"Home lies in the things you carry with you everywhere and not in the things that tie you down."
-- Pico Iyer

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Saving the Planet with Covid

      One silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic is that air pollution levels have gone down, not just around metropolitan areas but throughout the country -- and even in China!

     Most of us are driving less. I last filled my gas tank over three weeks ago, on October 9, and the tank is still 3/4 full. Instead of grumbling about the cost of gas, I'm complaining about the monthly payment for the lease on my car that sits in the garage all week.

     But maybe it's better this way. We live in town. Our street is not a major artery, but it is a through street so we normally get a medium amount of traffic. But lately, we can sit on our front porch and not see a single car go by for ten minutes.

     For the past six months, having two cars has been a hassle, and so we're now starting to think maybe we can get along with just one. My lease runs out next June. My plan right now is to replace the car with a bicycle. A bicycle is not the perfect way to get around. There's traffic to negotiate, and it's no good in the rain or the winter. But it might be worth a try.

     If that doesn't work, maybe we'll get an electric car. But I'm not quite sold on the idea. I've read that an electric car, after you account for making and disposing of the batteries and generating the electricity, saves only about 20% of the pollution. Now 20% is better than nothing. But you can do just as well simply by trading in a 22 mpg SUV for a 27 mpg car. 

     Covid is definitely changing our thinking and our habits. Is the pandemic changing yours?

No more of this
     We've been recycling paper and plastic for years now. The only problem is, I've read that they can't recycle all the plastic. It's just too much. A lot of it ends up in a landfill anyway. So we're trying to cut back on plastic. I used to drink bottled water. Now I fill my glass at the tap. Our town water is perfectly fine. 

     We've tried all along to bring our own tote bags to the grocery store -- but somehow we hardly ever remembered. So we went through a lot of plastic bags. But now with Covid, we wouldn't be caught dead taking a plastic bag from the supermarket. We've completely changed that habit. We never go anywhere without our tote bags.

     It almost goes without saying that we're traveling less. Covid has been killing the airline industry. But it's saved a whole lot of jet fuel. Maybe after this is all over, the airlines will be downsized, and we can spend less time flying in jet planes. Sure, you might want to take that special trip to Hawaii or Europe, or to see family. But we won't be quite so casual about contributing to all those jet fumes.

     Instead, we're discovering the charms of the Microadventure  For us it's been an afternoon at a park, a drive to visit another town. But even more adventuresome people are discovering sights closer to home -- Boston or Washington instead of Paris or Helsinki; one of the national parks instead of el Camino de Santiago, a local beach instead of Cancun.

     We don't eat much meat anymore, not because it's environmentally punishing -- although it is -- but because we're trying to be more healthy. We had a steak dinner for B's birthday. And we ate hot dogs exactly one time this summer when we had a cookout. Other than that it's chicken and fish and lots and lots of vegetables. (Not that we're perfect; we do like our baked goods.)

     We do not grow any of our own food. That would be a good thing, but we don't have the property or the green thumb. Instead, we signed up with a local farm to supply fresh produce. It's a little more expansive, but still cheaper than all that meat. And nothing comes wrapped in plastic. 

     We've also been more careful about throwing away food. We have leftovers once or twice a week -- again, not trying to save the environment -- although it does -- but because in these pandemic times we want to cut down on the number of trips to the grocery store.

     Like many other people, we use the library more. We haven't needed much in the way of clothes. We support our local restaurants by doing take-out -- for us, mostly curbside pickup at the pizza place.

     In many ways I can't wait to get back to normal. But maybe, just maybe, a few of these new habits will stick with us -- and we'll take one small step toward saving the planet. 


Jack said...

You sound like so many of us. Selling one car. Walking more. Not eating out so much. More porch/patio conversations with friends over wine and yet keeping distances. Not seeing so much traffic. Noticing my gas tank is still full after 3 weeks. Seeing money build up in our various accounts because we are not spending.
We live in Charleston, SC, so we can walk downtown, the side streets, King Street etcetcetc. I know you are jealous.
Took a wonderful drive from here to Bardstown, Ky, to Door County Wisconsin, to Marquette/ Presque Isle, Michigan. Then to Petoskey, Charlevois and Traverse City, Michigan. Then home. NEVER ONCE USING THE INTERSTATE system. Oh, what joy!
The people were wonderful. Hotels, spotless. Restaurants excellent with distant seating. A simple yet wonderful trip.
We left home free of Covid19, and are still free of the virus. Be careful.
Anyhow, the points you make are universal at this time.

Sue said...

Dear Tom and Friends, i also like having a little bit of extra change between pay-days. Have also learned one other benefit of cooking,instead of takeout: no more heartburn. Haven't had a tums since spring.

ApacheDug said...

Tom I very much enjoyed this while feeling a little guilty for it; like I shouldn't be seeing anything advantageous about this awful pandemic. But we SHOULD--and I very much appreciated what you shared. (I'm also very impressed with your conscious change in reducing your footprint.) I definitely agree about less plastic (we should go back to glass milk bottles!) and after seeing those photos of China, India, the Los Angeles skyline... it sure would be a downer to see a return to those polluted skies :( Anyway Tom, good for you & your wife. :)

Arkansas Patti said...

I do think some of the Covid rules will remain. Many more will continue to work from home cutting out a lot of driving. Anymore I feel I am getting about 4 days to a gallon of gas. Wonder if they will start putting days instead of miles in the gas consumption figures.
You have done a lot to reduce your footprint--be proud of that, something we all need to work on.

Olga said...

I have the carry in my own bags down now. I have had a "no driving anywhere" day once a week for a few years, but with COVID restrictions Ir has become a driving day just once a week -- mostly.
I have become much more mindful when planning needed errands so I am not driving around needlessly. I am not running to the store for just one item I happen to run out of.
I am glad that the environment is getting a break. Honestly, so is my budget. I hope I will keep some new habits.

