Saturday, November 23, 2019

What Are We Doing?

     Sometimes I wonder: what are we doing? Everybody, it seems, is worried about climate change and global warming, the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the general level of pollution in our water and air. But nobody seems to do anything about it.

     People blame the California fires on the electric company and global warming. But still they keep building more houses in sensitive and threatened areas. Politicians propose a green new deal -- but, it seems, only to make a point, not to seriously address the issue. But meanwhile . . .

     I just drove 150 miles down I95. I spied a few Toyota Priuses and other hybrids. There were some economy cars -- the smaller Hondas, Toyotas and Chevrolets -- that might average better than 30 mpg. But by far the majority of vehicles on the road were trucks and SUVs -- vehicles like the Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra, and the Jeeps and big Mercedes that burn up fuel and spit out exhaust at a rate of 15 mpg. It's hard to believe these people are interested in saving the planet.
     And then, do they drive at 55 mph, when the car is at its most efficient? Or even 60 or 65 mph, when it's not much less efficient? No, they speed at 70 or 75, or many of them do, when gas efficiency starts to deteriorate significantly. I guess people want to save the environment . . . unless they're in a hurry.

     Then I get to my airbnb, a condo complex on the coastline of Florida. There are 24 units in my building, and there are a dozen buildings -- for 288 units. I checked in with the manager. She handed me a copy of the rules and pointed out where the trash bins are. She didn't mentioned recycling, so I asked.

     "No, we don't recycle," she said. She gave me a guilty look. "We used to. But too many of the guests just didn't bother, and it was costing us money. So we stopped. Everything goes in the trash now."

     Again, it seems people want to save the planet. But not if it's too much trouble, or if it costs a few extra dollars.

     And when I went to the beach, guess what I saw. The sand was peppered with little pieces of plastic, in amongst the seaweed. Should we be surprised?

Can you see the little bits of green and blue plastic on the Florida beach?
     I'm certainly not setting myself up as holier than thou. I drive a car (but not an SUV). I usually recycle my paper and plastics. But on occasion I've thrown a bottle in the regular trash, especially since I've read that there's so much plastic they can't recycle it all and some of it ends up in the landfills anyway.

     We have to live in our world. But it's easy to blame PG&E or Big Oil. But who buys the oil? Who uses all the plastic? Who's responsible for our ever-increasing use of electricity? What's the old saying? We have met the enemy, and it is us.

     I remember when I was a kid. My aunt lived out in the country. She'd burn her trash and throw what wouldn't burn into the woods behind her house. This was a common practice in those days. But eventually there was just too much trash. So now even the rural residents put their garbage in the proper receptacles to be hauled away to proper disposal stations.

     We really should stop throwing paper and plastic into the ocean, and stop spewing carbons into the air. Like the people in my aunt's old neighborhood, we have to become a little more advanced in our ways. Even if we don't care about it for ourselves, we should do it for the grandchildren.


DJan said...

I agree with you. Leaving a smaller carbon footprint is one of my goals. Everywhere I look, though, are the remnants of overconsumption. Americans are not alone in this, but we seem to lead the way. Nobody cares about the planet until the damage affects them directly, it seems. :-(

gigi-hawaii said...

Good words. Where are the good deeds?

Fred said...

I don't believe we will ever see enough action at the individual level to make a significant dent in our environmental problems. This is one problem that can only be fixed from a top down perspective. Want to put a limit on global warming? Massive nuclear power plant adoption across the world. We will wait till the end of time to see people restrict their power consumption enough to put any dent in global warming. Need to limit plastics in the environment? Perhaps development of biodegradable plastics followed by a ban on any that are not. People will never stop shopping. Want to make the most significant contribution possible to global warming. Limit population growth. The only palatable suggestion I can make here is improve education worldwide, followed by subsidized economic development in third world countries. People that are educated and have economic opportunities have less children.

Barb said...

