Thursday, January 20, 2011

Which One Is The Right Choice?

Trying to live with a small, or at least smaller carbon footprint, can be overwhelming sometimes. I'm not sure how to make decisions regarding which choice is the greener one. For example: Getting to work. At first, I considered biking instead of the 15-minute drive....and I was thinking about giving it a shot. I figured I could handle the challenges of arriving at work rather sweaty, bringing my (stainless steel) water bottle, packed lunch, AND a change of clothes. But I was intimidated by the no sidewalk, no shoulder, no bike lane road I would have to share with many half-awake drivers speeding around me, so I haven't even tried to bike on that particular road, much less during the morning rush hour.

Now I work and home, and at first I thought that must be greener, right? After a few years, however, I have started to realize a few more factors to consider when touting this as a greener choice. First, I have to keep my computers on all day now, to work, instead of shutting them down while I'm gone. I have to light the room I'm in, and I have to heat the house. Granted, I wasn't lowering the thermostat when I left for work in the past. I do keep it around 64 in the winter, and 79 in the summer...but sometimes after being in these cold or pretty warm temperatures all day for a few weeks, I get tired of being uncomfortable all the time, and change the thermostat for a while. In winter I've started using the wood stove to supplement warming the house, and this is effective in some ways. It provides a toasty room for raising my body temp for a while, to stave off the chill, and it slowly billows throughout the house, raising the immediate temperature a few degrees and thus keeping the heat pump from kicking on. When I use renewable wood for heat, however, I have to GET the wood here! Mostly I scavenge deadfall from the neighborhood, and ask folks with piles of wood if they want me to haul it away for free. Friends know to tell me of any wood available where they live, too, and a few had trees cut down, so I paid my handman neighbor to fetch it all for me. I bought a chainsaw (electric) to cut it down to wood stove-sized pieces....but this, too, uses resources - such as being another in a long list of chainsaws living on this street alone (I just didn't feel a chainsaw was a good borrowing tool. It's not like a wrench. It has a manual and everything! Besides, I'm going to need it next year, too, I imagine), burning the coal that TVA uses to supply my electricity, using oil to lubricate the chain, disposing of it when it finally breaks, and all the driving that the future maintenance and repair will entail. Granted, some of this is minimal resource use...but multiply that by every chainsaw living just in my city. Every drop of water in the tsunami is part of the flood. I guess it just seems that every option has unsuspected pitfalls of carbon impact, making choices very difficult, indeed.

The bottom line is this: Am I using more energy by being home alone, which entails heating, lighting, and cooking for 1 person than I would be in an office setting, where the heating, lighting, and lunch cooking are done for many people? Certainly, fewer resources are probably used for providing the same for many instead of for one, and yet, my heat would still be on, even if I wasn't home. I would still be cooking my lunch, just doing it at night instead of during the day.

So which option IS the greener choice? How far down can you calculate the lowest common denominator for choices like driving to work versus working at home, in an effort to figure out the smallest carbon footprint?


ha1ku said...

It is a tricky thing to figure out. The fact is we are a culture of consumerism, and so to even participate with society we waste to some degree. I feel overwhelmed trying to make too many changes at once.

I am changing a few, small things that are within my power to change.

Roz said...

Exactly - since I'm in society, not living outside it, there is always waste in my decisions. I feel like a hypocrite, not being able to live up to my own expectations.

ha1ku said...

The small choices you make motivate your neighbors. They probably see you recycling, composting or raising your animals, think "hm she's different", and then they go home and reflect on their habits.

That's how it starts.

Roz said...

(dubiously)....okay. Actually even my family and friends think I'm a nut job. But that's fine. They'll need me later!! And I'm enjoying myself, even though I know I can never be TOTALLY self sufficient. :(

ha1ku said...


Well when gas hits $8 a gallon and the arabs turn off the pipes, mind renting me some space on your property? I don't want to be anywhere near urban when it happens.

Roz said...

I am pretty urban...but I have good neighbors and, I think, a well intentioned, if sheep-like, local community.

:) Of course you can stay here! The tough part is getting UP here....gonna bike, are you? Now THAT'S a bike trip!