Rian said...

You are right, Tom, that there has been some "good' come out of all this (nothing that can make up for the deaths - of course, but everyone should understand that). We don't use our car except to pick up curb side groceries twice a week. We eat all our meals at home and haven't taken any trips, but we do Zoom and Skype with family and friends. These are not only new skills for me, but also puts me in more communication with family and friends than before the virus. We've also learned to order most things online... things I didn't even know were available online. Working from home probably got a shove forward and is great for some - especially those with young children. Health wise we may have learned to be more diligent about washing our hands and I for one will be wearing my mask for a long time. We are three here; myself, DH, and grandson. We have become a closer contented (more or less) little group who watch out for each other. I only wish the political atmosphere would calm down...

Dr Sock said...

Tom, I agree that the upside of less travelling and decreased material consumption during COVID-19 is reduced pressure on Earth’s ecosystems. It is a small step in the right direction, and my hope is that this small step will motivate many of us collectively around the world to take some of the bigger steps that are necessary, such as eliminating government subsidies for fossil fuel companies, regulating deforestation and focusing on forest regeneration, building “green” cities, and shifting away from destructive agricultural practices. I’ve read that e-car designers are working hard on designing batteries that can be dismantled so that their components are reused. Although I have a small gas-efficient car, my next car will be an electric one.


Kay said...

We use our Prius 90% of the time. We've also limited our going out. Hawaii has abolished plastic bags in stores so we carry our own bags which we've adjusted to without a problem. Interesting about plastic. A friend of mine told me it's not good to store things in plastic so I've been washing and using glass bottles to store a lot of things. There are so many ways we can help our environment if we'd only stop and think.

Wisewebwoman said...

You've nailed a lot of the pivoting people are doing. Another is those huge office skyscrapers in all the big cities which are just about neglected now. Will green spaces take over? I do believe there is no going back to the Before.

We need a brand new way of doing business and life in this world. The Covid (as my people call it) is bringing us all to our knees.


DJan said...

Yes, the world is changing because of the pandemic. We are driving less and consequently the air is cleaner in many cities around the world. I have been using my own bags at the grocery store for years now. And I too have extra money left in my account before the next batch is deposited. It's not much, but it helps me feel better about things. Good post!n :-)

jono said...

It has been a less expensive lifestyle for many these past eight or nine months and you are definitely right about the saving of the environment as an unexpected benefit. In all honesty the only thing that has changed for me is that I'm a little less social. I am corresponding more to make up for that.

Red said...

I think we'll be surprised at the changes covid will bring. I've had meetings on zoom. I'm not sure that will catch on. However there are many situations where people can work from home. You've mentioned some things that probably won't change back. Travel will be less because we've learned to navigate successfully online.

Tomatillo Tom said...

This reminds me of a really charming short story written in 1945 by Frederic Brown called "The Waveries", a utopian vision where the US (& the world) returns to a 19th century small-town pastoral existence.

Set in the fifties, it is sci-fi, but only in the plot device where an unintelligent life-form follows our radio transmissions to earth, said lifeform being invisible & only interacts with us because they eat electricity.

It basically postulates a charming result where most people live in small towns, horses provide most private transportation, steam power engines drive manufacturing. Everyone's pace slows down, neighbors relate to neighbors, everyone plays an instrument & life is wonderful.

Charming & unrealistic of course, but Tom, I smiled as I read your post & remembering how enchanting that story was!

DUTA said...

Covid-19 is not only a virus, but also a mirror. It's high time we look into that mirror to see our true reflection.
Our looking into it might soon bring some civil wars here and there as it is impossible with a pandemic to go on living in slogans. So, people will have to face harder decisions than just giving up one of the two cars, traveling less or working from home. Interesting times.

Laurie Stone said...

Tom, I guess there are silver linings in all clouds, including Covid. Really liked your observations on how a new way of life is slowly emerging for all of us, in some ways a better, healthier one.

Tom said...

I'm gonna go get a copy of Frederic Brown's "The Waveries" from my library. And it brings up a question that I sure can't answer: Can we save our environment while still enjoying our convenient, modern lifestyle?

Rebecca Olkowski said...

I had thought of giving up my car and just take Uber or Lyft until the lockdown happened. Now that doesn't seem like a good option. I have a Prius but I dread when it needs to be fixed. I spent a fortune on it before the pandemic. I've also switched to tap water but use a Brita to filter it or the refrigerator dispenser because LA water tastes terrible. I don't miss the traffic, though.

Dick Klade said...

Good thoughts in this post, Tom, and in many of the comments. "Don't be bashful about asking," might be added. When Covid arrived, our favorite supermarket banned carrying in our own fabric bags, which we had been doing for several years. It appeared that only plastic bags were available, but when I groused a bit about that the checkout said, "Oh, you can have paper bags if you want." Been requesting and getting recyclable paper bags ever since.

Snowbrush said...

"We don't eat much meat anymore, not because it's environmentally punishing -- although it is -- but because we're trying to be more healthy."

I doubt that you're saying that neither the planet nor humane concerns played into your decision, but this sentence suggests as much.

Yes, Covid has changed out habits enormously. Peggy had two cross country trips scheduled, and they were both cancelled. She goes walking with a friend each week, but I never see anyone socially; I almost never enter a store (I had to go out and buy faucet part last month); and although we made a couple of day trips to the mountains, we haven't even done that in months. For me, staying home just isn't that hard because I have Peggy, our five cats, a lot of books, a lot of DVDs, and everything else I need right here.

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gigi-hawaii said...

We don't fly off island anymore and drive less by car, too. We are like you being minimalists.

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