Monday, May 3, 2010

It's Not That Easy Going Green

It’s not that easy Going Green

by Tiger Todd

I can still remember the news article that highlighted the uproar by environmental activists when President George W. Bush refused to agree to the terms of the Kyoto Treaty on climate change. I think he also refused to travel to the conference. What was perhaps even more disturbing was his logic, that unless the People’s Republic of China – the world’s number-one consumer of fossil fuel and producer of carbon emissions and pollution – agreed to the same rules, any changes made by the United States to be more environmentally-responsible would have little positive global impact.

An argument could be made that by not using the fossil fuel necessary to fly Air Force One to Kyoto, or wherever the conference was being held, was an environmentally responsible decision. When one considers the cost of jet fuel to fly a 747 abroad, or the “emissions” from a presidential contingent of organic carbon-based life forms who, according to recent research, contribute as much as 10% to world climate change (yes, there is now “flatulence” research blaming cattle and human “emissions” for global warming), then President Bush actually helped climate change by deciding not to travel. Still, his logic for excusing the U.S. from even trying because China wouldn’t, still rubs me the wrong way. This is the kind of logic I used on my mom as a seven-year-old: “I shouldn’t have to eat my peas because my sister didn’t eat hers!”

“Truth is what works.” – William James, Harvard (1906)

Recently, however, I have become more aware that there might be some truth to this 10-gallon logic. In fact, I am more than a little embarrassed to note that as smart I thought I was, I may have learned something that this oft-maligned and presumed buffoon of a President must have understood over 5 years ago. In truth, it took more than a Bushism for me to learn this lesson about our role as environmentally-conscious individuals. For me, my understanding actually changed this morning while trying to recycle an aluminum can after drinking my daily serving of V-8 juice.

We don’t need no stinkin' Green... Stress

To know me is to know how much I hate vegetables. O.K., that was mean. I don’t hate vegetables. What did vegetables ever do to me? Nothing, but I do dislike eating vegetables. This may have come from being force-fed beets during the year I was in the hospital and in a body cast after being run over by a car. Still, I realize the need for the nutrients vegetables provide and so, for my fast-paced lifestyle, I just grab a can of V-8 juice… and a clothespin…for my nose, since icky things don’t taste as bad when you can’t smell them. 

Just after finishing this morning’s can of V-8, and before throwing the empty can into the recyclables wastebasket, I went to the sink to rinse out the can when I had to exclaim, “Am I wasting water to prepare a can for recycling?!!!” I can be pretty dramatic when I am alone. This stressful dilemma might be easier to resolve for our over-watered readers in the Pacific Northwest or the Philippines, where rainfall is between 40 and 80-inches-a-year. For those of us in the desert of Las Vegas, however, who are just coming out of a 10-year drought and can actually be fined for wasting water, this was very real, and very stressful. Sorry, aluminum can, must conserve water first. So much for recycling.

Reducing the Stress of Green
“Stop the insanity!” – Susan Powter
There are probably others like me who find it difficult to commit to green because of the stress caused from having to take sides with one resource or another. Which am I supposed to save, the planet, water, aluminum, money, or electricity? Where is electricity being saved, anyway? What if by saving a resource, it actually costs us more money? This just happened here in Las Vegas after our Water District made us conserve water for a decade, only to enact a price increase to compensate for their lost revenue from our having conserved water. Let me get this straight, because I followed your advice and am using less water, you are charging me more money? Electric cars save fossil fuels, but they use more electricity. What if an all-new car charging station sucks down the electricity from the amount I saved at home? And while we’re on the subject, how environmentally-friendly can a Lo-Flo toilet be if it has to be flushed two-to-three times just to handle your coworker’s night of All-You-Can-Eat sushi? Don’t make me take sides!

Before any of us can be expected to commit to an environmentally-conscious lifestyle, there must be a Circle of Life in place first, a complete eco-system instead of a few isolated “good ideas” that create all-new prices to pay somewhere else. If not, then just the fear of wasting one resource to save another will leave us environmentally stressed out. And why am I paying the recycling center to pick up my recyclables? Shouldn’t they be paying me, like they pay crackheads for used copper tubing? Just sayin’.

