Tuesday, August 12, 2008

First APLS Carnival Post!

Gaah! Deadlines come around quickly. When Ruchi (aka Arduous) first announced this exciting new carnival about APLS (Affluent People Living Sustainably) I thought I had weeks to write something, but suddenly it's the 12th already! Luckily I've had a post brewing in my brain for a while, so I'll do my best in the limited time I've left myself, and add my photos later (I've taken them, but not yet released them from the confines of my camera).

[ETA: Photos added on the 13th!]

The first topic: "let's hear how you define sustainable living, and how it plays out in your life".

The first caveat: I am a much paler shade of green than most of the other confirmed carnival contributors. But I'm trying.

I would define sustainable living as reducing my footprint until I consume, at the most, my fair share of the world's renewable resources.

From WWF Canada: "As Canadians, we have the fourth highest Ecological Footprint per person in the world - more than ten times higher than that of low-income countries such as Bangladesh. What makes our footprint so big? Mainly our insatiable appetite for oil and gas. The carbon component of our Footprint alone grew from about 17 percent in 1961, to more than 50 percent in 2003. In other words, if everyone on the planet consumed resources the way we do as Canadians, humanity would use the resources of 4.3 Earths by 2020."

I'd like to think that my personal footprint is smaller than the national average. I am already doing the easy things. But to further reduce my impact, I need to start doing the hard things, and encouraging others to do the same.

Everyone's definitions of the easy and hard things will be different. Here are mine:

Easy things (that I'm already doing)

Cycling to work. This is easy for me because I can ride 6km to work, mostly on designated bike routes; have access to secure bike storage facilities and showers at the office; haven't yet got a Canadian driving license (I'm only licensed to drive on the left); hate driving only slightly less than I hate buses; genuinely love cycling; and enjoy the daily fresh air and exercise. However bicycle commuting would obviously not be so easy for someone who lives further from work and has to drop kids or dogs off at daycare on the way.

Recycling paper, cardboard, glass, metal and most plastic. Thank you, City of Vancouver, for kerbside recycling pick-up! My cousin in Columbus, Ohio used to drive her recycling to a central city facility, until it closed down. So she started transporting her recyclables out of town, until that facility also closed and the trip was no longer worth the length of the drive. She eventually gave up when her room mate, who used to take the recycling with her on trips to see her parents in Pennsylvania, moved out. That was a few years ago, so hopefully things have changed by now.

Composting. Again there is kerbside pickup for garden clippings, and I also have my own compost bin that feeds my veggie patch. Which leads me to...

Growing my own food. Who knew it would be so satisfying?! This year: tomatoes, peas, zucchini (Ruchi: learn to say courgettes), hopefully cucumbers, plums, and figs.

The green part of Monday's dinner was home grown.

Eating and drinking locally, when it's easy. I'll take the local option when available in my regular stores. The local wine is yummy, as is the summer fruit.

Not having kids. Another one that's relatively easy for me, because I just don't have very strong maternal yearnings. For me, the environmental impact of adding more people to a crowded planet is just one of many reasons I don't want to have kids. If I had strong maternal yearnings, this one would obviously be much more difficult. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those voluntary human extinction people, and I'm glad that I know some awesome people who ARE having kids. Someone obviously has to, just not all of us...

I know it's possible to raise kids sustainably, but it takes a HUGE amount of effort. I've heard the argument that it is A Good Thing to raise kids who will be aware of their impact on the environment and go on to influence others to reduce their own footprints, but I think that it would be exceptionally difficult to prevent a modern Canadian kid from being a net burden on the planet. For example, I've read a lot of blog posts about the amount of plastic crap that families and friends give to babies and children, even when specifically asked not to. I'll stick to trying to influence my nephews instead!

My husband and I have already agreed that if we ever change our minds about kids, we'll adopt. Taking someone who already exists and making their life better would, for me, override any biological imperative I might have to pass on my genes, which are dodgy anyway (family history of: cancer (various), heart disease, heart defects, high blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma, schizophrenia).

Hard things (that I need to work on)

Reducing my car usage. Much as I hate driving, I do like the convenience of cars. So I usually don't put up any resistance when my husband automatically picks up the car keys when we visit friends or go grocery shopping. I'd hoped that Sunday's big sponsored bike ride would persuade him onto a bike more often, but for various reasons (post coming soon) it is unlikely to have worked. I need to do a better job of not taking the easy option and persuading him onto public transport, even if it does mean I have to get out of bed a little earlier and put up with the bus.

