Energy crisis (part two)

Second part of a two-part post.

What would I miss most in a world with rationed energy supplies?

            It is easy to forget how much we rely upon cheap fuel.  I am not just talking about filling the gas tank or heating one’s home.  Everything we buy must travel.  Ideally, it does not travel 1/3 of the way around the globe, but it travels.  I may get my milk from a local dairy, but since there are no cows in SW London, it stands to reason that someone did have to do some transporting.  The books I read, the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the medicines we take, and the water we drink all need to travel.  Not only that, but it takes energy to produce all of these things.

            I fear a world in which I could not get what I think of as basic necessities because there is not enough oil to transport them.  A world in which heat waves kill hundreds and cold snaps kill thousands because there is not enough energy to go around.  A world in which I cannot feed my children fruits and vegetables unless I have a back yard and can grow them myself.

            I would not miss driving.  Honestly, I really dislike driving.  I am happy to walk everywhere possible, but not everywhere is possible, so I suppose I would miss the ease with which I can now see people on the other side of the city or the other side of the country.  Mostly, however, I would miss feeling like my children have a chance to grow up in a world where they have everything they need.

 What can I do to help?

            “This environmental obsession of yours is sure saving us money,” J told me last week.  That is not really true.  Yes, I buy much less than I used to.  If I no longer like something but it is functional, I keep using it.  We no longer buy paper towels since we switched to rags, we buy fewer tissues since I transitioned to handkerchiefs, and I will not buy new Tupperwares just because the old ones are discolored and grey (although I think I will be looking for a non-plastic option).

            We buy less partly because the landfills are overflowing, partly because manufacturing goods spews crap out into our air and our water, and partly because of the energy required to produce new goods and then get them to our house.  Theoretically, we ought to be saving a bundle.  If only I weren’t pouring the savings into the things we still do buy – when we need new clothing because the kids keep eating or mine is in tatters, I try to buy ethical clothing.  This is only so feasible.  Why is it I can find loads of fair trade, organic shirts but no trousers?  I feel like a hypocrite as Zachary wears his “Little Green Radical” shirt (pink, of course) with whatever jeans we can find that actually fit his little behind.  And, please, if someone has found an ethical bra, let me know.  This is off the topic, however, as the question is about energy, not pesticides or child labor, and one of the best ways to reduce energy usage is to buy used items locally. 

              I would buy used if used-clothing stores didn’t stress me out so much because I hate shopping and they require patience to sift through things.  Seriously, I would rather buy nothing, which is what I usually do, than have to spend hours in a store trying to find a pair of jeans.  I think I am going to have to start shopping used for environmental reasons, but I am going to need to bring my inhaler with me.  Used is about the only way our shopping habits have become less expensive.  On the whole, we are buying fewer things and paying more for them.

We pay more for a milkman and our produce is organic and locally grown but more expensive.  We are using disposable diapers with Ben (a subject for another post), but we are using the pricey, environmentally friendly, not-made-with-a-tub-of oil kind that I have to walk a mile to buy.  We are pretty much spending exactly what we used to, in purely financial terms.  But, we are also spending much less energy, getting a few things we need rather than unnecessary things we want.

            I struggle in a few areas.  We still buy toys now and then, but I try to insist upon quality toys that will last through the children.  And then there are the books.  It is an addiction.  When we move, I need to start using the library more (the one here is awful) because too much energy is going into bringing books to my door.  Yet, I cannot imagine breaking the book-buying habit.  Who would support all those authors?

            We walk a lot.  Part of that is personal preference, but part is an understanding that we do not need to drive everywhere.  I suspect moving to LA will be very, very hard.  Did I mention that I like to walk, not drive?  All we can do is try to cluster all our services in one area and then try to live in that area.  J will still need to travel for work, and there is not much we can do about that.  But the rest of the family can limit our fuel intake.

            “This house is so cold,” my husband complains.  So, wear a sweater.  ‘Nuf said.

            There is no doubt in my mind that we will continue to use energy.  It is almost impossible not to.  But, now, when I think about cost, I do not just think in terms of money.  How much does something cost means how much pollution did it create, how many children worked in a sweatshop to make it, how much packaging does it come with, and how much energy did it take to bring it to my door.  Chances are, if it is a 99¢ tchotchke from Target that will end up in the landfill, it costs way too much. 

Although we did buy Zachary a big pink ring.  Story for another day.


I am not tagging anyone, because that would be absurd, given how many memes I have not responded to.  However, please feel free to take this and run with it.

21 responses to “Energy crisis (part two)

  1. hee, hee. My husband asked if I was cold in the house last night. I replied No. He came back and told me the heat was set at 61 degrees. “it was?” I exclaimed. Of course he put it up to 67 (for the kids)

    Great post.

  2. It’s great to see that other people are thinking about the environment, too, although I need to confess that you’re doing much more than I do 🙂

  3. The really sad part is that I still believe we (maybe not our generation, but soon) will end up with shortages and crisis instead of transitioning to sustainable living. I understand your comment of many months ago on Painted Maypole, stating that you cast your vote for the environment, because serious legislative changes need to be made.

    I don’t believe the efforts of individuals alone are going to make a significant impact on the environment issues we face, but they are vital as a good faith initiative to indicate to our representatives that this is what the people want.

  4. I would dearly miss paper towels and paper plates. Smelly, slimy dishtowels and rags are one of my pet peeves. They gross me out. And, paper plates are just convenient. They prevent me from having to run the dishwasher so often.

    But I do need to make a conscious effort to cut them out.

