When a Little Is A Lot: Drippy Faucets, Litter, … and Small Courtesies!

A drip of water seems like nothing, but those drips add up fast. One plumbing company, using USGS data, calculated that “if your faucet dripped once every second every day, all day, it would only take four and a half hours to reach one gallon. Every day you would waste 5 gallons of water or 2,082 gallons per year.

One straw in the ocean, one plastic bag littering the street … We’ve seen how those add up, with horrific consequences.

Fortunately the reverse is true too. Fixing that drippy faucet; picking up that piece of trash. It adds up!

Another thing that adds up is little kindnesses that make people’s life easier. This morning I had an email newsletter from Zazzle, one of the online services I use to make prints of my art. “We’ve updated our Zazzle user agreement,” the email informed me. But instead of simply providing a link to the full-length document of the updated user agreement (which they did), Zazzle additionally provided a link to just the highlights. To me, reading this capsule summary was a great way to start the morning. I felt disproportionately happy.

Or maybe my happiness wasn’t disproportionate at all! Maybe it was perfectly appropriate. Have you ever had someone send you a link, and it turned out to lead to some 80-page document or hour-long video, and it was obvious the person expected you to wade through the whole thing? Is it only me, or is that frustrating?

Whether it’s a friend or a service provider wanting me to view this content, a nutshell summary is a much desired, but all too often absent, accompaniment to a link. It may even be a lost art; a casualty of the social-media age.

Anyway, thank you Zazzle! When someone is considerate is a seemingly small way, it can have a huge impact. And the impact ripples out to everyone the recipient of the courtesy interacts with, at least for the morning and maybe for the whole day, or longer. And although I’ve never done the math, I’m pretty sure this kind of considerateness reduces our collective eco footprint, in as significant a way as fixing a drippy faucet saves water.

Further Reading and Action:

USGS – Faucet Drip Calculator – Got dripping faucets? Calculate how much water you can save by fixing them!

Topic Digest: Living Without Air Conditioning

For those of you who would like to experiment with A/C-free living (or for those of you who are already doing it but are encountering difficulties of various kinds — or, for those of you who are doing it, love it, but are having trouble explaining your choice to the people around you), I’ve compiled a digest of articles on this topic. Enjoy! I’ve been living without A/C by choice for just about my whole adult life, and I found these articles enjoyable and empowering.

(FYI, I found these articles by googling “people who live without air conditioning are healthier,” and the search brought up many many more articles than I’ve linked here! So you can find a lot more than what I’ve shared below.)

I don’t need air conditioning and neither do you (The Washington Post): Clinical social worker Olivia Snyder lives on the fifth floor of a Philadelphia apartment building with southern exposure and no air conditioning. It gets so hot, she says, “I don’t want to turn on the burners, let alone the oven.” But window units offend her. “Air conditioners are ugly. I really like the view,” she says. Also, “I hate sleeping with the noise. I’m super-weird about noise.” … There are a thousand reasons my family does without central air. Actually, several thousand. …

Mama Remembers the South Before Air-Conditioning (Southern Living magazine): “Living without air-conditioning used to be normal to Southerners,” Mama says. “But everybody’s gotten so used to being cool all the time that people can’t even go outside without burning up. We never used to complain about the heat. We just said, ‘Well, it’s summer.’ And we drank a lot of water.”…

Can We Live without Air Conditioning? (JSTOR Daily): Currently, as the world gets hotter, AC use expands. But all this cool comfort comes at a cost. … Susanna Robbins reviews how air conditioning helped transform the South and Southwest into the Sunbelt. She notes that air conditioning radically changed traditional architecture and social and labor relations in these desert and sub-tropical regions, most notably in ending the “easy-going lifestyle” best suited to broiling hot days.

How to Live Without Air Conditioning (Boston Globe): Can Americans kick our addiction to cool? Maybe more happily than we think …

24 Tricks to Survive Hot Summer Nights (without A/C) (Greatist.com)

How Did People Survive Before Air Conditioning? (ApartmentTherapy.com):Currently the porch, like the fireplace, is a charming but somewhat vestigial architectural feature. But in the past porches were incredibly important, not just for shading the windows of a home, but also for providing a place where people could sit outside, out of the glare of the sun, and perhaps enjoy a breeze. These days, when it’s hot, people flock inside, but in the past it was the opposite: temperatures indoors and out were more or less the same, and the porch was much less stuffy than the rest of the house. This led to a whole culture of people sitting outside on their porches after supper, which has essentially disappeared.