Eating less meat. I love meat, but I know it's BAD. I've already started to cut down, but it's difficult when my carnivorous and very hard working carpenter husband is looking longingly at the steaks in the local market. I've committed to cooking at least one vegetarian meal per week, but those meals always take more time and effort because they have to be AWESOME. My husband is a wonderful man, but he is much more likely to miss his meat (and mention it) if the stir fry or pasta or whatever is merely average. I've just bought a vegetarian recipe book and hope to expand my repertoire. I made my very first quiche last week! Onion, mushroom and asparagus. It was pretty damn good, actually.

It's a quiche, honest! I just don't have the right kind of dish. Any meal that has cheddar cheese in the crust and Swiss cheese in the middle is OK by me.

Eating and drinking locally, when it's difficult. Despite the best of intentions, I've only been to a farmers' market once this year. It is tougher when I have to bike there and back (there is a big hill on the way), but I really do need to do better. The same goes for my other shopping habits - if there are no local options in my regular grocery store, I'll just use what they do have. And I am finding it difficult to always buy local wine when I love New Zealand whites and Australian reds so much. I know, I know.

Reducing plastic and Styrofoam usage. Sunday night is just not complete for me without sushi and a movie. Unfortunately our awesome local sushi joint uses Styrofoam for its deliveries. The same goes for our favourite Greek place. I am planning to write to them and inform them that I am willing to pay extra for recyclable or biodegradable packaging. Any month now. Along a similar time-frame, I keep hearing that the Diva cup isn't as gross and scary as I think it is.

I'm sure you can all think of more things I should be doing... can't wait to read the other posts!

Right, I'm going to cycle home now. Then we'll drive to a liquor store, where I will buy local red wine. We will proceed by car to a friend's house, where we will order Greek food (including meat) that will come in Styrofoam packaging. I am sooooo messed up.


  1. For me, buying local food is pretty easy where I am at right now, not so easy in grad school town.

    I am so impressed with you actually growing your own food; when I stop moving around so much, I will be asking you for advice!

  2. Great post, Cath. I think living sustainably is all about picking your battles. We can't all be perfect in every category. I wish I had a garden like yours! I also wish I had less of a black thumb!!

  3. Tag! Real comment coming soon, I promise. :-)

  4. hm, my foot print was fairly decent in the home country (no car, only bike, locally grown beef and veggies etc). Now? Here in the south, have to use car. Styrofoam makes me sad but my work's cafeteria only uses that. Horror.

    And along the other lines, diva cup would be something I want to use. Why I'm not already? The restrooms at work are stalls with no individual sinks to wash in... so, not that feasable at the moment :(

    I do eat veggie food two or more times a week though... but that is the single cooking talking. Trying to affect the XY, and trying to avoid the ever present [fried] chicken (and pulled BBQ pork) as it is staple here is hard. As long as I eat at home veggie works, out - not so much.

    Good post. Need to really start thinking about this again though.

  5. Great post! You're doing a good deal of great stuff!

    And I'll take the opportunity to thank my dad for the fantastic gardening he does that provides me with free local fruits and veg throughout the summer!

  6. ScienceGirl, I am by no means an expert! My advice would be to start with zucchinis, they seem to be impervious to my gardening techniques.

    I also call my lawn "the biodiversity project" and am hoping that my dandelions count as carbon offsets.

    Ruchi, thanks! We can't all be perfect, but I know I can do better. Your blog is a great inspiration and I'm really looking forward to reading the other entries in this carnival.

    Mad Hatter, I've seen that one coming around and wondered if it would hit me... could be embarrassing!

    Chall, it is definitely easier to be green in some places than in others. And the appropriate bathroom facilities definitely help too! As far as eating out, I tend to eat a lot of fish in restaurants because it's not something I'm very good at cooking myself. I do occasionally have the veggie option, but usually not!

    Stepwise, that sounds like a great arrangement. My gardening is already better than last year's effort but I'm nowhere near being able to live off it for a whole summer!

