Wal-Mart Worries

A typical Wal-Mart discount department store i...

Image via Wikipedia

Shortly after I had my green epiphany in November, I found myself wandering around in Wal-Mart. I looked around me and saw aisles and aisles of boxed items, plastic items, clothes, shoes, and toys for young and old. Each shelf was packed with stuff and the aisles went on and on and on. The store was huge. How much stuff was actually in here anyway? Who is going to buy it all? Where did it all come from?

Standing there in Wal-Mart, where I had been at least a hundred times before, it hit me. How are we ever going to change as much as we need to, when this Wal-Mart represents our consumption culture? I looked at all the people around me, pushing carts full of stuff. Consumption is all around us, it is what we do. How can we stop? It is just not sustainable to consume as much as we do. The resources are going to run out. We are pumping too much carbon into the sky to produce all this stuff, to ship it. At the end of the day, most of this stuff just ends up in the garbage anyway, as we reach for a newer, shinier option. We like to buy things. It makes us feel happy. It makes us feel like we deserve it, that we have worked hard for our money and that this is our reward. Sometimes it makes us feel like we measure up to other people, or worse, that we are better than other people.

The sad thing is that we buy all this stuff without appreciating what part of the Earth it came from, how far it came, and the people who were involved along the way.  Where did the tree grow that was cut down to produce the cardboard box?  Was the place they mined the metals a safe place to work? Did the workers who made the plastic have proper protection from the chemicals? Were the people in China who put the item together paid a fair wage, enough to feed their family? Do they even get to see their family or are they migrant workers from rural areas? Often Chinese migrant workers will leave their children behind to work in the city, only seeing them once or twice a year. I can’t even imagine having to do that. 

This all happens so I can have a new toaster, or a nicer coffee maker. I want some new dishes - I want to switch out the ones I have, I am sick of them. I want to buy a few new lipsticks, even though I have a dozen or so at home, I just want some different colours. I should also get a new stapler, since mine only staples 15 sheets at a time and I would prefer if it stapled 20. Hmmm… How about a new clock, this one looks more modern than the one I have. What else can I get while I am here?

So standing there that day in Wal-Mart, I began to feel panicky, anxious. What was going to happen to our world, how would we ever change? 

In that moment I resolved that I would not purchase things recklessly. I would make do with what I had. If I needed something, I would try first to find it used. I decided then and there to put myself on a shopping ban in 2011 to see how it felt.

Now it is February, and it feels good. I have not purchased any toys for my kids, no clothes for anyone. I have not purchased any cleaners or shampoo or hair gel or moisturizer. I am making do with what I have, and in some cases, making homemade stuff to compensate. It is challenging, yes, but also fulfilling. I feel like I am pushing myself to change, in hopes that others will change too. I want to tread lightly. I don’t want to hurt our world more than I have to. To quote Colin Beavan from his excellent book, No Impact Man:

If I treated the resources that pass through my hands as if they were precious, might I also begin to feel like this very life – the one right under my feet right now and right this very moment – might be precious too? And excuse me for generalizing – I don’t mean to preach – what if instead of just me, it were we? By this I mean if we, as a culture, treated resources as precious, might we not begin to act and feel as though this life we lead together – the one we live when we look in each other’s eyes – might be precious, too? And might this planet be precious, too? (page 46)

Precious indeed.

Turn it Off, Turn it Down

Today I plugged in all our chargers and electronics upstairs into one surge strip bar, so that I could turn the whole thing off at night. Apparently a lot of energy is wasted by leaving power converters plugged in, even if they are not charging anything. Plus if you have one of those TVs where the red standby button stays on, you are burning electricity for the privilege of a quick start up time next time. So line it up like this, in an easy to reach spot…

…and turn it off at night. Easy peasy.

Secondly (yes I did two things today!) I set our thermostat to a weekly schedule. I had already turned it down, but now it goes down even lower than before on weekdays and at night. More savings!