Can you live without air conditioning in your life? Is it a need or just a want? (discussion thread on Quora): I am from the southern part of India which is known for its tropical climate. Summers are generally warm and sultry with quite high levels of humidity. The AC was a fairly recent addition to Kerala’s homes. Even now, most homes don’t have an AC. They are quite okay with it too. One noteworthy aspect is that back in the days, houses were built with lots of outlets for cross-ventilation. Even in the summers, the insides of the houses remained comfortable. (Includes some really nice photos of traditional houses in India and the Middle East that were designed in the days before A/C and are very comfortable without it.) 

10 Things Living without A/C Taught Me (Frugal Farm Wife blog): good commonsense advice — adjust your routine according to the season; learn to accept sweat; conserve your movements and more.

Europe to America: Your Love of Air Conditioning Is Stupid (Washington Post): “The bottom line is that America’s a big, rich, hot country,” Cox told The Post. “But if the second, fourth, and fifth most populous nations — India, Indonesia, and Brazil, all hot and humid — were to use as much energy per capita for air-conditioning as does the U.S., it would require 100 percent of those countries’ electricity supplies, plus all of the electricity generated by Mexico, the U.K., Italy, and the entire continent of Africa,” he added. …”If everyone were to adopt the U.S.’s air-conditioning lifestyle, energy use could rise tenfold by 2050,” Cox added, referring to the 87-percent ratio of households with air-conditioning in the United States. Given that most of the world’s booming cities are  in tropical places, and that none of them have so far deliberately adopted the European approach to air-conditioning, such calculations should raise justified concerns.

Living Without Air Conditioning Can Damage Your Brain: I figured it wouldn’t be fair to only present one side of things, so I’m including this article … by a guy who runs a heating and air-conditioning company.

Becoming Native To This Place: Essay by Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute and author of the book by the same title. This absolute jewel of an essay (it’s very lengthy but worth reading every bit) appears on the website of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. Although it addresses a far wider terrain than artificial climate control or the lack thereof, I simply had to include it in this post for you. Jackson talks about the very nature of place, of people and cultures that are truly committed to the land they live on, and how it would behoove each of us to get back to that mentality and really commit to whatever place we call home. I particularly love the passage where he talks about coming across old garden-club newsletters in an abandoned farmhouse: The August 1936 program was dedicated to coping with the heat: roll call was “Hot Weather Drinks”; next came “Suggestions for Hot Weather Lunches”; a Mrs. Rogler offered “Ways of Keeping Cool.” By modern standards these people were poor. There was a kind of naiveté among these relatively unschooled women. … But the monthly agendas of these women were filled with decency, with efforts to learn about everything from the birds to our government and to cope with their problems, the weather, and diseases. Here is the irony: they were living up to a far broader spectrum of their potential than most of us do today! I am not suggesting that we go back to 1923 or even to 1964. But I will say that those people in that particular generation, in places like Matfield Green, were further along in the necessary journey to become native to their places, even as they were losing ground, than we are today.

Sweet Music Through an Open Window

When people ask why I don’t use air conditioning, I sometimes tell them (besides explaining that I don’t like to be cold, at all, EVER) that I prefer living in an open-window house for the same reason I prefer eating a peach at room temperature rather than refrigerated. It’s the best analogy I can think of. Life just “tastes” better to me when it’s not artificially chilled.

Today my open windows brought me another treat: the sound of clarinet music, being played by someone a few houses down. Technically it wasn’t beautiful music; it just sounded like someone practicing. But I experienced it as beautiful. And it struck me that I could not remember when I had last heard that sound; the sound of music being practiced (I mean, by someone other than a professional musician doing sound-check, for example). It struck me as a sweet relic of a simpler, bygone, more analog era.

Back when I lived in Tokyo, I used to love hearing people practice music in Yoyogi Park. Practicing in parks is probably more common in densely populated urban places like Tokyo or Manhattan where people live in too close quarters to practice indoors. What a treat! It made an already sweet, warm spring day even more special. Not everyone feels able to do without air conditioning, and I’m not picking on people who use A/C. I do think it might enhance everyone’s enjoyment (as well as reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and reducing our bodies’ dependence on climate control) to open the windows at least sometimes. The world is so tasty through an open window!

So how about you? Have you tried open-air? Or, is it your default mode? If so, what are some sweet treats you’ve gotten? (And if you’ve experienced any difficulties, what are they?)

Speaking of sweet treats, here’s a truly delightful essay by one of my favorite writer/teachers, Madisyn Taylor of the DailyOM. It’s about appreciating the little pleasures of life that make us happy. A cup of hot tea; finding a puppy rummaging in the laundry basket; the laughter of a baby — simple but truly delightful things like that. (By the way, DailyOM has an e-newsletter you can subscribe to; you’ll find a link on the page. I’m a longtime subscriber and always look forward to seeing Madisyn’s name in my inbox.)

