Thursday, September 25, 2014

carbon footprint

In light of my recent experience with the People's Climate March, I'm examining my carbon footprint again. I've also started reading Naomi Klein's new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. While I am only one person, and my actions are small, I have to believe they are important in some way; as an example, as one small wallet and pair of feet. If I try as much as I can to reduce my consumption, especially the consumption of goods that have to travel halfway across the planet, maybe it will make a small difference.

What do we consume? Well, since we just moved from a boat to an apartment, we've done a s**t ton of consuming this summer. We bought furniture, some work clothes for the breadwinner and a car. Yikes! Now that the spending spree has settled down, I'm back to thinking about our regular habits. We don't buy a lot of stuff. My devotion to minimalism and the 519-square foot apartment has much to do with that. 

These are my current consumption goals: 
Keep acquisitions to a minimum.
Buy local goods whenever possible.
Use public transportation as much as possible.

Keep acquisitions to a minimum.

This goal deals with purchasing both durable and disposable goods. Beyond some very basic furniture, car and a few clothes, we make every attempt not to bring home things (crap, stuff, junk, crud, clutter, etc.). We don't have a book shelf. We don't have a TV. We have a few dishes from Goodwill and two old bikes. Ok, a few toys were allowed in the kitchen, but those are small and used often. I don't see much on the horizon for us in the durable goods category. The entertainment purchases are all pretty much digital at this point. The occasional hard copy book I buy is passed on once it is read. We do buy things like dish soap, garbage bags, shampoo and paper towels, but we try to make those last as long as possible. 

What we don't buy:
Decorations - we have nothing on our walls, nothing for any holidays. We're doing fine.
Personal adornment - makeup, nail polish, costume jewelry, hair products. We're boring.
Pet supplies - There's a big rant here about how much junk people in this country buy for pets (dog strollers!), but I won't bore you with it.
Supplies associated with home ownership - no lawn mowers, grills or garage door openers here.

Buy local goods whenever possible.

Our primary consumption category involves food and drink. I've checked out the farmer's markets, the local grocery store (conveniently on the bus line) and the local breweries. All looks good to be able to source most of what we need to eat and drink as close to home as possible. This means giving up a few things that I've been eating regularly for a long time. Bananas are going to become an occasional treat instead of a weekly purchase. Pineapples and walnuts also travel too far to be staples anymore (thank goodness, Virginia grows peanuts!). The annual bushel of sweet potatoes from the farm in Deltaville will be purchased next week, along with a pile of butternut squashes and cabbages, so we'll be eating a lot of these this winter, as we did last year. It worked out well.

Food is one thing, drinks are another. We already pretty much limit our drinks (beyond water) to coffee, tea, beer, wine and some hard stuff. Coffee and tea have to be imported; there's not much wiggle room there, although I'm going to check out these local herb teas. We have several local coffee roasters to patronize, so even if the raw product is sourced off-continent, the roasting jobs are going to our neighbors.

We have more than enough breweries in Richmond to keep me satisfied without resorting to beer from Colorado or Germany. Many of the bars have the local brews on tap, so it's easy to keep local on this one. It's fun, too, as the breweries have many seasonal varieties to try. From now on, I am committing to drinking only Virginia (and preferably Richmond) beers (unless I'm traveling).

The Captain enjoys a port occasionally in the evenings and there are some Virginia varieties that aren't too horrible. Here is the real hardship part, though. My favorite late evening sip is Laphroaig (and her myriad single malt sisters). This golden stuff has to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, with a considerable carbon footprint (heavy glass bottle with fancy packaging). Sigh. I intend to embark upon a sample tasting of Kentucky Bourbons, with the hope of finding one stinky enough for my taste. This might be the killer.

Use public transportation as much as possible.

This is the really, really tough one. We have two commutes. We chose to live in an area where we can walk for most of our errands, but the breadwinner must drive to his place of employment. We looked at living closer to work, but the ability to walk for errands and entertainment was very difficult: no sidewalks, busy roads, large parking lots to cross. The other commute is from Richmond to Deltaville on the weekends to be on our boat, Red Ranger. This is the commute that probably outweighs all of my other little carbon footprint economies, but we did get a car with good gas mileage and the driver loves watching the little chart on his display about how many miles per gallon he gets.

Beyond our two current commutes, we also love to travel.  We've enjoyed two years of complete nomadism on the boat and loved (mostly) every minute of it. Travel is extremely important to my mental well-being. It's also a huge producer of carbon emissions, so we are re-evaluating our travel destinations and modes. For Thanksgiving this year, we are taking the train from Richmond to Schenectady. We will try to take the train wherever possible. I've even considered taking the train from Richmond up to Ashland (only 21 miles) to do some sightseeing after we put the boat away for the winter. 

For years I've dreamed of extended travel in Europe, Asia and South America. The dream is one of the reasons why I wanted to buy a sailboat. Travel enhances life in more ways than one can count, but global travel also carries a big carbon footprint. Americans are used to the ability to travel the globe and we are pressured by the tourist and transportation industry to view global travel as an entitlement. Travel is (and always will be) a huge status symbol. It seems almost sacrilegious to suggest that we stay home more. I certainly want to continue sailing, but we'll do more sailing in our own Chesapeake Bay. We'll explore Virginia, whether by train, car, bike, hiking boots or kayak, but I'm going to stop daydreaming about flying off to exotic places for now. I'm going to keep exploring, but my area will be smaller and deeper.

Naomi Klein's book is about much more than making slight adjustments to one's consumption habits, but at least these are concrete things I can do.



Barely readable is the Richmond, Virginia on the label. They're very tasty, by the way.