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Posts Tagged ‘green living’

Yesterday, was my first full day of green watching.

When I asked hubby Prad, whether I should include the energy to filter water in our pool, his thought was no. Our house has solar, and we are energy neutral. I say, that’s cheating. The whole point of “green_watch” is to see how energy reliant my life is throughout the day. That we were able to afford solar is besides the point.

For all the publicity surrounding solar, here are some sobering statistics from TriplePundit- as of 2007 :

Photovoltaic cells, most of which are made from silicon, have exploded in use around the country over the past five years as once-prohibitive costs for home use of the technology have declined. Between 2002 and 2006, the number of new photovoltaic systems installed in U.S. homes nearly tripled to 7,446 from 2,805, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council in Latham, N.Y. Industry officials say that such installations are expected to top 11,000 this year.

To put this in perspective the United States has about 70 million single family detached housing units. The yearly installation rate would have to go up by a factor of over 6000 to reach 1% of the existing single family home housing units per year (more for attached townhouses, apartment buildings, and other housing structures).

This is why energy efficiency and conservation, the two low hanging fruit in energy reduction, need to become both personal and national priorities. This starts with monitoring, of the kind performed here, with “green watching”.

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Starting today La Marguerite will have a biweekly presence at the Huffington Post. This is a great opportunity for all of us here, to share our thoughts with a broader audience. The Huffington Post consistently ranks as the number one blog on Technorati. It also took the bold step of featuring a Green section prominently on its site.

If you want to get notified of La Marguerite‘s posts on Huffington Post, best is to go to today’s post, and click on “Become a Fan” link. After doing so, you will automatically get an email letting you know when a new article gets published. Today’s post is on a topic we have discussed several times before: Helping Americans with Pocketbook May Succeed Where Green Talk Failed.

I am also told by the folks at Huffington Post to encourage you to visit and make comments there. Comments bring more comments and readership, and therefore greater chances that my thoughts, and your thoughts will reach the masses.

Last, many thanks to all of you for making the La Marguerite blog what it is, and for advancing our collective state of thinking on the formidable problems facing our whole planet.

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All the kids are home from their various trips. Yesterday was major grocery shopping time. What to do? Shop at Whole Foods, within biking distance but horribly expensive. Or Trader’s Joe, a lot easier on my pocketbook, but too far not to drive to.

What would you have done?

This, folks, are the kinds of negotiations that take place daily in my life as a Green Girl Wannabe. I will keep you guessing as to what happened . . .

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Faced with rising food prices, and shrinking wallets, citizens are becoming increasingly resourceful. Sunday’s Washington Post has an article on the unprecedented growth of home gardening in America. A $20 return in produce, for every dollar spent on seeds, is a hard number to ignore. Even I, whose nature did not bless with a green thumb, discovered the marvel of the homegrown vegetable patch.

Hubby Prad, also sometimes called Green Guru, tempers my enthusiasm with his usual cynicism. Prad thinks home gardening is not enough. And shares what he saw at the Honolulu Safeway yesterday. A family, obviously not rich, pushing a shopping cart filled with bottled water. That mother is just throwing away her already scarce resources on regular tap water, made to pass as a high price commodity. Shopping smart is an acquired skill, that many Americans lack. Knowing what to put and not put on one’s grocery list is as essential as looking for the best deals and clipping coupons.

We already knew Americans need to downsize, and not throw away their food. Now add to the list: home gardening, and ‘smart grocery listing‘.

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Once in a while, I decide to disclose some moments of weakness along my greener path. Yes, I still own a car. Yes, I still drive at times when I could otherwise bike, or take public transportation. Yes, I still buy too much food, too often. Yes, I give into the dryer for small to medium laundry items. Yes, I forget to turn off the power strip, on a regular basis. Yes, I engage into all these reprehensible behaviors, and then report on them, publicly on this blog. 

I have my reasons. I believe there is some redeeming value in being  real, and in writing out loud what others prefer to keep in the privacy of their minds. And to not apologize for it. After all, this is why I started La Marguerite blog, to provide a place for people to be human, not super green heroes. ‘Talk my language, and my struggles, and then, maybe I will listen to you, and change a bit.’ That’s been my stance up to now. 

