic matter back into the soil and even giving the land a break from time to time, instead of relying on commercial chemical fertilizers and pesticides to cover up a multitude of sins.

Then there's recycling and even better buying responsibly to start. Its amazing if you put just a little forethought into your purchasing how much useless packaging you can cut out of your purchases, or when you do get something with packaging making sure that its packaging that can be recycled when you're done with it. Nickie's really been the champion of recycling in our household. Between the cloth diaper system she found (Bum Genius), and just being informed shoppers and generally good about recycling, we're down to less than a small grocery bag worth of trash per week, and I recently found out that even much of that can actually be composted through our local recycling center.

Then last, but not least, is transportation. I've heard varying statistics, but we'll assume the most favorable picture for car ownership possible. If you account for a fully paid for car, plus $35 a month in insurance, plus the cost of gas for pretty average American mileage ~12,000 miles/yr. and then standard consumables, like tires, fluid changes, brakes, and the unfortunate reality that on occasion it will need a repair, say $500, you're easily talking $2,000 a year, likely much more, most stats I've read stated something closer to $5,000.

My general experience after around 7 years now of cycling more or less as primary transportation personally, is that its going to cost you around 1/10th that much once you have the gear and bicycle and its simply a maintenance state as with the car above. If you do apples to apples and compare the costs of buying new car and registration vs. buying a new bike and related gear, the balance is still pretty much the same. Some say I'm crazy tough for having commuted year round in colorado by bicycle, but these are also the same people who get up at 5am on a Saturday and drive up to the mountains only to ski in even colder temps and stronger wind chills solely for recreation... I think its simply a matter of perspective. So in this case like many so far you're saving money and saving the world and its something fully available TODAY. Nothing against the Toyota Prius, but I can pretty much guarantee you that my transportation is a lot easier to buy into for the average individual and also a lot greener.

My wife and I describe cycling for transportation as a win win win win win win. We do good for the environment and diminish the potential impact of peak oil, we stay fit without going out of our way to do so, we have fun getting to our destinations, its an adventure with Samuel which he enjoys far more than the car, bikes are infinitely simpler than cars and negate the frustation of shop time for the car, and last but not least, it saves us a lot of money each year.

So what are you all waiting for, there's so much we can all already be doing :) Isn't that great news? :)

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