Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reuse, Reduce, Recycle--and Rethink

The sun is setting on the age of fossil fuels...

A few folks out there have asked me questions about how green energy works and what they should be doing about it upon discovering I’m currently enrolled in an energy technician program with hopes of gaining a BPI Building Analyst certification. What that means is that I’m trying to become an “energy auditor”. With those credentials I’ll be able to inspect and write up a report on how energy efficient a home or business is. With that information, a home or business owner can take steps to lower their energy bills.

Why is finding out how energy efficient a building is all that important? If you don’t know then obviously you’re not the person in charge of paying your family’s electric, gas, trash removal, water and/or sewage bills these past few years. To further break your bubble of ignorance on issues of world significance, I regret to inform you that fossil fuels (that is, petroleum products, natural gas, coal and their variants) are a dwindling resource. On top of that, the CO2 gases they emit when burned/used could very well be the culprits of global warming.

And here you thought $4 a gallon gasoline was bad!

Sorry to bring you down for a moment, but I feel the public has a right to know. After all, we’re the ones paying the bills, and the decisions we make now will have lasting effects on our children’s and grandchildren’s futures.

Since this is going to be a short blog posting, I’m going to keep things really simple. It’s easier on both of us that way. The best things you can do right now to help save energy, keep the planet cleaner and greener are what I’d term “The Four R’s”: Reduce, reuse, recycle and rethink.

The last one is my own invention, as I’ll admit the first three R’s have been a mantra for many enlightened people for some time now. In my opinion, however, the rethinking aspects can’t be understated. It’s great to recycle our food packaging, and it’s wonderful when we come up with new ways to use old things such as furniture and disused buildings, and it’s fantastic to reduce our use of water by planting only plants that are native to our area which can thrive on rainfall alone. But without changing our mindset about what it really means to take care of our planet, these measures alone will not help us meet the goal of keeping it alive.

What do we need to “rethink”? Just about everything! Admit it—most of our three R’s have been rather token measures. We’re still buying agribusiness-sponsored fast food packaged in an over-abundance of paper goods, and we do so by driving gas-guzzling SUVs through drive-thrus with our engines idling during our lunch hour. Sure, we may recycle the paper goods (if we’re able), but if we had done the fourth R—rethink—we’d never find ourselves in this situation in the first place.

We’d grow a lot of our own veggies or buy them from local farmers who may use organic techniques eliminating the overuse of pesticides and petrochemicals. We’d make ourselves a healthy brown bag lunch (in a reusable cloth sack with reusable containers to hold our sandwich and fixings) instead of buying fast food that is processed using additives and other potentially unhealthy chemicals in a manufacturing plant located thousands of miles from where we live and trucked in using even more fossil fuels.

We’d walk from our place of work and eat our lunch in the park. No starting up of the ol’ gas-guzzler necessary. In fact, we might even bike or walk to work in the first place, blissfully ignoring the $4 a gallon gas station signs.

We’d walk or bike home in the afternoon and not turn on every light, appliance and electronic entertainment system imaginable in our homes--including the newest home energy hog, the flat screen TV. (Who knows? We might even rediscover the joy of reading!) We’d open the windows and let the breezes cool our home in the summer, and we’d put on an extra sweater and keep our thermostats under 67 degrees F in the winter. We might even buy our clothing from Goodwill or make our own sweater with our own knitting or crochet needles. When it got too worn or we’d outgrown it, we’d pass it on to others or recycle the fibers so others could make something useful out it.

If the inhabitants of the Western World emulated some of these habits of the inhabitants of the so-called Third World Nations, we’d probably be halfway there in our rethinking process. We’d understand that to continually think “More is better! I must have the latest gadget, drive the biggest car, use the most resources I can afford, etc.,” is not healthy and is certainly not true. We’d realize the lies we tell ourselves on a daily basis are killing us and our planet.

In short, the first three R’s alone will not save us or our planet unless our hearts and minds come along for the ride. Rethink how you use energy. Rethink how you use resources—from the paper that wraps us a greasy hamburger to the combustion engine vehicle that adds to the CO2 problem and further depletes the remaining fossil fuels.

Rethink how you’ll tell your children and grandchildren why you feel your planet—their planet--deserves to be in the state it’s in today.


Zo said...

I know the "use everything" approach was one of the things I was struck by when I lived in Indonesia. When I first went along the meat counter in a "western" style grocery store, the bins started with whole chickens, then half chickens, then breasts, legs and thighs, then chicken feet, then the heads. Nothing was wasted. When our tape deck died, we took it to a little fixit guy in the market, who worked out of a little shack filled with all kinds of parts, wires, tapes, etc. He jury-rigged what was needed and a few hours later, we had a working tape deck. We're so used to a system that encourages us to throw away what we don't need or what is outdated. That's where the rethinking comes in. And knowing what to do with leftover food products or old Ipods.

Cindy said...

Exactly! We don't fix things anymore--we junk them. We waste about half our food production according to some sources...disgusting! Think if we were better stewards, how many more people would be able to eat and not go hungry? A fixed appliance--one less item in the landfill. Saved food--one less person starving. It makes sense.

I think since the end of WW II, we've lost touch with the real value of items and people. When you talk to folks who lived during the Depression, they knew how to save food, prepare it themselves and how to fix things. It was a necessity for survival. Soon it will be again.

Dumpster Dude said...

Completely true, Imagine the situation when the fossil fuels will become extinct :(

A J said...

Quite right! We do need to rethink the way we live our lives. At the moment we're looking into container gardens for growing vegetables and fruit. Anything that cuts down the unnecessary trips to the store is fine with me.

Cindy said...

I sure hope it doesn't come right up to the end, Dumpster Dude. If we get working now, we'll weaned off the fossil fuels sufficiently that we can just leave anything remaining inside the earth.

Container gardening--obtaining your own "grow-ceries". ;)

Pommawolf Emeraldwolfeyes said...

You hit the nail on the head!
We lost how to value anything.
My hubby & I have changed our lives completely in the last 10 years due to the waste.
We resysle, reuse, rebuild and utilize everything we can. We are almost completely ready to get our
off grid at our home up here north of Fairbanks Alaska. It's been a work in progress for the last 10 years trying to be partof the solution.
But blogs like yours spread the encouragement to more people to do the same....awesome!
Thank you!


Cindy said...

I'm very impressed by your family's committment to get off grid, Darcy. That's fantastic. We've been thinking about perhaps setting up a solar array if and when we can build our straw bale home. I can't imagine how challenging it is to go off grid in a cold climate like an Alaskan winter. My hat is off to you!

google-site-verification: googlec9fe367ac800d499.html