Readers’ reactions to my environmental shortcomings tend to be on the supportive end. Some feel sorry for me, for being so hard on myself, and beg me instead to appreciate all my progress. Others start sharing stories of their own, and how we are all in this together. Those are music to my eyes, especially the ones vouching for the transformative power of my confessions. Then comes a third category. The hard core greenies, who admonish me for not getting my act together faster. ‘You would bring so much more to the world’, they write, ‘if you just turned 100% green overnight. Get rid of your car, will you?’

Could the greenies be right? I wonder. I have come across many tales of green gods and goddesses. While I find those interesting, I have a hard time relating to so much perfection. And so, I ask you the question. What kind of stories do you find most inspiring? Which ones have caused you to make real changes?

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Yesterday I gave up on my original idea to take the train and then BART,  to my meeting with the folks from Lucid Design Group. One thing led to the next, and before you know it, I had only one hour left before my appointment. Driving was the only way I could make it on time. To be honest, I was not too keen on this elaborate public transit scheme.  I am ok with just taking the train, but ask me to transfer to another mode, and my interest drops!

Today, no such excuse. I had planned to bike to my hairdresser’s appointment. Several hours working, then swimming, and lounging around reading the paper, once again, I cut it too close. Driving the three miles became the only option, if I wanted to make my 4.15 date at La Belle salon. 

What has happened to my green resolutions? Before I left on vacations, I wrote enthusiastically about my biking escapades. Since I came back two weeks ago, I have fallen off track. Rhythm, interrupted. Old habits, not dead, got the best of me, again. 

More telling than all the green consumers’ surveys, is the reality of my tenuous commitment. Symptomatic of a much broader ill, I believe. While away in France and in Italy, I witnessed the same spectacle: never ending flows of cars covering up the freeways, just like in the US. We the people on planet Earth, have not yet reached the tipping point when our collective consciousness will dictate another way of living. 

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I was quite surprised after I returned from vacation, and found my vegetable patch, all replenished with new heads of lettuce. Could it be, I asked Prad? Yes, it’s true, you can keep on tearing off leaves and they grow back. 

 

Salad Patch

Salad Patch

 

Nature is truly Mother to us. No need to waste our paychecks on industrially grown salads, at the grocery store. Instead, better splurge on a few seeds and help with a bit of water every day. I’ve got my own salad factory in the backyard. 

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These past two weeks spent traveling in France and Italy convinced me even more about the role of culture and society in shaping individual behaviors. Most interesting was to observe how both I and Prad adapted our behaviors to fit the different customs in each country. Prad, who usually protests vigorously the slightest whiff of cigarette smoke back home, thought nothing of taking strolls on the smoke-filled Parisian sidewalks. In Italy, we quickly learned to conform to the practice of drinking bottled water at the restaurants. Two examples of the power of social norms, relative to individual environmental choices.

This raises the question of how to bring changes in normative behaviors, that will support sustainable lifestyles, across cultures. According to Horne, “New norms are thought to emerge when costs of compliance with existing norms become too high relative to the rewards“. Montgomery weighs concerns of costly normative actions against concerns of morality or social opinion. Though unlikely to change their behavior when norms become costly, individuals will praise those willing to do so; after a few have tested the waters, a domino effect of individuals who harbor less fear of social sanction will follow. If these innovators receive social approval, individuals will continue to participate in new strategies in order to gain recognition. Christakis‘s research similarly points to the social nature of behavioral changes.

On the green front, several trends are emerging that should give us hope. First, is the growing acceptance of the idea of green as universally cool and no longer the claim of a few treehuggers. The social sanction for behaviors such as biking, recycling, carpooling, using mass transit, recycling, to name just a few, has tipped towards the positive. Concurrently, rising gas and energy prices, are making it harder and harder for people to maintain their old behaviors. SUVs, boats, superfluous driving no longer make sense for the majority of Americans. Other adaptive behaviors are stirring, as in urban gardening, and driving more slowly.

