Giving thanks

easthaven.jpgSometimes someone says something you wish you had said yourself, so I’m going to quote liberally here from the always insightful Energy Outlook blog:

The feature article in last Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine struck me as a perfect pre-Thanksgiving topic. It described an environmentally-based “intentional community” called Easthaven, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Its members practice a low-energy lifestyle to a degree that few of us would willingly embrace…The article serves as a reminder of the degree to which the rest of us treat reliable and plentiful–if no longer cheap–energy as an entitlement. We might reflect on that during Thanksgiving celebrations reflecting our remarkable abundance, in global or historical terms. At the same time, I wonder how healthy it would be to focus on energy and its environmental consequences to the extent that the Easthaven’ers have done…

As much time as I spend focusing on energy and the environment, I hate to think what would happen if everyone were equally focused on these topics. There’s got to be a middle ground between obsession and indifference, though, where Americans can incorporate energy and environmental factors into their decisions, without dwelling on them morbidly. The means of doing this, consistent with our market-based society, is to translate their impacts into transparent financial terms. Give people real-time electricity metering with time-of-day pricing, and let them see how much power that plasma TV or old refrigerator is really using, and how much it costs. Give them tools for identifying and offsetting or reducing their greenhouse gas emissions; TerraPass is a great first step in that direction. Posting lifetime greenhouse gas emissions on new car stickers, alongside the EPA gas mileage estimates, couldn’t hurt, either: 20 tons of CO2 in 100,000 miles for a Toyota Prius, 40 tons for an average sedan, and 75 tons for a large SUV.

The Easthaven concept is admirable but unrealistic for most of us. That doesn’t preclude a moment of gratitude this Thanksgiving for the electricity or natural gas that roasted the turkey, and the petroleum products that fueled the plane or car that took us to grandmother’s house–while remembering the contribution that each of those made to warming the earth. That might sound corny, but even a modest increase in energy and environmental awareness might alter our behavior, which remains the biggest near-term factor in addressing our energy and environmental problems–more than any new technology.

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  1. Diane - November 29, 2006

    Thought you’d want to know that the intentional community is Earthaven, not Easthaven, in case folks want to look it up.

  2. - November 29, 2006

    Great to hear eating lower on the food chain reduces CO2.

    Anyone know:

    how much CO2 is saved if you grow your own vegetables organically?

    how much CO2 is saved if farms were to use organic fertilizers or natural pesticides and herbicides?

  3. Adam Stein - November 29, 2006

    I don’t have numbers at the ready, although a good source of this information is the book Omnivore’s Dilemma. I can say that organic farming is somewhat less carbon-intensive than non-organic methods, but that the major part of food’s carbon footprint comes from transportation, and organic food is usually no better than non-organic food. The average meal travels 1,500 miles to reach your plate.
    Long story short: if you want low-carbon food, buy local.

  4. Ann Beckett - November 29, 2006

    Adam, I want you to know that while our family’s been energy conscious and conserved and recycled for years, since seeing “Inconvenient Truth,” we’ve done the following: Offset our cars and infrequent travel with TerraPass, changed out every lightbulb (including many indoor floods), in our large house (with the exception of a few on reostats for which CFL’s aren’t yet available), with CFL’s, replaced our old second fridge with a SunFrost (uses 1/18th the amount of energy a conventional one does), dialed our thermostat (infloor heating-hot water), down two degrees to 66, begun drying clothes on racks rather than in the dryer as much as possible, unplugged all vampire appliances when not in use, made sure to use the energy cycle on dishwasher, become more fastidious about catching the ‘warming up’ water from our showers in buckets for watering plants and doing other water using jobs), turned off the heater in our infrequently used hot tub, and turned down our water heater’s thermostat, are having our house evaluated for solar, and we’re buying our food more locally than ever, avoiding two hour trips to the nearest population hub to stock up. I’m writing a weekly 175 word article for our local paper featuring a brief discussion of developments per global warming and giving practical tips on what we can all do to help mitigate greenhouse gases, and I do daily awareness outreach to everyone, institution, public official I can think of. We’re not living like Easthaven residents, but we’re finding our way to the more conscious, responsible lifestyles the situation calls for and the sacrifices don’t even merit being called that. We’re still warm, dry, safe and well fed, which from an historical perspective, is very, very fortunate. Keep up the good work!

  5. Rose - December 4, 2006

    Wow, Ann, that’s wonderful! I can’t say I’ve done quite as well as you, but have always recycled, and was raised with a conservational mindset. Since seeing the movie, I have bought water-saver shower and faucet heads for my apartment, water saver for my toilet, started doing laundry in cold water almost always, and replaced all light bulbs with CFLs. I’m also planning to buy a hybrid for my next car (or other small, gas-conserving non-American model).

    An interesting note on CFLs — while in Walmart buying some about a month ago, I noticed that one whole end of the light-bulb section was all CFLs, many of which were sold out! Not that I think that many people in my area saw “An Inconvenient Truth” — but at least it looks like people are becoming more aware of their energy consumption, and that’s a start!