Back to basics: What does green living mean and why bother?
I like to be comfortable in a cool room on a hot summer day and enjoy taking a hot bath on a cold day. I depend on modern technology to access the world via the Internet. I often make plans to eat with and be with people I love, and that usually involves travel. I consider myself normal in this respect and wish to continue these activities, all of which involve using energy and resources.
So what does green living mean? It is finding a balance between enjoying all these activities and doing them less and/or in more efficient ways. But why?
The broader meaning of green living in a sustainable manner goes beyond ourselves and our inner circles. It includes living within the means of our available resources without jeopardizing the ability of people in the future to meet their needs.
I have a friend who always advises me to check my motives, so when it comes to green living I have come up with a few universal motivating factors.
The first motivation is common sense. We live in the information age. We all have access to instant information, whether it be knowing the details of the most recent drone strike, getting in touch with loved ones after a disaster halfway around the world or being privy to the latest “American Idol” winner.
The second motivation seems like a no-brainer: Green living can save you money. Who doesn’t want more expendable income?
The third reason is our connection and responsibility to others and future generations. This one is often a little harder to grasp and hold onto.
THE AGE OF INFORMATION
Compared with our parents’ generations, we can no longer claim ignorance. Everything is at our fingertips. With just a little effort, we can find reliable facts about our living environment.
Here are some indisputable truths.
- ■ Seven billion plus of us live on one planet.
- ■ We use energy daily at a volume more than any other generation before us.
- ■ The growing number of humans using energy is more than any other time in the earth’s history. Add that to the rapid modernization of highly populated developing countries. We can do the simple math and realize this is not sustainable.
Conventional fossil fuel resources — coal, oil and gas — are limited. We have been burning these carbon intensive fuels for more than 200 years.
Fossil fuels come from dead animal and plant life buried hundreds of millions of years ago in very precise locations under specific conditions of heat, pressure and time. Unlike Daniel Day-Lewis’ joy in “There Will Be Blood,” in which he claims, “There’s a whole ocean of oil under our feet,” the easy access to cheap, abundant hydrocarbons is a thing of the past.
The majority of Nevada’s electrical energy comes from these fossil fuel sources. As sources become scarce, prices rise.
SHOW ME THE MONEY
The low-hanging fruit seems to be the place to start to see savings immediately without having to outlay large investments. There are a multitude of suggestions that can lead to big savings (see links below).
Yes, many actions may be inconvenient or mean changing some habits. I laugh in astonishment when watching the actors on “Mad Men” smoking on airplanes and in elevators. Remember when we thought that was OK? We could experience a similar paradigm shift.
Japan is a perfect example of how conservative measures make a huge difference in energy use and savings. Promptly after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Japan instated a movement called “setsuden” (saving electricity).
Businesses enacted “thinning” measures by removing every third light bulb, cutting excess exterior lighting, turning off escalators and elevators during slow traffic periods, and adjusting temperatures. Individuals did the same in their homes, and governments and businesses allowed employees to shed their business suits for the “cool biz” concept of wearing lighter clothing to endure higher temperatures indoors.
Everyone saved money on electricity bills, and the country was able to turn off all 50 of its nuclear power plants. To this day, 48 of them are still offline, and most businesses still encourage setsuden.
CONNECTIONS TO OTHERS AND FUTURE GENERATIONS
The hardest motivation to understand is our connection to others.
About eight years ago, I was invited to give a climate change presentation at a Henderson church. During the question-and-answer session, a man was obviously leery of what I was “selling” (his words) and questioned my motives.
Before answering him, I had to check my motives. Why was I there, and why did I feel I needed to make changes in my life as well as spread the word to others?
To me, the information I had just presented appeared logical. At the very least it would save people money. But I realized the two teenagers sitting in the back of the room, supporting their mom, were my true motivation.
I thought then that their generation would get stuck with this colossal problem. I was wrong; both of our generations have inherited it.
The resistance lies in the inconvenience of forming new habits and giving up something we are used to. I am not a big fan of feeling guilty or trying to make other people feel guilty — talk about wasting energy with only negative results.
Instead, I like proactive behavior and thinking, “What can I do each day to be careful and responsible about how I interact with others and my environment while enjoying all the wonders this life has to offer?”
Energy Saving Tips
Mary Beth Horiai has split her adult life between Japan and Southern Nevada. In Las Vegas, Horiai worked for the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council of Nevada.