If every one of us did this one thing, how much impact could we have?
If every one of us did this one thing, how much impact could we have?
With Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement yesterday, those of us who are passionate about care of the earth are, if not surprised, still frustrated. What we are not is powerless. If the data in this chart, or this one is accurate (and as I’ve been hearing variations on this theme a lot the last two days, I have no reason to think otherwise), then we, as individuals in the U.S., have a lot of room to reduce our carbon footprint. There’s no rule that says we have to wait for our leaders to mandate it. Why don’t we, as individuals, take the lead?
Today I re-present:
In the Kitchen
Vehicles and driving
Around the house
For the Family
(This post was originally published on May 29, 2007, but I fine-tune it every time I re-post it.)
What shall I say about wind turbines?
The way Alex geeks out about Percy Jackson and Star Wars is the way I geek out about wind farms. I think they are really cool.
(Alex says I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, geek out about wind farms. He says I don’t know anything about them.)
But that is not entirely for lack of trying. I did, after all, spend four weeks before we went to Omaha, poring over maps, trying to find the name and contact info for a wind farm in the hopes that we could wrangle a tour.
Okay. So Alex says he knows almost every single freaking Greek myth, and I know nothing about wind farms. Therefore, this is a poor comparison.
But he’s laughing. And so am I. So we’re going to just go with it. And no, Alex, we are not going to look up Greek myths to prove your point. I got it. I’m ignoring it.
The point is, we stopped for gas in a tiny little town in the far northwest corner of Missouri, and almost as soon as we topped the rise, there they were: a whole landscape of wind turbines. And, unlike the one we saw in Perry, Iowa over Memorial Day—these were RUNNING.
I have wanted for several years to know what these things sound like. One of the big arguments against wind farms is the noise, after all. So I was very curious to know exactly what kind of noise level we’re talking about here. But I live in, hmmm, a state that is, by and large, unconvinced of the desirability of alternative energy. And although locally we are starting to have a middlingly-decent amount of solar, there’s only one wind turbine in my town, and it’s not one of those big suckers with the blades as long as two semi tractor beds.
So after we filled up the van, I asked the young woman at the counter where there was a road that would take us out among them, very close to them, without trespassing.
She looked at me like I was crazy, and she said: “Um, I don’t know? I live here, but I don’t really know anything about it.”
Well, then. There you go.
So we wandered east out of town for about two or three miles until we hit the jackpot: a gravel road bisecting two enormous soybean fields, with a dozen or so wind turbines scattered around them.
We pulled into the driveway, stopping shy of the (open) gate that said “authorized personnel only,” and got out.
So what does a wind farm sound like? Alex says: “They didn’t sound like ANYTHING! They sounded like WIND BLOWING!”
I’d hoped to share a video, because I can’t be the only one who’s curious about this, right? (Right????) But it was incredibly windy that day, so the video I took with the DSLR came out with nothing but, well, wind noise. But the answer to my long-burning question about a) how much noise does a wind farm make, and b) what kind of noise, exactly, is: there’s a low hum that I can’t describe very well because it was buried under the noise of the wind blowing across the ridges. And then there’s the slow, lazy pulse of the blades: sssshhhhSHOOPsssshhhhSHOOPsssshhhhSHOOP.
It’s not silent by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not as loud as I-70 from my backyard, which is a mile from the highway. So anyone who fusses about noise pollution needs to just calm down, because people are always building monstrosities of homes twelve feet from eight-lane freeways, so the whole noise pollution argument doesn’t hold water.
And I got to stand at the base of a running wind turbine. Check that one off the bucket list.
I’ve been following blogger Margaret Felice for quite some time, and when I read the following post late last week, I felt as if it was written just for me. I admit I have not had time to dig into Laudato Si yet, but I officially downloaded it onto my computer for an upcoming road trip. In the meantime, I give you Margaret:
The first point at which I thought the Pope might be laughing at me was paragraph 55.
55. Some countries are gradually making significant progress, developing more effective controls and working to combat corruption. People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-destructive.
I can almost see him writing “smh” in the margin, shaking his zuchettoed head. Those Americans and their air-conditioning.
There was no air conditioner going in our house on the morning the encyclical dropped, but I was basking in the breeze of our overhead fans as I scrutinized the document Thursday morning. I hunched over my laptop until moments before I had to leave for an appointment, ignoring my husband (except when he brought me an english muffin, God bless him) and ignoring my visiting brother (except to show him where the eggs and frying pan were – breakfast is an important thing in our house). I was so excited to read Laudato Si.
I should admit, I was expecting my lifelong environmentalism to be vindicated, and it was. And if I’m being honest, I should admit what I was not expecting: to also be admonished. I suppose I knew dispassionately that such criticism was likely, but it still stung when it came.
111. Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources. There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm. Otherwise, even the best ecological initiatives can find themselves caught up in the same globalized logic. To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.
203. Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals. Romano Guardini had already foreseen this: “The gadgets and technics forced upon him by the patterns of machine production and of abstract planning mass man accepts quite simply; they are the forms of life itself. To either a greater or lesser degree mass man is convinced that his conformity is both reasonable and just”. This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power. Amid this confusion, postmodern humanity has not yet achieved a new self-awareness capable of offering guidance and direction, and this lack of identity is a source of anxiety. We have too many means and only a few insubstantial ends.
The encyclical contains a lot of hope, and some practical solutions which I hope to share in a later post. But what has stuck with me more than the suggestions and the exhortations is the realization that I’m not perfect, either. After running out the door to get to the first of that day’s appointments, I made this admission on Twitter:
I recycle and don’t use air-conditioning in the house and hang my clothes outside and grow food and eat locally and teach my students that care for the environment is care for people.