Taking sides

My dilemma of having to choose between recycling aluminum and conserving water reminded me of a poignant story told by Joseph Campbell about a present-day Buddhist monk who trying to keep a 2000-year-old tradition alive in 20th Century America. Much like going green is considered pious among the “religious” today, it is considered a pious act in the Buddhist tradition to free a condemned animal from being cooked. For this particular monk, finding lambs and goats to set free in the New World was proving to be much more difficult than finding them in the old world, particularly in the Buddhist Mecca of Monterrey, California. Armed with his constellation of beauties (a.k.a., New Age donors), our resourceful monk tried to collect whatever critters he could save, but ultimately had to settle for minnows he purchased from local bait shops. While the bait shop owners do not take to the idea of selling condemned minnows for liberation, they are still in the business of selling minnows. 
With buckets filled with hundreds of hopeful minnows, the relieved monk and his entourage skip and chant joyfully down the boardwalk to the beach where they will set the minnows free to live in the majestic Pacific Ocean. The monk’s joy, however, is soon replaced with horror when he realizes that his pious act has become an all-you-can-eat buffet for the hungry pelicans perched nearby. As the pelicans swoop down to gobble up the martyred minnows, the scene turns even more chaotic as the monk and the beauties used whatever clothing they could shed to shoo and beat away the resilient pelicans.
“What is good for pelicans is bad for fish.” – Joseph Campbell
The monk had failed to learn the critical lesson of the Circle of Life, that Life is a circle. Affecting one part of the Circle affects the rest of the circle. Or, to use Joseph Campbell’s line, what is good for pelicans is bad for fish, and this monk had taken sides. 
This was the same lesson the wise King Mufasa shared with his young son Simba in Disney’s Lion King. Life is circuitous. Mufasa explains that, 
"Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope." 
When Simba asks, "But dad, don't we eat the antelope?"  Mufasa replies, "Yes, Simba; yummy. But when we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass, for we are all connected through the great Circle of Life."  
Life is designed to be a circle, or cycle. Like when corn is planted in the earth, it springs up and becomes more corn that not only feeds the families of the earth, but also provides seed-corn that when returned to the earth, perpetuates the Circle of Life. In a modern society where we get our corn from a box in the freezer section of the local grocery store, it is easy to forget about the circle. When we forget that Life is a circle, whether by taking sides as the monk did - choosing minnows over pelicans - or by thinking that corn comes from frozen packages and frozen packages only come from money, our own world becomes flat, one-dimensional, and one-directional.
The Upside to the Downside

The good news is that going green creates industry, and cash flow, and with it profit, and with it jobs, and a new vehicle for carrying the economy out of a recession. The bad news is that if it is one-sided or “either-or,” like pelicans versus fish, firefighters versus the taxpayers, aluminum versus water, or Lo-Flo versus 2000-Flushes, it could perpetuate the problem we were hoping to solve. If not a circle, none of our individual pious acts of environmental heroism will have the power to overcome the Big Picture problem. As much as I hate to admit it, George Bush was right. I’m sure my Philosophy 102: Rational Thinking professor is rolling over in his grave at this statement. Rather, he is rolling over in his ’69 VW Bus, more so at the thought of George Bush having topped him in the use of Disjunctive Syllogisms. Good thing Joseph Campbell jumped in there to soften the blow. 
But this isn’t a valid excuse not to try. My P.E. teacher in junior high was 5’6” and 420 lbs, which made it very difficult to follow his advice and “run faster and work out harder,” when he obviously did neither. Sure, I could continue to use the teenage cop-out of not doing those things parents and teachers tell us to do because they didn’t do those things themselves. But if I didn’t do what my P.E. teacher told me to do, even if he was a poor role model, whom would it have hurt? The more we do, the better we get, whether that means running faster and working out harder, or changing our lifestyles to be more conscious of the Circle of Life.

Being part of the Circle is Cool

When the Governator sparked the green revolution – not the idea, but the revolution - by making green “sexy” and “hip”, he helped transform “green” from being the exclusive domain of tree-huggers and hemp-lovers into a fashion statement for corporate leaders and soccer moms. And when Ahnold endorsed “green” by challenging Ca-lee-for-nee-ans to compete with one another for greenness, like the Real Housewives of Orange County one-upping each other with the latest handbags, jewelry, or luxury cars, even I succumbed to the rhetoric and set up a wastebasket for empty plastic bottles and cans in my laundry room.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Uncle Ben Parker, Spiderman
There are two very good reasons for being conscientious about renewing our environment. The first is obvious. Being conscientious about living renewable lives helps the climate, helps the planet, helps the people, and helps the new economy - which helps us all. 

“We become what we learn.” – Tiger Todd

But equally important is what accepting the challenge and embracing the self-discipline necessary to be environmentally-conscious does to us. The higher the standards we set for ourselves, the better we become. By contrast, the fewer standards and rules we live by, the less we become. This truth is evidenced by our madly redecorating the house in the 24-hours prior to having the boss over for dinner, and with thousands of my homeless students who I must re-teach basic living standards before another woman will ever share a kitchen or a bathroom with them. The higher the environmentally-friendly standards we set for ourselves, the better people we will become as we rise to meet those standards. I know I’m not alone in wanting to be more than I am today, not less.

