I've been slowly making my way through the IPCC's Assessment Report on Climate Change. They discuss adaptation and mitigation a large scale, cities building sea walls and so forth. These are things we need to address as communities. The times they are a-changin'.
We know, as Americans, that we use more than our share of the planet's resources. We know that our use of energy and water has endangered our environment. I could spend all day citing sources on how much we consume, but here is one and another to get started.
But what about personal lifestyle choices? Community change, although necessary, is big and hard to get a handle on. Looking at our own practices can teach us to think about how we can carry change over to our communities.
So, here is my list of adaptations from the average American lifestyle, beyond changing out incandescent bulbs. The biggest change we made is to sell the 3 BR suburban house and downsize, first to a boat, now to a 520 sq. ft. apartment in a central downtown location. This impacts energy use, transportation, and purchasing directly. Some of the items below stem from this lifestyle change.
1. We own these items that plug into the wall: computers, printer, toaster, waffle maker, and yogurt maker. The apartment has a microwave, dishwasher, garbage disposal and laundry machines. No TV, no alarm clocks, no lamps, no hairdryer, no other stuff.
2. I am mindful of electricity use when I am away from home. I am that person who turns off the TV in our building's exercise area when no one is in there. I take the stairs instead of the elevator. I try to remember to turn off my computer at work when I go home.
3. Our place uses minimal heat and air conditioning because it's small and compact.
4. I cook meals only when needed. I use a pressure cooker often. I fill up the tea kettle with only the amount of water I need to heat. Leftovers don't really need to be reheated, they are edible cold. Most fruits and vegetables can be eaten raw.
5. Clothes get washed only when they've been worn to the point of really needing a spin. Pants sometimes go a week or two between washings.
6. I try to buy as much local food as possible. The fewer miles in a truck, the better. Seriously, this country grows wheat and rice. We do not need to buy pasta from Italy.
7. I try to buy food that is not heavily packaged. These awesome bags go to the grocery store or farmer's market for vegetables and these are for carting them all home. The local grocery store sells milk in returnable glass jugs.
8. Processed food is pretty scarce in this home. Why buy orange juice, when you can eat an orange? Since when did food need an ingredient list?
9. Beer comes in refillable growlers.
10. Raising animals in industrial settings, as we do, has a huge impact on our use of natural resources, and on the atmosphere, so I eat meat in moderation, maybe once a month, in small quantities. This news just came out on dietary guidelines.
11. We own only one car, shared by two people. Imagine. We bought one that is good on fuel consumption. We keep the tires inflated and the trunk empty. Waiting for the price to come down on electric or hybrids, but that's probably the next move.
12. I walk or take the bus. Yes, walking to the grocery store is time consuming, but fresh air and exercise are good.
13. For long trips, we take the train, if we can. Love the train!
14. Minimalism. Simply, don't buy what you don't need. Get rid of stuff you don't use. Not having a house and yard to maintain keeps our possessions lean.
15. I buy most of my clothes (and other stuff) from consignment or thrift stores. Goodwill is an awesome company.
16. Steve used to have a t-shirt that with the words "Recycle or Die". It wore out. But the thought remains true. We try to recycle as much as we can. But before that, we try not to buy things that need to be recycled in the first place. (beverage containers!) Reduce, reuse, recycle, repair...
17. Many things in the home need not be single purpose or new. In our bathroom, there is an empty peanut butter jar holding our toothbrushes. It works fine. It's even kinda pretty.
18. Back in the days when we had a yard, food scraps went off to finish their useful lives in a compost pile. Now they go in the garbage disposal. I miss the compost pile.
19. Personal care products are often in non-recyclable containers and have long ingredient lists, so I've pared that down the list of products we use as much as possible. Soap, toothpaste, lotion and deodorant is all we have around.
20. I'm still trying to figure out how to rig a clothes line across the alley outside our window. I may get indoor foldable one.
21. Water usage is hugely important and will become more so. Showers (not every day) and flushing (not every time) are easy ways we save water.
There's more I could do to decrease my personal impact. I use lots of dishes and pots and run my dishwasher almost every day. We still use our car for recreational trips. We have a second home, although she's mostly powered by wind and solar. I enjoy these things and I am aware they are luxuries.
Personal adaptations are only a piece of our impact on the environment, but it's a starting point. I believe that if more of us were intentionally conservative about our resource use, we could slow the increase of carbon in our atmosphere, but to really try to fix the imbalance we've created by over-consumption of fossil fuels, we need to act together to do the big, hard things.
We need to educate ourselves on the big issues facing our communities and then use that knowledge to help guide our leaders to make policy changes that will help us adapt to our changing environment and mitigate the risks we face.
Read this. Take action.