Friday, May 25, 2007

Simple - Or is It?

We all want simple solutions. It's easier if there are nice neat rules. For instance, I've had global warming on my mind a lot lately. What can we do to help the environment?

When my children were at school they had a speaker on environmental issues who told the children that they should bring their lunch to school in a lunchbox rather than a plastic bag. The thinking of course, was that the kids who used plastic bags were using bags that their mothers had bought, and that were thrown out after one use. My children took their lunch in plastic bags. So the other kids hassled them about it - the simple rule was "use a lunchbox". Actually, I never bought a plastic bag. They used the bags that the bread came in, and folded them up afterwards, into their pockets, to reuse the next day.

Then there's car pooling. It's better to have two people in the car than one, right? Well, on the days I drop my son at university on my way to work, we use more petrol than the days when I drive alone. I have to go a kilometre or so out of my way, and if I didn't give him a lift, he'd catch the bus.

Low energy light bulbs are better for the environment, right? Except that there is the worrying reports that they contain mercury, so what happens when they end up in the landfill?

And then there's food miles - locally grown food has to be better, surely? I don't know. If I want tomatoes at this time of year, should I buy New Zealand tomatoes or those flown in from Queensland? I suspect the Australian tomatoes are grown indoors and the New Zealand ones in glasshouses. Do they use fuel to heat the glasshouses or do they rely on passive solar heating? Unfortunately that information isn't widely available. (If you're in Britain, do you buy local tomatoes or those shipped in from Spain?)

We have kerbside recycling here, and of course I put my paper and plastic out for collection, but I can't help wondering about the amount of fuel used in the trucks that collect it from households, and then the shipping of the paper or plastic to wherever the factories are that reuse it.

I'm not advocating doing nothing. Sometimes things are simple. And sometimes it's more complicated. There are things we can do to simplify our lives - manage on less (less goods and less mindless activity), but there is no substitute for information and critical thought. Thinking is something that we shouldn't try and simplify.

More musings on "simple" at Sunday Scribblings.


Anonymous said...

Hi Catherine! Michele sent me over.

Ooooh, provocative post! I hadn't thought about all of the extra energy "living green" requires. And the curbside recycling point - we actually have two trash trucks, one that picks up our weekly trash, and one that picks up our recyclables. So yes, I have to wonder just how efficient this is with the exhaust from that extra truck and of course, the gas necessary to run the thing.

And the plastic bag ... yep, my mom STILL does that. She reuses Wal-Mart bags for everything! Same with my in-laws - they actually use their Wal-Mart bags as trash liners.

My husband uses old juice containers to keep his screws and such out in the garage. There are definitely things we could do to help the environment; the trick is to do it "smartly." *smile*

Have an excellent day!

Clare said...

This got me thinking! You made good points, especially about the lightbulbs and extra fuel required in trash pickups and carpooling. Finding out as much as we can about what is involved and then making the most beneficial choices takes some work, but it is worth it in the long run. And I like what you said about thinking, too.

kate said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly that thinking isn't something that can always be simplified.

You ask excellent questions ... important ones as we rush headlong into trying to solve global warming.

Your blog is a good one ... thank you!

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Here from Michele this early morning....Good questions Catherine....I wonder about these things myself...And I had not heard about the mercury in the lightbulbs...It seems you almost cannot win in these situations, no matter what you do....! These are not easily answered questions, by any means....Thank you for bringing them up!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I think that you have excellent points, Catherine.

Underlying all of this, though, is a terrific quote I heard from Theresa Heinz Kerry, who is a hero of mine (and a neighbor, of sorts). She spoke of needing to look at recycling and carbon footprint reduction as a new industry, not as replacing the old.

Thus, I think that the concerns you're raising are excellent -- but at the same time, they are signalling a shift in the way we live. We're becoming MUCH more mindful.

Oh, and I've heard that a number of those lunchboxes contain lead... Really. We can't win.


Regina said...

A very wise and thought-provoking post... thank you.

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

I really like what you've written here; it's good to realize that things aren't so simple, and that maybe there isn't only one right way. I live in southern Italy, and I've seen the rubbish collectors pick up the items for recycling and mix them in with the trash--very depressing.

Great post :)

paris parfait said...

You're certainly right about the thinking part. As for recycling, we have to do what we can where we are. In Paris they do a pretty good job recycling paper, plastic and glass, but not aluminum. We take public transportation 95 percent of the time and do our best to reduce energy consumption, etc. I don't use a hairdryer unless I'm at the hairdresser's salon.

Anonymous said...

I get caught up with these kind of queries too, and so I tend to go on the best information available and then, like you, use my common sense. Your story about your reusing of the plastic bread bags rather than lunchboxes reminds me of an article that I read about the town in England that has banned plastic bags. One woman was using one old plastic bag again and again and was called to question over it! Luckily they allowed her to continue using it. It is indeed a tricky problem with no simple solutions.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Excellent post, going green isn't as simple as some people try to claim. We need to do what we can (eg I don't drive, have never owned a microwave or tumbledrier, have not used a hardrier for 20 years and have two fabric carrier bags in my handbag at all times!) but also we need to keep a questioning mind at all times!

JHS said...

Very interesting thoughts and ideas. We always had "lunch pails" as kids and my father always used frozen juice containers for screws, bolts, etc. Old ideas coming around again . . . that's how it works, right?

gautami tripathy said...

Good solid advise in there! We need to recycle and clear clutter too. Saving the earth should be utmost priority.

Lesser the carbon emmision, better for our environment.

We should pause and think about it.

Anonymous said...

I guess we need to add up the costs of living simply. We have a solar water heater, a green house (covered with plastic), a solar powered batteries for when we don't have electricity, a bucket for 'pig food' and a compost bucket. Though I am sure that there are other things that we can do...

Patois42 said...

You ask some very intriguing questions and you point out some bumps that I hadn't really considered. BTW, we have three trucks picking up: one for trash, one for recycling and one for grass and leaves. I have wondered about that.

utenzi said...

Many of those arguments are ones I use also, Catherine. People like to have things simple--and things just aren't really that way. Like you say, it doesn't mean that we don't do anything--but it does mean that you should be aware of the real situation and act accordingly.

Of course since most people prefer simple, simple is what we'll always have. Eh. Great post, Catherine.

Tammy Brierly said...

Makes me go...hmmmm! Well done!