  7. Great post, and something I think about all the time too.

    I have similar issues - I love the idea of the local farmer's market, but don't make it that often (usually because I am out riding my bike - does that make it OK?). I try to bring my own bags to the supermarket, but I have to put produce in plastic bags because the disgusting checkout conveyors always seem to have some kinda weird juice/drippings/grot on them that I am afraid of consuming. I love Aussie red and find the local wines just aren't as good. And travel is a passion of mine! I enjoy meat, and find that I start dreaming about hamburgers if I eat veggie too often (my body asking for easy protein?). It seems that most of the items that make me happy are bad for the environment. Guh - no wonder I can't figure it out.

    The meat issue has been in my mind a lot recently, and I find lots of conflicting evidence - I must sort it out in my own mind somehow. If I stop eating meat (and I have, for years, when I was younger) then it is only logical that I stop using leather products (otherwise I am just skinning an animal and wasting it). And where do I draw the line? Is fish OK? Animal products like eggs and milk?

  8. Mermaid, I feel your pain re: the nasty conveyor belts. I have started using my old bread bags as produce bags. Just shake out any crumbs, and then they work perfectly well. It does mean you have to be more organized, but if you are bringing your own bags to the store, bringing in some produce bags is no big deal either.

  9. I forgot to mention my reusable grocery bags. I will put stuff like onions that get peeled anyway onto the conveyor, but I do tend to use plastic bags for my other stuff. It just confuses the cashier if you use the paper mushroom bags for tomotoes! I will have to start keeping the plastic bags for re-use - they are currently used for kitty litter.

  10. I would say that eggs and milk are better than meat, because the animal can produce so much more protein over its lifespan than if it's just eaten. But I may be wrong and just trying to justify my cheese addiction.

    I can has cheeseburger?

  11. Wow...I'm really impressed that you're growing your own food! Buying local food here is not that easy since we live in a meat-and-potatoes kind of region. I think we'd do okay with vegetables, but fruit would be more difficult.

    The real problem for me is that I crave food from my two "home countries" which can be purchased from international/ethnic grocery stores, but will never be local.

  12. I know what you mean. I would really struggle to live without bananas and avocados. And tea, of course. None of which grow in Canada.

  13. And, I just HAVE to say it:

    "It's not easy being green".

  14. Hi! I stumbled across your blog some time ago and sent the link to my oldest daughter. I can't remember if it was because of the kayaking or the science or a combination of the two (she wants to go into genetics and was thinking of a summer job as a kayaking instructor). Now, I've found you again on the APLS blog! We'll keep reading.

    She's also the one who talked me into using the Diva Cup and who keeps me on track with a lot of my eco-mistakes, so some kids... not so bad. If I had it to do over again I wouldn't have kids. I think the best I can do is impress on them the environmental impact of having their own children.

    BTW, your quiche looks....... edible;)

  15. Honestly, it sounds like you are doing awesome! It is all about a little at a time.

    The one vegetarian meal option a book sounds like a great idea. Not for me. I'm already vegetarian but I was raised that way so it's easy. ;-) I can't claim any green cred there. But I think those types of ideas are great ones. I'm trying to wear glasses 2-3x a week now instead of my contacts because of all the solutions and plastic bottles associated with contacts. These baby steps work for me. They sound like they're working for you too!

  16. Thanks both! ib mommy, this blog started off all science all the time, so it's funny that a mix of science, kayaking and APLS has brought you here twice!

    green bean, I hadn't thought of the contacts vs. glasses thing - another way for me to feel guilty! In this climate my glasses were constantly misting up or getting rained on or splatted with bugs when I was cycling, which is why I switched a few years ago. Maybe I could update my glasses and wear them occasionally, like you said.

  17. You seem pretty green to me. And you live in a beautiful city. My husband and I were there in early July and last August. I would definitely visit again. And yes, you have some fine wineries!

  18. Yes, I feel lucky to live here! You visited at the best time of year weather-wise, although I'm more of a Spring person myself.

  19. I liked this post because I went down it and kept saying, "ooh, I do that, and that, and that". Well except for biking to work. Its too far and goes through sketchy neighborhoods.

    I was amused when you put not having kids in your list, as I do it as well. Although my original reason was because I didn't want any, now I wear the environmental hat, because I like the holier-than-thou-hat. :)

  20. Yeah I love it when my selfish decisions make me look selfless!!


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