Enlightened Capitalism

Essays about how to harness people's natural desire to create wealth and improve their quality of life to solve global problems such as war and poverty.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

How to live sustainably

There are lots of sites out there which tell you how not to live sustainably. But I haven't seen one that tells you how to do it.

First of all, "sustainable" has to include the "what" (the activity) and also the "how many" (6.6 billion people) and finally the "how long" (say, 10,000 years, starting now).

So, for example, driving a gasoline car to work each morning -- we need to imagine 6.6 billion people doing that. I think we'd run out of oil in a few years, if we didn't die from the smog or get run over first. Not sustainable. And so on for pretty much everything we consume in the USA.

The flip side is reusing discarded stuff, growing food to eat without clearing any more land or adding any products from anywhere except your own neighborhood (moved around with hand carts), and harnessing energy locally, using local materials, such as are found in discarded buildings, junked cars, and dead appliances.

Not buying anything or using any "utilities", unless you can really verify where every bit of it comes from, and it's a sustainable source (good luck). We all wish someone really trustworthy would do all that research for us and certify stuff as sustainable, but about a million documented cases in history have taught us that you have to verify it yourself if you want to be sure. I might begin to trust such a certification agency if every employee of that agency lived completely sustainably, for starters, and was compensated only when they reported that something Wasn't sustainable.

OK, now this is probably sounding about as fun as living without running water. Yeah, that's because it is exactly that! However, something nearly everyone has learned at some point and forgotten again: Fun has nothing to do with products and services -- fun is all about attitude.

To me, trying to save the planet and get everyone to live sustainably sounds fun, believe it or not. Starting with me. So far, in the past few years, I have taken the following steps:

1. Switched all my lightbulbs from incandescent to flourescent. Also became very vigilant about turning off the lights when not in use. Have only one or two 13 watt bulbs in each fixture (instead of four, or however many the fixture holds, like eight in my bathroom).
2. Stopped buying disposable batteries, use rechargeables instead.
3. No Christmas or Birthday presents that the person wouldn't have bought anyway (like one of my favorite presents is organic locally grown fruit).
4. I will never own a car newer than 1999. No commuting to work or school by car. Keep tires inflated and car tuned up. Use smallest car available (3 cylinder Geo Metro). Never buy gas from Exxon/Mobile or Chevron/Texaco.
5. Limit airplane trips to once every 12 months (and counting).
6. Live in a townhome rather than single family detached.
7. No lawns. Converted dozens of lawns to low maintenance (wood chips, rocks, drought tolerant plants) or fruit & vegetable gardens.
8. Plant lots of trees (hundreds per year).
9. Buy recycled toilet paper and give it away (so others will use less virgin-fibre paper -- thousands of rolls).
10. Buy lots of compact flourescent bulbs and give them away (about 250 so far). Also gave away about 100 used incandescent bulbs, to help reduce the demand for them.
11. Eat only 100% organically grown food.
12. Reduced my milk intake to 1 glass daily. Eliminated butter and margarine. Reduced cheese intake not sure how much).
13. Eliminated candy, chocolate, cake, cookies, ice cream and other sweets from my diet. No soft drinks, beer, coffee, energy drinks, or bottled water. Limit organic wine to two glasses a week.
14. Buy most things in large quantities with less packaging. No more cereal boxes, raisin or nut containers, flour or rice bags, oatmeal cannisters, etc.
15. Eat only homegrown eggs, from foraging chickens.
16. Eat no meat, except occasional fish.
17. Flush toilet once per day. Usually pee outside in the woods.
18. Eat at restaurants less than once a month.
19. Downsized computer from desktop to shared (5 year old) laptop with shared internet service.
20. Switched my home page to www.blackle.com.
21. Recycle all paper, plastic, glass, and metal.
22. Removed dozens of ceiling fans, and instead provided tiny 6 volt fans that do the same job.
23. Experimenting with much more energy efficient air conditioning system.
24. Never buy or use toxic pesticides, herbicides, cleaning products, personal products, etc.
25. Use a plunger or drain snake instead of draino.
26. Stop junk mail, put it back in the mailbox with return to sender on it. Cancel all paper catalogs, magazine & newspaper subscriptions.
27. Pay nearly all bills online. Use credit or debit card instead of cash or check.
28. Use almost exclusively hand gardening tools. Occasionally I use electric powered tools for one-time jobs, no gas powered tools.
29. Rescue stuff on its way to the landfill.
30. Do not landfill any food items. Chickens and worms get all of our kitchen waste.
31. Do not waste food, or much of anything.
32. Buy less stuff. Collect other people's cast-offs. Buy used stuff instead of new. Never buy clothing (there are plenty of extras out there).
33. Buy stuff that lasts a long time, and take care of it.
34. Use heat sparingly in winter, and A/C sparingly in summer. We keep our thermostat for A/C at 81F, except occasionally turning it down to 79 or 78F. In winter we keep it at 65 normally and dress warmly. Insulate the coldest walls and rooms -- I add an extra layer of insulation inside and outside the walls.
35. No pets, besides chickens and an occasional goldfish. Maybe will spring for a hamster or rabbit someday, if we can feed it kitchen scraps.
36. Never buy pressure treated wood. Buy only wood certified from managed forests, no redwood or exotic woods.
37. Never use primer (isn't necessary). Reduce paint usage. Never use paint sprayer.
38. Almost never buy carpet. Reduce rug usage.
39. Don't wear underwear.
40. Never buy furniture or cabinets made from pressboard (wears out too fast and is sent to landfill).

OK, that's enough for now. These are things I am already doing. I feel like I am about 25% of the way there, given where I was as a starting point, living like a "normal" American yuppie, sort of. "Earthbonk" is a term that refers to your total pollution and ecological destruction. Mine was very high, even for an American. :/


  • At 2:39 pm, Blogger flyingvan said…

    Got it, yeah, OK, Already do that, mkes sense, yeah,...NO BEER??? WTF?? Beer is sutainable. Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy!!!!
    Oh and CFC bulbs take lots of energy to produce and use mercury, and are made in China where the mercury isn't handled well. Other than that....I think the key to sustainability is flexibility. Just as omnivores do well because they can eat whatever is available, if you utilize whatever is cheap and plentiful (hydrocarbons for now) you can do OK. Why move away prematurely? We have a bumper crop of grapes this year, but they will run out. Should we stop eating them now, since they will be gone in December?

  • At 6:53 am, Blogger kotrynell said…

    wait, why don't you wear underwear?

  • At 6:55 am, Blogger kotrynell said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.


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