Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year, New Life?

New Year's is a great time to make some resolutions, to start a new diet, to get a new haircut, begin (or finish) that damn novel*, or be a "better person", whatever the hell that means.

I'd like to propose that we use the New Year to start living greener. As in really, truly greener. Environmentalist thinking isn't just cool, it's also a money-saver, which is a nice bonus in these uncertain days.

Below are ten things I've resolved to do this year, things that are both green and frugal--I'll keep you all updated as the year goes on, about once a week.

1) Change the incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent ones: Unbelievably, we still use incandescents. For some of them, like the overheads in the bedrooms, it can't be helped--they simply don't make CFLs in the size that will fit into the sockets. But most of the lights here are incandescents for only one reason--my boyfriend can't stand the thought of using CFLs. Which, if you ask me, is a silly one, especially since the lights that I want to switch are shaded by yellowish shades, which will soften the glow considerably.

2) Eating more organic produce: This is kind of tricky because organic produce is expensive and I've got a limited budget. But I figure that I can cough up once a week for ingredients to make a nice dinner.

3) Not buying clothes: Actually, I've been very good about not buying from mass-produced lines, mostly because I can't afford €15 for a delicate t-shirt that'll rip after its first wear. But this year, I plan on going just a tad farther--I'll either buy secondhand or make them. Well, not socks or underwear. I suppose I could learn to knit my own socks, but I can't count for the life of me.

4) Start a balcony garden: We couldn't do this for the past year because the boyfriend has a load of crap that he can't get rid of. But we're getting a new kitchen, so along with the destruction of the old kitchen, we'll get rid of the crap that's cluttering our balcony, and hopefully be able to put in some spinach plants, basil, cucumbers, tomatoes, and zucchini this year.

5) Photography: I've kind of fallen off the wagon a bit as the days have gotten shorter and my time has been occupied by measuring and cutting and stenciling and what-all (presents for 16 people for around €200 means a lot of homemade stuff, and homemade stuff takes a lot of time). But photography is a cheap hobby--at least, it can be--and at the same time, documenting the beauty of nature really reminds you of what there is to preserve.

6) Better living through chemistry: I will freely confess to being a toxic-chemical-phobe here. Well, actually, not so much--I am quite happy to use chemical-laden shampoos and conditioners, the difference being that shampoos and conditioners generally aren't strong enough to take out the lining of your lungs if you breathe it in for long enough. Broadly speaking, my rule of thumb is that whatever you're using to clean shouldn't feel like it'll kill you if you're locked in an elevator with it. There are few chemicals that we really need to keep an apartment spic 'n span. Between spiritus alcohol (the kind that you put in alcohol lamps), plain vinegar, bleach, baking soda, washing soda, and a bit of borax, there really shouldn't be anything you can't clean. The resolution? Not using any pre-fabricated cleansers.

7) Maintenance: We do a terrible job of maintenance. That is to say, I've not once checked over my bike since I bought it--secondhand--last June. There are probably hundreds of things we could check--the weatherproofing, for instance. We could insulate the hot-water pipes. Take a moment to dust out the computers, vaccuum the refrigerator coils, etc. But also things like fixing holes in clothes before they become irreparable, cleaning out the trap in the dishwasher more often, and things like that--they also need to be done.

8) Turning things off, aka letting my pet peeve out to play: My peeve is leaving things on. I'm okay with forgetting to turn off the light occasionally (happens to us all) but constantly leaving lights burning is a frightful waste of energy (and money). Furthermore, we have things like the DVD player which is never truly off, and my boyfriend's seldom-used stereo system is never turned off, either. It irks me that we have so many power vampires in our apartment, and this year, the plan is to get rid of them all, one room at a time.

9) Learn to can stuff: The summers are rife with blackberries and elderberries. The markets are chock full of muscat grapes and fresh tomatoes: what better way to preserve the flavors of summer for the dead of winter? Not to mention that homemade preserves make excellent gifts.

10) Start yoga again: The reason I haven't is because getting up at 4:30 in the morning just isn't fun, no matter how you cut it. But I miss yoga more, and with the impetus of a New Year coming on I'll be motivated to start. Maybe I'll even start running again, who knows? Though with my ankles in the shape that they're in, I'll probably be better off buying a used stairmaster, instead...