It's a balancing act and none of us are perfect. I dont use single use plastics (I use cloth bags and fabric produce bags, have three reusbagle cups that I even use in drive throughs) whenever I can help it, I use cloth napkins and coaster sand am working on cloth substitutes for paper towels. Im willing to pay for wind and solar energy. I upcycle everything I can, and deliberately make a choice to purchase things with less packaging,and I have only two kids, one of whom will never have kids of her own by choice.

I also drive an SUV. And have never taken a military shower since I let the military (and probably not before), as well as keeping my home in the 72 degree range in winter.

I agree that there are many things we can do. But like the post above, without significant change at the government and business level, I doubt significant changes will happen. When we get rid of platic bottles or create them for disposable materia, for example. Its obviously possible, I mean, look at the meat industry (or the vegan/vegetarian meat industry if you will. It may be a drop in the bucket now, but you need to create alternatives, affordable alternatives, in order to take that next step. So alternatives CAN be economically viable and consumers WILL take advantage if a business creates the opportunity. So why arent they doing so?

Tabor said...

I drive a hybid, I bring my own bags for both produce and groceries, I return straws to the waitress, I compost my biological garbage, I try to keep the thermostat on a reasonable setting. But I still try.

Rian said...

Tom, I'm not sure how to comment here. We recycle, but that is such a small thing that I wonder how much good it actually does. Plastic seems to be a big issue... and I'll admit I'm probably naive, but if it's such a problem and we have so much technology within our reach, why can't they create plastics that are biodegradable? (Probably the answer revolves around money and politics)

Arkansas Patti said...

Sadly as you mentioned, we all want these things and expect "others" to do the heavy lifting. I do what I can and vote where I can't. I fear for our children.

Niculina McClanahan said...

You gathered some good observations in your trip. I noticed that in the southern states I visited last summer, recycling is more of a wishful thinking and there is a strong attachment to big vehicles, big houses, big everything.
You are perfectly right, it is all of us who impact our environment. Every human activity, big or small creates either garbage, dirties water or pollutes the air. With every breath we take, we release CO2 into the atmosphere.So we are all polluters, we've always been and always will.The issue is that we all need to be aware of our own impact and minimize it. Use less, recycle, compost, use renewable energy if it's possible. I do believe in the power of many. Of course, some well thought out policies would help, especially with large corporations that may not have enough incentive to practice good stewardship of the land, air and water. Education also helps, actually the young generation has a stronger sense of urgency about these issues, probably many young people instinctively understand where are we at and fear for their future. If only politicians would consider their concerns rather than patronizing them.

Wisewebwoman said...

I agree, it has to be a groundswell movement and there are not enough of us and I'm strictly concentrating on elder poverty now but I had my no garbage in Toronto, 4 different recycling bins.

there's no recycling in my building. And I'm too physically challenged to take it to a recycling depot myself. So everything goes in the trash. And the problem is so immense I've stopped caring. Isn't that awful?

I do drive a fuel efficient car though and rarely turn on my heat and watch my water and light usage. So that's something.....I guess.


Red said...

It's all very simple but it seems it takes too much effort to take any action. Every one of us could do better. Anyway , keep on preaching. we all have to preach and maybe someday before it's too late we will start making a difference.

Janette said...