Because time is of the essence, we would do well to consider strategies to accelerate this movement:

First, are opinion changing strategies, including all mass media and communication campaigns. Every green drop counts. What I write here in this blog. What you write, either in your own blog, or as a commenter on others’ blogs. What you say in casual conversations to your friends and coworkers. What you ask from your elected representative. What you communicate through your example, as in here and here. What the “we” and the “Together” people do. What Barack Obama, and other leaders declare is important. What the New York Times, and the rest of the press put on their front page. What Arianna Huffington chooses to promote. It all matters.

Second, are cost raising strategies, in relative terms, either through the offering of new, lower cost options, or the raising of the costs of existing options, whether volitional or not. Rising gas and energy prices are an example of the latter. And so are various forms of carbon tax. Smart technologies such as more fuel efficient cars or home energy efficiency solutions work on the other end, through the promise of higher financial rewards, and social acceptance.

Third are direct behavior shaping strategies such as evolved from Pierre Chandon‘s research. Chandon‘s study, ‘When Does the Past Repeat Itself? The Role of Self-Prediction and Norms.‘ tells us that ‘by predicting our behavior, we can actually reinforce good habits and break bad ones‘, a sophisticated twist on the power of self-fulfilling prophecy. What this means for our problem, is that by asking people such simple questions as ‘Do you bike, do you carpool, how often and how long do you walk, do you turn off your lights, do you hang your clothes to dry, do you eat fresh food?’ chances are it will increase the likelihood of them engaging in these behaviors. Conversely, by not mentioning other negative behaviors such as driving, using dryer, eating processed food, etc, they will be less inclined to perpetuate those. 

This is just the beginning of a long list. My main point is, thought leaders on climate change and other global environmental issues with a human factor component, need to spend more time exploring such behavior shaping strategies, based on the available body of research on normative behaviors.

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On my way to the airport. Last time, was exactly a year ago, with three teenage girls. Same destination. We had a blast, and I will treasure forever all those moments spent discovering Paris with my daughter and her friends.

When we got there, I felt ‘Too Tired to be Green‘, and wanting to take a ‘Vacation’ from my nascent green-ness. My fellow Parisians impressed me with their ability to turn eco-correctness into ‘Green Fun‘. I became enamored with all French things, even the ‘Modern Appliances‘ in our apartment. Squeezing into my friends’ ‘Cars‘ became a riot. And last, I was reminded of the virtue of living life ‘In Moderation‘. 

Who knows what I will discover this time? 

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Back from another one of my triumphant bike rides to downtown, this time to pick up pizzas at Il Fornaio, our favorite Italian. So glad I was. The three pizza boxes fit neatly into my side basket, not in the recommended horizontal position. The thought quickly brushed my mind, that maybe the toppings might slide, in protest. Oh, well, the risk was well worth taking. Off, I rushed back home. Again, sheer pleasure of being just me, with Pervenche, and the warm breeze. And plenty of times to savor the comings and goings inside my mind.  

Ah ah, just I was going over the bridge, it hit me. What had gotten me on my bike was not carbon calculators, not injunctions from Green Guru,  not my green conscience, not the sinister prospect of global warming. No, what had moved me to pick up Pervenche, was the memory of how fun the last ride had been, and the knowledge that it would take me about as much time to bike, as to drive. Physical satisfaction plus convenience, all at no cost. The personal benefit was obvious. 

Forget the “we” campaign. What’s going to get people from ‘business as usual’, to leaving their cars in the garage, and not shopping as much, is the realization that such moves are not only good for the whole world but for them personally, also, in a very direct, immediate way. The recent gas crisis is another validation

Hence the value of looking at personal motivators. Here is my list:

  • immediate gratification
  • convenience
  • cost savings
  • personal health

These are the big four on my list. Can you think of others?

PS – Do not transport pizza with the box on its edge in your side basket. The outcome ain’t pretty. Bare dough, with all the toppings squished against one side. We had a good laugh. 

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