Three Steps to Becoming Green
Here are the steps I had to employ to overcome the afore-mentioned pitfalls to becoming more environmentally-conscious. Read through them carefully but don’t be shy about modifying them to fit your family or lifestyle. Remember: the goal is living in the Circle of Life, not recycling. Please send us your own results, variations, and lists to CONTACT or post them at BLOGSPOT.

Step one. Have faith in the Circle of Life. The need for having faith in the “big picture” came to me in a vision over a decade ago while throwing out my once-fresh Christmas tree. I used to wait as long as possible to throw out my tree, either after Orthodox Christmas a week or two into January or when the tree became a combustible fire hazard, whichever came first. While reflecting on the tragedy of cutting down a tree and then throwing it into a dumpster, a voice spoke to me – I hope it was God - saying how the need for trees to celebrate Christmas sparked the thoughts in the minds of heroic and entrepreneurial Americans to create Christmas tree farms, which in turn led to advances in reforestation techniques and technologies that also regenerated many of the forests devastated by clear-cutting and Mount St. Helens. Because of the need for Christmas trees, there are actually more trees on the planet today, not less. Obviously, this has been true for food as well, thanks to the heroism of farmers and agriculture scientists, who have optimized sowing and reaping to the point where NY steaks and broccoli were at the lowest prices ever at Smith’s Food Center this weekend. 

Faith in the Circle of Life allows me to rinse out my empty V-8 can with water, since the money I pay for the water helps employ people at the Water District and the Sewer District, positively affecting the economy, and ensures that wastewater is treated and recycled into safe water and then returned into the community’s faucets, showers, and golf courses.

Step two. Establish an in-home system. If there is no system in place, we won’t recycle. Until I put my Protein Shake system in place (see last Heroes Journal), making shakes was just too much of a hassle to do consistently. With recycling, calling Republic Services to deliver recycling bins was only the first step. An in-home system also had to be established for my bottles and cans. Yes, a Brita-style water filter is more environmentally-friendly than recycling plastic Aquafina bottles, but I don’t get nauseous from Aquafina like I do reverse-osmosis tap water, so my in-home system must have a provision for plastic. Remember, what’s good for pelicans… Each empty plastic bottle and V-8 can is deposited into a recyclables wastebasket in the laundry room. To reduce the need to pre-rinse the containers, I line the wastebasket with a 33-gallon trash bag that I can seal-up and take to the curb when full. I’ve noticed that just by making this effort for cans and plastic – yes, the recycling center’s machines can separate the two so I don’t have to – it has become second nature to bring empty vitamin bottles and milk cartons directly to the bin. 

Step three. Sharpen the saw. By this, I mean, continually refine and improve your system based on the needs – and challenges – of your own household. If the recyclables wastebasket is too far away to be convenient, you may have to put a smaller one in your kitchen. People who continue to throw plastic and cans in with the rest of the garbage do so not to be environmentally-unfriendly, but because they have a system in place that makes throwing out regular garbage too convenient. If there wasn’t a receptacle for regular garbage in the kitchen, we’d leave our trash on the counter or the dining room table, like we do in restaurants. With trash receptacles in the dining room, however, like at fast-food restaurants, most of us will take our trash there. Likewise, if you have a receptacle for recyclables in your kitchen, you will be far more likely to get in the habit of becoming more environmentally responsible with your plastics and cans.  

“The common denominator of success - the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful - lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don't like to do.” - Albert (E. N.) Gray

This maxim by the legendary insurance salesman in 1940 applies to everything, from engineering, to bodybuilding, to parenting, to recycling. Those who get up a little earlier and try a little harder and do a little more will always have more success than those who try to do as little as is necessary. For some, however, this will be perceived as a hard saying when it could be so empowering. Our individual success was never supposed to be left in the hands of someone else. Simply by accepting the challenge to do more instead of less, we gain the power of success in us, in our own hands. There are many things we don’t want to do but it is through the doing of those things that we don’t want to do, but that we know we must do, that produces our success. Yes, it’s hard to become an engineer. It is even harder to become the best in your field. But successful engineers have the habit of doing the things average engineers don’t like to do. And successful bodybuilders have developed habits of doing the things that little girly men don’t want to do. The same concept applies to successful parents, and those who are successful at producing environmentally-friendly, renewable households. 

Just like rebuilding a body starts with doing a few pushups today, and a few more tomorrow, so too will rebuilding a renewable lifestyle. Pick some environmentally-friendly exercises that you and your family or coworkers can do today and embrace this new Circle of Life. -TT

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