For the developed world, it is one person changing at a time. I think about this a lot.)
Don't buy that house by the ocean/river.lake unless you plan on losing it (and "us" not replacing it through flood insurance). Rivers change courses, floods helped build the pyramids and ice caps were smaller when the Vikings roamed the seas.
Buy those bags and USE them. Refuse that plastic bag from the store.
We try to stay away from anything over packaged (and I write when I do find something crazy.) Amazon is wasting lots of gas, boxed and packing materials with their "new way of life".
I don't buy bottled water (why would you buy something that has leeched plastic in it to begin with?) I am with Barb, and have been using a steel cup for years (It does have a plastic straw and lid :) ) We also spend time cleaning up waterways near us- always have. "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute!" was something I taught in the late 70's.
After living in Hong Kong and seeing the tremendous contamination of rivers by North American manufacturing, we use as little plastic as possible and even are careful about the amount of clothes we purchase. Dye, fabric washing, acid bleaching---all cause huge problems.
We don't fertilize our lawn, knowing that most of it will run off into the river and pollute it. When in the West we used zero scape. Plant gardens using your own compost and soil to soak up the CO2 around your own space. I think it is really sad that the solution to the power outages in CA is millions of polluting generators being purchased and used. There has to be a better way!
Every single step counts.
Last GO Nuclear!!!! Solar panels cannot be recycled and those huge wind machines are killing migrating birds like crazy!

Anonymous said...

We're all doing what we can, I guess. A child of the 60s, when overpopulation was a daily topic, I ended up not having children (not solely due to zero population goals, but definitely a consideration).
I have lived for 14 years in a less than 1000 sq ft house, keep my thermostat at 68 and bundle up. My water usage is consistently the lowest tier the water authority uses. I used to drive a Honda Fit, 40 MPG. But on highways I felt like a bug compared to every other car being a truck or an SUV; and I anticipated that in retirement I would want to do more long car trips. So in the interest of highway safety, I bought a small SUV, considered a compact SUV, which gets 34 MPG on the highway. I have not traveled as much in retirement so far as I had planned. Largely due to climate change, I rarely fly now (of course, the horrible treatment of passengers by airlines is also a small factor!).
I have been religiously recycling for decades. Before curbside recycling was a thing where I live, I used to load up my car on a weekend and haul newspapers, glass, plastic, etc., all to different recycling facilities. Now the youth in my area, supposedly such climate supporters, moan that recycling isn't picked up often enough (never for a second thinking they could haul the stuff to a facility 3-5 miles away!)
My biggest problem area is drinking water. My local water authority bungled things badly, and we are not far down the list from Flint, Michigan, with lead and other impurities in the water. I buy gallon jugs at my local co-op for drinking water. When I move in the spring (to an even smaller place), I plan to buy a distiller to make my own.
I don't fertilize or put anything at all on my lawn. I buy very little in the way of clothing and donate anything I no longer wear or use. I also buy some clothing at an annual second-hand fundraiser. I never buy anything from Amazon because of the huge environmental impact of the trucks, boxes, etc.
I use electronics until they die. My first iPhone lasted for at least seven years. At a party with a bunch of 30ish people recently, I spoke with a young man about cell phones. He was advising me about what to buy now that mine won't hold a charge, and he was kind of laughing at my affection/tolerance for old technology. When I mentioned the environment, he boldly stated that the cell phone companies are doing such a good job now of recycling that it's not an issue. He looked chagrined when I retorted that those cell phone companies are only supporting their phones for a year or two, forcing everyone to buy new, which is destroying the lands of the lowland gorillas at a much faster rate than necessary.
In the end, this won't be solved by us. It is in the hands of the corporations, and I don't see any possibility that they will be steered in the direction of doing he right thing at the expense of their unimaginable profits.

Diane Dahli said...

Fred makes a lot of sense. Listen to what he says! I agree we need to look at a broader perspective, and make our point where it can count. Meanwhile, we should work individually to do what we can...

Barbara said...

You are so right Tom.

Tom said...

I kind of agree and disagree with Fred. Yes, we need top down solutions. But I think the only way we'll get them is thru action on the individual level, both politically but also and culturally -- when it becomes taboo for people to drive big fat cars, toss away paper and plastic wherever it's most convenient, or even to mindlessly jet off to the latest tourist destination.

Kay said...