Mini Travel Compost Experiment

Last day of a 10-day conference, getting ready to check out of hotel. With my “portable compost collection” setup. This thick foil-lined popcorn bag (yes, I still buy stuff in single-use containers more than I want to) turns out to be a good portable compost collection container. I’ll rinse it out at home and probably be able to reuse it at least a few times. I’ve collected just coffee grounds in that bag. 

In the white plastic bag to the right of the compost bag inthe first photo are fruit scraps from a roommate’s smoothies. Nothing leaked or got smelly during the week. I did grab a handful of fine-crumbled oak-leaf litter from the hotel parking lot at one point in the week and added it to the bag of fruit scraps. And, I let the coffee grounds dry out as much as possible by letting them dry a bit in the reusable filter before dumping them into the big foil-lined popcorn bag. (Second photo just shows my reusable coffee filter and the hand-towel I always bring from home as a general-purpose wipe).

Because all of this was ultra small-scale, it did not attract attention (I did not want to divert anyone’s focus away from their work, or create a nuisance in the room) or get in anyone’s way. Now it all fits into my little vinyl cooler and goes home to my garden! It’s not everything but every little bit helps. In the past, I would have felt compelled to collect every single banana peel etc from everyone, and end up with a big unwieldy mess, or else give up on it entirely, do nothing at all and beat myself up. 

Another happy note, the two main takeout restaurants where I ate during the week, let people bring their own reusable cups & dishes! Seems like a real shift is happening.

Would love to hear what others have devised re. composting, upcycling single-use containers, or any other zero-waste while away from home. 

Getting Free of Single-Use Plastic

Living without plastic is hard, but people are doing it.

As a fellow member of one of the eco groups I belong to pointed out, “hard” is being a refugee. Hard is having your country torn apart by war. Hard is losing a child. Hard is … well, you get the idea. Minimizing plastic is certainly inconvenient (extremely so in some cases), but really it’s not all that hard, and once you get rolling, the momentum picks up.

Yes it requires effort (in some parts of the world more than others), but every bit of single-use/throwaway plastic we can manage to refuse (or failing that, REUSE or upcycle) makes a difference. And, our efforts WILL shape the consumer environment, social norms, & regulatory landscape.

Tips I find helpful to my efforts to reduce my consumption of single-use plastic are 1) make a fun game of it; 2) don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good; and 3) rather than dwell on the inconvenience of going against the current, focus on the sensory & aesthetic pleasures of using “real” stuff (cloth bags, wooden utensils etc). Also 4) enjoy & take pride in being part of a growing “tribe” of people who really care and are doing something about it. And 5) for some of us, it helps to think of our efforts as a way of atoning for past times of our lives when we might not have used as much care in our daily choices. But if you’re already the type to beat yourself up, go easy on that one or it might backfire. You can also 6) focus on how much you want future generations to be able to experience life on this wonderful planet.

And read the New York Times article linked at the beginning of this post; it’s full of good ideas.

You can also read articles about the country-sized areas of plastic trash floating in the oceans. And the mountain of trash that’s been piling up since China quit being the world’s recycling bin. And see pictures of kids floating on mattresses in a sea of trash.

But, don’t let yourself get too discouraged. Focus on what you can do now. And have fun! It’s the best way of making your actions contagious.

New! Special DEEP GREEN Gift Contest!

New! Spot the identical posts and win a unique DEEP GREEN gift!

Usually, I do not post the same content on both my blog and my DEEP GREEN Facebook page. But from now on, I will occasionally be making identical posts in both places. Be the first to spot an identical post, email me or post in the Facebook comments that you saw it, and you will win a super useful surprise gift. ❤

(Never fear, in true DEEP GREEN fashion the gifts will be ultra-low-footprint and won’t take up space in your house.)

This is my way of showing my heartfelt appreciation to you, my loyal readers who love Mother Earth!

Cities Banning Leaf-Blowers

Washington, DC, has banned leaf-blowers (the gas-powered variety, anyway). In making this move it joins over 100 other cities that have enacted bans.

“The reasons for the ban are: the obsolescence of the technology, which is orders of magnitude more polluting than other machines and engines now in common use; the public-health danger, above all to hired work crews, of both the emissions and the damagingly loud noise from the gas blowers; and the rapid advent of battery-powered alternatives, which are quieter and dramatically less polluting.” 

Good progress! Other reasons to add to the list: the wastefulness of blowing leaves around – waste of labor; also treating leaves as trash instead of a soil-building and plant-feeding resource.

Read the full article here.