Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Aloha 'Aina

     The title of this essay means (loosely translated) to love and care for the environment.
     My friend Norm decades ago listed the three worst things a person can do to the environment: have kids, eat beef, and drive a car—this from a man who has two kids, eats gobs of meat (including beef), and has owned and driven only pick-up trucks and SUVs for decades. He wasn't being hypocritical or ironic, his point was that it's difficult living an environmentally friendly lifestyle. He tries to do his part (compensate?) by eating organic, recycling, reusing (especially cloth bags for purchased groceries as far back as the 1990s), donating stuff he no longer wants, growing some of his own produce, and even using cloth diapers for all his (now adult) kids.
     I liked his list and thought it credible. To clarify, having kids per se isn't so much a problem as living modern lifestyles is (which kids are wont to do). An animated cartoon on TV I saw decades ago illustrated this by showing a lifetime's worth of junk a typical American accumulates and discards: multiple cars, appliances, furniture, and equipment; oodles of clothes, bags, and hobby items; tons of paper and plastic, etc., etc., etc. and it created a mountainous heap, a veritable dump site in and of itself—an alarming eye opener to think I'd leave so much junk behind!
     What makes beef so bad is its huge demand on resources whereby one pound of it can require up to 2,000 gallons of water (mostly to water crops that are eventually fed to the steer over its lifetime). Cows also poop and pass gas prodigiously. One can add upwards of 36 tons of e-coli laden feces to streams and rivers and 360 pounds of methane to the atmosphere-comparable to daily use of a car for three years.
     The environmental costs of driving a petroleum-based car (the only ones available at the time of our discussion) are pretty well known so I won't elaborate further.
     I felt good for awhile about owning only one car, driving it only ~3,500 miles per year, and limiting my meat consumption (which has increased since marrying; Deanne's a “carnivore” as she puts it in jest and does all the cooking because she's so good at it), but we did end up having three kids and yes, we did use disposable diapers all the way (tsk! tsk!)
     Norm decades later changed his mind and said the number one personal environmental disaster is people living outsized lives in enormous mansions, owning multiple humongous SUVs, trading them in for new ones every other year, buying second homes to vacation in for a few weeks, and so forth—this from a single guy that for years lived in a sizable house (> 1000 square feet) and owned a grand piano (his deceased mom's, granted) that no one played (but that he felt compelled to keep). I felt good that we've always lived in modest-sized dwellings—enough to get by in and not filled with unused wasted space that attracts the accumulation of extra junk.
     Now that merchants in Hawaii no longer issue disposable plastic bags for purchases, we no longer bag our household trash in such bags—which helps in a minor way. And we're mostly conscientious about bringing our own reusable bags shopping so we won't feel tempted to accept the paper or heavy reusable plastic ones offered (which we already have too many of).
     Which makes me wonder, how many shoppers immediately discard those heavy reusable plastic bags after one use? One of them has got to be far worse for the environment than one of the old flimsy disposable ones from before. Has the law banning distribution of disposable plastic bags by businesses thereby worsened the environment?
     I told Norm unless we as a society revert to agrarianism, get off the power grid, and live off the land, we're bound to leave the environment far worse than before. (My mom always taught me to leave a place better off than when I arrived, but I confess I'm doing a horrible job of that in respect to the environment). “How much land does it take to be able to live that way?” I asked. He didn't know. Obviously it depends on where the land is and the viable crops/livestock it'll support. I give subsistence farmers/hunters/gatherers a world of credit where ever they are. I doubt I'd survive much more than a year (or two, if I were extra lucky or blessed.)

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