I’m with you about doing our part for the environment. I’ve been aghast to see plastic bits strewn on Hawaiian beaches too. We recycle as much as we can and drive a Prius. We are installing more solar panels. If everybody does their bit it would help. I do feel guilty about our travels, but we live on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Our children live in Illinois and Maryland. If it weren’t for air travel, we couldn’t see them for our once or twice a year trips. And foreign travel... yes, we do go once or twice a year. Sigh...

Jennifer (UnfoldAndBegin) said...

Interestingly, since moving to Florida, I see less of a focus on recycling. Our apartment doesn't do it. You have to do it on your own and bring it to an outside facility. There are no deposit fees on bottles, which surprised me. In Connecticut, we had deposit bottles and curbside recycling. All of which made recycling easier. In a state that is very much affected by pollution and plastics, you would think that they would make things mandatory and easier down here. But I guess that's too progressive for them.

Laurie Stone said...

The oceans break my heart when I see how polluted they get. I agree, we need to do more. On the other hand, we have someone in the White House who thumbs his nose at anything environmental so it makes it harder to get people to listen. Heartbreaking.

Kathy @ SMART Living said...

Hi Tom! Definitely feeling the angst in this post. But hey, I get it. It can seem dismal and overwhelming at time. I first woke up seriously about the environment over 10 years ago and my emotions have run the gamut. I agree that we must all individually do what we can--but it is really easy just to see the obvious and very difficult to see the majority so it's really difficult to judge. I do drive an SUV BUT I have had solar on my house for nearly 8 years now with a very low footprint. Low water, low gas. Very close to net-zero on my home. I still fly when I travel but I also don't have children which is the most significant factor anyone can have for an "high footprint" when you factor in kids, their kids, and their kids, etc. And while our leadership can play a role in helping things--think the ozone layer--it actually needs to come from the demands of the people. Only when we demand a change will it ever really become the new norm. Hopefully that will happen in time. ~Kathy

Linda Myers said...

Yes, it is us. I wish our culture didn't put so much emphasis on acquiring stuff. I truly believe that the best things in life aren't things.

We do what we can to live simply. And we vote.

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Rebecca Olkowski said...

I would love to see people doing more although, in general, our state does a good job. My apartment building doesn't recycle which is weird for LA but some of the homeless people come by and collect bottles from the trash that they sell to make money. I hate seeing trash or dog poop that people don't bother to pick up. I do drive a Prius and our markets here encourage us to bring reusable bags. People need a big wakeup call. Picking up trash was something I learned in Girl Scouts. The "Don't be a Litterbug" campaign needs to come back

Anonymous said...

Inevitably, eco-aware and non-eco-aware people found one another 70 years ago before it was a big thing. I have to sort through our re-cycle bin to remove non-recyclables included by my sweetheart.

Until we figure out a solution to disposal of depleted reactor fuels, I'm against such reactors. We've been working on that problem for at least 70 years without any visible progress.

Yes, I have 2 children (who, between them, produced 1 child who, in turn, produced 2 children), drive a car that gets 38mi/gal on the highway (and drive about 5K miles/year), and eschew air or sea travel; but, that's not enough!

The real problem is too many people with too many "wants". We are hastening the demise of the human race through our actions.

aloof said...

Many good points and concerns I share with you and your readers on several fronts. I just recently came across this blog in reading articles on 'downsizing' or 'rightsizing' as me and my wife are on the cusp of being empty nesters, I have enjoyed several of your thoughtful and well-written posts.

Wanting to share something to consider regarding nuclear power. Anonymous said... "... Until we figure out a solution to disposal of depleted reactor fuels, I'm against such reactors." I have felt the same way as my State stores too many of them, and when things go wrong at a nuclear plant they go really wrong.

Interestingly, I recently watched a Nexflix documentary on Bill Gates - Inside Bill's Brain : Decoding Bill Gates ( - think it is the third episode) where he is behind a project that created a reactor design that could use the depleted reactor fuel rods we have been trying to find a solution for and reduces the risks. This has me rethinking nuclear as a viable option - not fully convinced but more open to it than I was.