With the exception of the last one, everything here is something that you, too, can do, to live a happier, and greener life. Actually, you, too, can start yoga. But I wouldn't recommend getting up at 4:30 am to do it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Actions and reactions

It's not exactly a surprise that partying too hard on New Year's Eve leads to hangovers the next day. Or that pigging out at the all-you-can-eat leads to an unpleasant surprise on the bathroom scale. Or that "taking advantage" of all those pre- and post-Christmas sales results in a guilt-ridden statement, from either your credit card or your bank.

Which is why it's not exactly a surprise that the market for credit has scrunched down. It's a natural reaction to excess.

Economists tend to project the image of the economy as pure math, where people's actions are based on what will make them the most money. But really, it's mob psychology, both the bubbles and the inevitable pop. People tend to do what everybody else is doing. If everybody else is living on credit cards to pay for the lifestyle of the Joneses, well...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

I realize that I've kind of drifted from the original tack of this blog, so the New Year will bring some changes in the type of stuff that gets put up here. And hopefully, I'll be able to update more regularly.

Our tree is a real tree, about 3 feet tall, blinged out in red and gold. Those are the colors we use as our main decor, too.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Real Greenies Don't Recycle

We recycle only about half the glass that comes into our apartment--mostly the wine bottles, and then only if I can't use them for a vase (some of them are really fugly).

The other half does not get thrown out. It gets put to good use--holding screws, blackberry jelly, acting as pseudo-tupperware, holding things like corks and pencils and beads, as containers for stock, etc. I sometimes wonder how I ever got along with virtually no glass jars.

Why do we recycle at all? There are only two good reasons to recycle:

1) Essentially nonrenewable resources: paper, for instance. Yes, I know, trees are grown in specially manicured forests etc etc, but the fact is they grow at a much slower rate than our current need for paper. Hence the "essentially".

2) To decrease the amount of crap going to the landfills. Especially the nonbiodegradeable crap. Like glass. And styrofoam, too--but that one might actually degrade, given enough gasoline.

From some points of view, recycling is a terrible waste of resources. You have to drive a special truck to pick it up. The crap gets sent down lots of conveyor belts--using tons of electricity from what is most likely going to be a fossil-fuel burning plant. People get paid to sift through it. More resources are used to reconstitute the crap into its original form.

Is it worth it? When you consider how much crap we throw away on a daily basis--coffee filters, coffee grounds, small paper scraps, food scraps, broken things, food containers--one must wonder exactly how much of a difference a single can of Coke is going to make to the net amount of crud going to the landfill.

But then consider how many resources are devoted to, say, quarrying aluminum, hauling the raw ore to a refinery/smelting plant, smelting out the metal from the slag, shipping it to companies who bang on it and make nuts and bolts and cans, etc.

Recycling is worthwhile. But it should not be considered Green, but rather as the lesser of two evils.

Why conserve?

Water is too cheap, which is why people don't care about wasting it.

There is also the fact that if you don't use it, it just evaporates, floats around as a cloud for a while, and then drops back to earth again, as rain. The water cycle, believe it or not, still works in the same way it did when you were a kid in elementary school. So really, there's no real shortage of water.

Except when there is:

It is impossible to predict which year will be a drought year. In the 1990s, when I lived in/around Philadelphia, there were at least two summers where you could be forgiven for wondering what happened to summer, because everything was brown. It didn't rain for three weeks straight, once--and given the average temperature of a Philadelphian summer, that's a big strain on plant life.

It is becoming even more difficult thanks to the weird climate changes we are all experiencing. Drought and famine in Africa. Drought and famine in India. Glaciers melting, Venice under water. Northern Europe caught in a web of freezing cold. More powerful hurricanes.

The problem is not that water actually runs out. It is that it runs out where people live. But it's not like you can keep it, either--evaporation occurs, no matter what.

So why "save" water?

1) Why not? If you're not using it, why run it? It's a profligate waste of money and resources.

2) Those "just a few bucks" you save--any little bit helps if you're struggling. Turn off the faucet, fix those leaks, and you'll breathe just that much easier.

3) Peace, quiet, and no green streaks. When I was in college I lived in an apartment where the bathtub's faucet leaked all the f*cking time. Eventually we were able to summon a groundskeeper to fix it, but by that time there was an irremovable scum of green stuff staining the white tub, marking where algae had grown along the trace of the water. Dripping faucets drive me nuts in general.

4) Water damages. See #3 about green scum. But a drippy pipe can cause floorboards and cupboards to rot, and those cost a helluva lot more to replace than calling the plumber to fix the leaks.

5) Save your skin. Washing too often dries out your skin, and washing your hair too often sucks the natural oils that give it shine right out. I wash my (long) hair every other day--it's oily--which is just about right.