Monday, November 23, 2009

Truly Going Green

I recently read a post by Susan at Stony River, my bloggy friend who lives in Ireland. In it she described how her life is so very different than what most of us experience because they live in a place where "green" is more than an alternative lifestyle, but a requirement dictated by cost and law. It made me think about some things. I hope those of you who are science-y will chime in because I truly want to understand these things. (Sure, I can look them up on the internet, but who do you believe on the internet? I'd rather rely on my bloggy friends who are so well-informed and stay on top of these issues.) So here are some questions:

1. Would people give up their 2nd cars if fuel was so expensive that the inconvenience of having only one was outweighed by the cost?

2. If the government gave a tax credit for giving up a 2nd car rather than for buying a car, how much would it have to be to make it worth doing?

3. How bad does traffic congestion have to get before people decide the cost and inconvenience of public transportation is less than the aggravation of getting places in their own vehicles?

4. It doesn't make sense to have all those cars just sitting at all those workplaces all day. Why can't we develop a system to 'sublet' cars for people who live around that workplace to use during the day? Or maybe that's a bad idea because it justifies the second car... and adds to carbon emissions.

I know it IS possible to get around by public transportation in my area. It is also VERY inconvenient and VERY expensive. It adds hours to a work day. When we first lived in this area (Wash DC) 15 years ago my husband tried taking public transportation to and from work. We lived within 10 miles of his office. It added an hour each way to use the Metro, but if he jumped in his car he was usually there within 20 minutes and home in 30. Now we live further out in the burbs and to use a bus and then subway to his office would add about 60 to 90 minutes to his day each way.

That doesn't even start to address the cost of Metro. For him to go and return entirely by bus would be $14.00 per day and take an hour each way. To go and return via bus/metro would cost $8.00 per day and take the same amount of time assuming he hits every connection perfectly and that Metro isn't having track problems that day (the latter is a ridiculous assumption). Extrapolate either of those over a month and it's darn expensive. But alas, the time he has to be at work -- no later than 05:00 a.m. makes this impossible because the Metro system isn't even functioning in time for him to use it.

I suspect that he's not unusual.

Susan also grows a lot of her family's food. We live in such a heavily treed area that we don't get enough sun to grow grass, much less vegetables.
There are community gardens not too far from my house, but they have been so overworked that you can only grow what the 'garden' is good for. According to my former neighbor who grew things there for years, there's some kind of blight that interferes with growing cucumbers and other things. All he could get lots of was zucchini and eggplant. Frankly, that wouldn't be enough to get me to plant the first seed, even if I could carve eggplant-o'lanterns like these.

Pony and biomass -- well, we just don't have the land or the appropriate surroundings!

But I love what Susan and her family have done. They have thought through all of the permutations of what their choices will dictate and planned accordingly. It is what works best for them. Part of it is admittedly driven by the cost of doing something differently -- being less environmentally aware.

So, not wanting to earn any kinds of awards, I ask myself, what do we do to be green?

1. I drive a hybrid.
2. We increasingly remember to take our cloth bags into the grocery store.
3. We freecycle. (This the best -- the GOAL is to keep stuff out of landfills)
4. We recycle (um...they pick it up at our house. Not sure we'd be so diligent if they didn't)
5. We have switched about half of our bulbs to the kind that's making Susan go blind. ;-)

I can't think of many more at this moment...which doesn't say much for my level of commitment.

So I'm back to the question of how much does it have to cost to make us change our ways? And I can confidently say that if my husband reads this post today he's going to be wondering what kind of "new idea" I have this time. Don't worry honey, I haven't bought a pony . . . yet



Anonymous said...

Being a bus driver I wish more people would take public transit. But as I'm driving I always think of how long it does take to get from point A to point B and often wonder why people take TheBus. Time is money. However, people have a natural love affair with their cars and just don't want to give them up it seems to me. Even when gas is up to $3.50 a gallon the roads and highways are packed here. I've always thought that if TheBus had special lanes so we didn't have to sit in traffic may peoples time wouldn't be as expensive and attract more riders.

I don't know what it will cost to go green. I've switched our bulbs here, some of them anyway, and yes we do recycle and put our rubbish in the correct rubbish bin but other than that not much else is done to go green. Why I ask myself? It's just the American way I think. We have never worried about that or thought about it and our society I think see's it that way. It's just a way of life. How do you teach an old dog new tricks?

If one person in the household is into green and the others aren't and can't be convinced it's hard to maintain that green way of thinking.

I have, well had, a Prius. I loved it. But the cost to purchase it was high. I think people need bigger incentives to go green. There's nothing better than enticing people than with the all might greenback!!

Get the pony LOL...Susan can even tell ya what to do with the poop!!!

Quilldancer said...

#4 -- me, too.

Check the public transit monthly passes. They are much cheaper than paying daily rates.

And I am thinking we will be much more green in Friday Harbor because the populace works together for that common goal.

Susan at Stony River said...

A friend of mine told me a few interesting insights about public transport, as she's done it for years, as well as driving:

One is, that although the bus/train can add an hour or more to your time from home, it's an hour in which you can read a book or newspaper, or nap, or whatever. She preferred adding two relaxed hours onto her workday, rather than one stressed-out one negotiating traffic.

The other was looking past the cost of fuel: that if you simply don't drive the second car, there won't be much saving. But if you *shed* the second car entirely, the savings can be huge when you consider one less car payment, one less car on the insurance, one less car to maintain and buy tyres and oil for.

When we lived in Belfast, we had a tiny yard so I grew a lot of vegetables in pots on our windowsills and steps, and indoors. We are green-minded even without financial pressure: I have a dryer but hang my washing out whenever it's not raining (about twice a year :-P LOL) to save electricity. What surprised me in America this summer, was that a lot of people wanted to be "green", but it was more expensive or very inconvenient, to become so. Here in Ireland (rural Ireland at least), it's the reverse of that. I honestly think that if general populations will go greener, it will be because 1., it's made easy for them, and 2., there's incentive. I'd like to see that happen in the BIG countries! I do hope.

SouthLakesMom said...

I'm confident it would be me without the 2nd car because someone in this household likes control (even more than I do). Even if he's sitting in traffic, he's at the wheel. Sigh.

I heard a discussion today in which an economist talked about the way people respond to financial incentives. They are much more likely to change their habits to AVOID a financial penalty, than to change them in order to receive a reward (like a tax credit). The discussion was about our tax laws, but the parallel is clear.

I think people in this country will largely have to be forced into it or over generations it will change. My son just laughs because at his middle school they have this big "recycling" agenda they teach, and then the trash from lunch is put into bags to go straight to the landfill...but maybe his kids will be further along the learning curve.

Thanks all for your insights. I'll have to think some more about them. But no pony. So sad.

Ha Ha -- this is funny. My word verification is SYCHO!