One can do good things and still have more good things to do.
I miss fireflies.
When I was little, the fireflies were everywhere. I remember trekking through the tall grass north of the house to the pond with my cousin and catching one to bring back and put in a jar, where we watched it all night. Apparently as a child I wasn’t as creeped out by the prospect of ticks as I am now, because I’m pretty sure I was wearing shorts. Maybe the vividness of that memory comes from the fact that this cousin was my first-ever best friend and since she lived on the west coast, seeing her was a once-every-other-year occasion.
In the past decade or so, I had thought that my memory of the fireflies was skewed by time and by the tendency of a fanciful child to enlarge all enchanting things. But there was a night, a few years ago, when Christian and I stood on the deck looking down over the lawn and the deep, dark places in the woods, at the profusion of silent lights blinking lazily. I said, “This is what I remember. Why isn’t it like this all the time?”
Not long after, I found out that there really aren’t as many fireflies as there used to be. Mostly it has to do with the destruction of habitat and the uptick in light pollution. There’s also some speculation that the “fogging” done by cities to discourage mosquitoes also discourages fireflies. But it hasn’t been studied a whole lot yet, as best I can tell.
It’s hard for me to accept the thoughtlessness I see unfolding around me in people’s interactions with the world. It’s much bigger than the fireflies; they’re just an example that comes to mind at this time of year. I don’t think the people who sit with their cars and air conditioners running for half an hour in the parking lot while their kids take swim lessons or piano have hostile intentions toward the world. I think they just don’t want to put up with any discomfort. I don’t think the people who dump huge amounts of recyclables in trash bags bound for the landfill are hell-bent on squandering the resources and the space that make this precious world so beautiful. I think they just don’t think it through and live intentionally.
And that’s really the key. We’re so used to our comfort, our convenience, that we aren’t intentional about how we use things. We get so caught up in our TV shows and our social media and whatever other “strange gods,” as Elizabeth Scalia put it, that it doesn’t occur to us that every single action we take, or don’t take, has a ripple effect on the world.
Nothing we do is without consequence.
Pope Francis is due to release an encyclical next week on climate change. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he has to say, and I’m praying that it makes a difference.
Every so often it occurs to me that to many people it might sound hypocritical for a person who chose to have four children to say she values conservation of resources. In this day and age, it’s sort of assumed that more people automatically converts to greater strain on the environment.
Well, we had many reasons why we chose to have a larger-than-average family (I will never call four kids a big family)–all of them long-term reasons. But the interesting thing I’ve found as I encounter other larger-than-average families is that a lot of us are more cognizant and deliberate about consumption because of our family size.
Because let’s face it: the consumer model the first world is built upon is very, very expensive. And many–not all, but many–earth-conscious choices also save money.
So I thought today I’d share some of the things we have chosen to do to approach the resources of the earth from a standpoint of good stewardship. Maybe something on this list will strike a chord with you, too.
So there you go. A few of the things we have chosen to do to reduce our use of resources and be good stewards of the earth. I’d love to hear from other families, too. I’m always on the hunt for new ideas!
Life is unpredictable, but over the past several years I’ve learned there’s one thing I can count on with absolute certainty: somewhere between one week and two days before university graduation, I will lose my voice. It happens virtually every semester, just before I join the platform party at honors convocation as the official singer of the alma mater.
This year was no exception. For three days I took cough syrup, slathered myself with Vicks, and drank tea in an attempt to get the slow-moving virus to clear my body before graduation. It happened just in time. Praise the Lord, I had a voice on Saturday morning.
But the thing that stands out to me about this weekend is that the commencement speeches were the best I’ve ever heard. Jim McKelvey, who co-founded Square, had everyone laughing at intervals, but the message was serious. He wanted to point out to the graduates that no longer can they count on praise or immediate feedback like grades to keep them motivated. From here on out, they have to motivate themselves.
It could have been a real downer of a message, except for the humor and the takeaway: Find a problem. Find a problem that bugs you down so deep, you’re on fire about it. A problem so troublesome, it gets you out of bed in the morning. Find that problem, he said, and then go fix it. And if you succeed, find another one to solve.
After McKelvey came Jim Held, the owner of Stone Hill Winery in Herman, Missouri, who was being awarded an honorary doctorate. He came to the microphone and said, “I could talk about the wine industry in Missouri, but I won’t. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the last 2 1/2 years of my life.” It was a simple but powerful story of a stroke he was told he wouldn’t recover from–and did. He changed his bad habits, and he changed his future. The takeaway: the choices you make have consequences. So make good ones.
I come out of this weekend feeling pretty blessed, for many reasons I can’t go into in public. But this blessing I can share: I feel tremendously blessed to be staring down age 40 with a clear sense of what my life-motivating problems are–the ones that motivate me to get out of bed in the morning. There are two. One of them I outlined on Friday. The other is the need for a healthier view of sexuality, one that recognizes and embraces the message Jim Held underscored: personal responsibility and self control, the fact that choices and consequences go together and you must take the responsibility to exercise self-control to achieve the outcome you value.
I feel even more blessed that these two passions of mine dovetail so seamlessly: that living out a sexuality that respects the way we are put together (as opposed to slapping a pharmaceutical on something that isn’t broken in a misguided attempt to “free” sexual expression from its natural consequences) also respects the earth.
My question for you today is this: what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? What global problem do you want to solve? You don’t have to answer that publicly, but think about it. And if you’re willing to share, so much the better.