The catch is that I work part-time, so we are home sometimes during the day, like today. I am currently wearing an extra sweater, as are my kids. Really though, I noticed that the house kept its temperature better today, due to the bright sunshine we had streaming through the windows. We have a sunroom, and it warmed up considerably, as compared to outside. It was probably 10°C (18°F) warmer than the outside temperature! The power of the Sun… if only we could harness the thing to turn all this free energy into a form we could use everyday… Hmmmmm, let me think…

 Anyway, it will be interesting to see how all these small changes add up. Now that I am thinking about this stuff, my head is swimming with new ideas on what I can do.

Stay tuned!

Turn Off the Light

Nelly Furtato. Not only is she a Canadian girl with a cool sense of style, but she had it right. Ya gotta turn off the lights. Now she might have been singing more about holding up a rough and tough exterior until the lights go out. But really, how rough and tough can you be with all these lights on?

Wait a minute… why are all these lights in my house on?!?

My house is lit up like a Christmas tree at night. Part of it has to do with the fact that it is dark outside right now from 5 pm to 8 am. Also, I share my lodgings with a 2-year old and a 5 year-old, who have limited physical access to the light switch. But mostly, it is due to bad habits. We leave lights on.

So my challenge today is to see how much kilowatt hours of energy I can save in a month by going around turning off lights everywhere. Let’s live in the dark people! Really though, you only need a light in the room that you are currently in. You don’t need lights on in rooms that you will most likely visit in the next few minutes, but are not visiting now.

Typically, my kitchen light is always on, until late at night. My living room lights are always on. My kids’ bedroom lights are always on, in case they want to wander into their rooms to play. Hallway lights are also on to accommodate said wandering. But do we need all those lights on all the time?

I got a great idea! I can equip my kids with crank-powered LED light head gear, so that they can get around safely in our dark house, just like a couple of miniature miners. Is that pushing it too far? (kidding!)

But what else can I turn off? How low can I go?

I am reading “Sleeping Naked is Green” by Vanessa Farquharson right now. In the book she attempts to “green” her life from top to bottom. One of the things she tries is taking her morning shower in the dark. She rationalizes that showering in the dark is closer to sleeping in your bed than showering in the light. So I tried it. She’s got a point, it was not too bad.

So today’s resolution is to have a maximum of 4 lights on at all times when the kids are awake. When the kids are asleep, then we can have a max of 2 lights. That is one light per person, which should be more than enough.

I am sure it won’t be a problem, especially if we are spending time together as a family.

Baby It’s Cold Outside

And I just turned down my thermostat.  Go figure.  It is currently -27°C (-17°F) and my furnace was running and running and running, working hard to keep us warm, and burning all sorts of natural gas for the privilege.  So I turned it down one degree.  How much difference can one little degree make?

 A lot, it turns out.  No longer toasty warm, we are sitting now at warm, with a bit of chill around the edges. Toes and fingers are especially susceptible.  But overall, it is not so bad.  Throw on a sweater!  Get out your fuzzy socks!  Toss another blanket on all the beds! 

The bit of a chill actually feels good.  It is a constant little reminder that I am DOING something, taking the one small first step to a greener lifestyle and a smaller carbon footprint.  When I first realized that I had to do something, and do something big, that I no longer could live the way that I was living before, I felt so hopeless.  What can I do about these massive environmental problems?  What is one little voice?  How can I possibly make any sort of difference at all?

I did not know which felt worse – the fear and sadness over the impact these problems will have on my children, or the hopelessness and despair about not being able to do anything about it.  How could I look into their little faces and carry on as before?

My ultimate goal for the blog is to inspire social change, which I believe will lead to political change, and hopefully, ensure that rules and regulations we desperately need to get our carbon under control will finally be put into place.  We live in a global village, but it is going to take individual actions (person by person, country by country) to get this thing done.   Ultimately, it comes down to this inspiring quote:

“You must be the change you want to see in the world” – Ghandi

Now excuse me while I throw on another sweater!