Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day, if the weather holds

Today's weather report calls for "sunshine and clouds mixed," with "a stray shower or thunderstorm," which is singularly unhelpful when it comes to planning your day. Do you ride your bike to work, or do you risk being caught in that "stray shower or thunderstorm"? Should you hang the wash out on the line, or will that "stray thunderstorm" leave it more drenched than it was when it came out of the washer? In other words, how many of the "green" things you do most of the time will the weather ironically force you to skip on Earth Day?

This got me thinking about how the weather and climate affect the "greenness" of my behavior in general. For example, I'm sure I'm generally a deeper shade of green in the summer than I am in the winter. I can't line-dry my clothes in the winter, because they'd freeze solid (apparently there are some people who do this and bring them in, still frozen, to dry, but I'm not quite that dedicated); Brian can't ride his bike to work in the snow; and while I can go most of the summer without air-conditioning (I switch it on only when the temperature in the house hits 90 degrees, which may not happen more than twice in a summer), I certainly can't manage for most of the winter without heat. During the winter months, my garden lies neglected, and even eating local food is impractical, because nothing grows in New Jersey from November through March. (Barbara Kingsolver's local eating experiment in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I wrote about on my old blog, was only practical because the family moved across the country from hot, dry Tuscon to warm, fertile Virginia.) Even buying secondhand goods is harder in the winter, because there are no yard sales. In fact, according to Wikipedia, one of the reasons for choosing this date for Earth Day in the first place, forty years ago, was that it was "late enough in spring to have decent weather."

This is a troubling trend, because it suggests that we may be trapped in a vicious circle. Probably the biggest environmental problem the world faces right now is climate change—a better term than "global warming," because the earth isn't simply going to grow gradually and uniformly warmer across its entire surface; instead, weather patterns will shift dramatically, and one of the likely effects will be more and bigger storms. In other words, the weather is going to keep getting worse, and the worse it gets, the harder it will be for people to do the things that are needed (like driving less, or using less power) to mitigate the problem.

But on the other hand, some of our problems may turn out to be self-correcting. For instance, the burning of fossil fuels is a problem not just because of the greenhouse gases and other pollution they produce, but also because they're a limited, nonrenewable resource. But that may be a good thing, because as the supply of these fuels starts to run low, the prices will go up, giving a boost to conservation efforts and to the renewable-power industry. I'm not trying to say that the problem will take care of itself, and we don't need to do anything—merely that there are at least a few good reasons to hope that the efforts we do make won't be futile.

Personally, I've never been much of a believer in hand-wringing. Yes, we need to understand the scope of the problems we're facing, but only so that we can figure out what's needed to solve them. I prefer to focus on ways to succeed, rather than on the disastrous consequences of failure. So rather than joining the chorus of doomsayers, I'm going to come up—right now—with a list of ten simple things that I am doing to help the earth this Earth Day, come rain or come shine:

1. I got in and out of the shower in three minutes.
2. Afterward, I dried my hair with a microfiber towel rather than a blow-dryer (which is terrible for my dry hair anyway).
3. I have dressed in my secondhand best (every garment except the underwear).
4. I'm now brewing up a cup of organic, Fair-Trade coffee. (I'm also using Amy Dacyczyn's trick of adding half the original amount of ground coffee to the once-used grounds in the filter, to get a second cup from half as much coffee.)
5. I will submit at least one new green-themed article to Associated Content. (Side note: I've had three new articles published there since my last post. Two of them are reworkings of topics already discussed on this blog: a piece on the virtues of popcorn and the best way to take advantage of them, and an editorial on how the recession is making Americans greener. The other is a review of the new solar garden lights I picked up at the Aldi last week. I've added a handy link at the right that will take you directly to my Associated Content page.)
6. I will darn one of Brian's socks that has developed a hole in the toe (though this may actually be counterproductive, since we probably need new rags in our kitchen more than he needs new socks).
7. Speaking of which, I will use reusable rags to mop up all our kitchen spills, of which I'm sure there will be some.
8. I will take a walk (with an umbrella, if necessary) to renew my appreciation of nature.
9. Tonight's dinner will be meatless (potato-apple skillet, from the delectable Small Potato Cookbook).
10. And I went ahead and hung the laundry out on the line. Call it a leap of faith.
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