    My big thing is plastic. I think plastic is killing our planet and our people. I’ve stopped using tupperware and instead I’ve bought a gazillion vintage Pyrex “refrigerator” dishes, which are covered glass bowls that are shaped to fit refrigerator shelves. They are safe and more environmentally friendly. And, they don’t get gray and gunky.

    I’m going to try to eliminate ziploc bags, but boy…that’s going to be hard. As it is, I am reusing whenever possible.

  5. i’ve been trying to cut back on have needless stuff around — you’ve inspired me to try and take it to another level.

  6. Emily–I remember when John and I were very young and very broke and not even married yet, I took a real interest in a set of books/articles called the Tightwad Gazette. My interest was motivated purely by poverty alone–but as I recall, there were some phenomenal strategies for stretching resources and making better use of things. I don’t know if they are in print any longer (or online?) but I’d recommend them to anyone. Some of their approaches were really radical, but all of it was so worth reading….

  7. The paper towel thing is hard for me too. I tried not using them, but the rags in the sick gross me out and it seemed I was using a lot of water to wash a load of rags all the time. I don’t know what the trade offs are…using paper vs. using water to wash them in a non-full load.

  8. i applaud any efforts to cut back, reuse, etc. ahhhh, books. that’s where we get into trouble in terms of buying/consumption as well.

    in terms of an impressive commitment to the environment, andrea at is a great role model for me. she, like us, has three young sons, inc. a set of twins, but does not have a clothes dryer– and she lives in maine. snowy, cold maine, people!

  9. Oh the Tightwad Gazette!!

    I am good in ways and not so good in ways. I try to not buy products manufactured in a coal process. That for health and environment.

    I buy all fresh food and produce locally through my CSA, who yes, delivers, but a short distance (since we live adjacent to farm country) and efficiently.

    I bike to the local school, and try to carpool when I can—even to shopping.

    But I can’t sacrifice my A/C I can’t. It would be death.

    It’s February and it’s already 85 fracking degrees here. You do the math.

  10. WE would have to move, we would. WE’re talking about moving to the town where my husband works, 20 minutes away, even though we HATE IT.

  11. I can’t give up books. I can’t even give up books for two months.

    But books I don’t love and won’t reread eventually end up at the library, where they can find someone else who loves them.

    And I’m with you on clothes. It’s hard enough for me to find stuff that fits and that I can wear to work new–used is impossible. I want to walk in, find something I can wear to work in a store that makes clothes that I know fit people my shape, try on a few things, get the one that works best,a nd leave. I don’t have the time or patience to devote to used clothes shopping.

    But I figure if that’s the worst of it, I’m not doing so bad.

  12. This is inspiring. I’m making some efforts, and trying to add in others. You inspire me to do more.

    Also, I can’t give up book buying either. Don’t even particularly want to try. I think it’s important to support authors, especially with the way the publishing world is changing. Just my two cents.

  13. The thoughtfulness with which you approach the environment and your role in it inspires me.

  14. it’s this, right? everyone making an effort as they can?

    i stayed for a while in a place that only had electricity for certain hours of the day and never at night. at first it was hard and then it became manageable, and then, normal.

  15. I like this. If I can EVER get my internet working again, and after my Thailand posts, I’ll respond more. But till then…I do so very little shopping, especially for jeans, because I live in the land of the small and the tiny – so I have two pair that are being held together (almost literally) with the patches that I seem to have to add more frequently than usual. And as for adding up costs – my time at the Climate Change Conf. – namely, the time spent in the West Bali community listening to the effects of deforestation, etc, has really altered my perspective.

    Again, thanks for sharing and all of your great ideas!!

  16. Thanks for these two really well-thought-out and well-said posts. I’ve been meaning to pick up Octavia Butler for a while, and this might just be my motivation (from the library of course–the not buying book thing has been tough, but not as bad as I thought–and our library is pretty small/lousy too but we can get a lot of things interlibrary loan). As for the kid in your previous post–I don’t think he’s alone, and even today I think most people are so focused on what they are doing now (either trying to survive or trying to figure out which SUV to buy next) that they can’t or won’t recognize looming disaster. And I’m totally with you about thrift stores. I can deal with consignment stores for kids stuff–because everything is usually pretty clean and organized and high quality, but I don’t have the energy or patience to tackle the Goodwill yet, especially for myself. Although I have some friends who dress fabulously who swear they buy everything thrift.

  17. I’m inspired by all you do already to make all your consumer decisions with the environment in mind. I count books as a green(ish) purchase – most paper comes from sustainable forests these days (apart from anything else, it’s cheaper), and your average paperback doesn’t have pages coated in chemicals. But books also provide hours of energy unrelated entertainment and educate minds to think around all the implications of any situation. That discipline is also what the planet needs in its future citizens. What a wonderful post, Emily.

  18. I recently wrote a post about cloth diapering, and how it’s working for us. You are doing so much more than me, but I’m taking baby steps, I guess. At least I’m moving in the right direction…

    You impress me, you discipline and dedication. I hope I can get to that point.

    (But I cannot give up books. Never. I’ve recently done a bit of reading online (Pride and Prejudice)…but if that was all I could ever do I would be dealing wit depression. I love books too much to give them up!)

  19. Pingback: Carnival of the Green #117! « Confessions of a Closet Environmentalist

  20. I’m behind on my reading (and writing, uh okay, everything), and I am glad I got back to this.

    I’m not as diligent as you, but I have become more contentious., I’m rabid about recycling and buy from fresh vegetables from a family owned produce stand. I will be moving soon, and I look forward to being within walking distance of more amenities.

  21. In my case, I think I’ll forget about buying a new car since I could not afford a hybrid. Not buying a car would save fuel and reduce carbon dioxide emission.