Monday, July 14, 2008

Summer issue of Austin Monthly Home

It's been out for about a month. In case you missed the Austin Monthly Home "Green Issue". Here is what I had to say about growing up green:

Before everyone reading this starts handing out awards, commending each other for their green efforts and setting up a luncheon with Al Gore… I am here to tell you that you are not as Green as you think you are. I came to this reality when I was taking my own green home inventory. I realized that compared to when I grew up, we are total greedy, indulgent, all consuming mashers, yet we pat ourselves on the back for recycling and putting in double pane windows. You want to hear about true “green home living?” Let me tell you how it was when I grew up. We didn’t have a name for it at the time and there were no city rebates. We were just green out of necessity. I can’t tell if our green living came from those times or our modest economic status. Try reflecting on your own upbringing and you may too realize that you grew up greener than you could ever be today.

Let’s start with our obsession with square footage. This has got to stop. I love a cozy comfortable home with low ceilings. Am I the only one who likes this? Do we really need a separate room for every kid, their own playroom, attached kids bathrooms, a home theater room, a billiards room, a walk-in wine cooler, an office, a home gym, an art studio, a music room, a Riverdance Rehearsal room…? You get the idea. Most master closets are bigger than the rooms we grew up in. I have a friend with a treadmill that he uses in his master closet! Growing up kids shared rooms. It was part of the growth process. You had to learn to cohabitate with your siblings. We learn patience and understanding from clothes stealing and hair pulling. More importantly, think of all the massive square footage we are heating and cooling. I think it would be neat to have a specially lit eyebrow plucking room, but enough is enough.

An energy efficient home is a good green home. When I was growing up, there was one stereo, one tv and the amount of time they were on was limited. Now, when I walk around my house I am shocked and amazed at just how many things are plugged in and sucking up power. I counted four computers, two cell phones, two digital cameras, four stereo’s, 5 tv’s, multiple dvd players, ipods everywhere. I’m sure your house looks the same. I opened a closet and found an vacuum, an electric tile floor cleaner, a dustbuster and an electric swiffer. We’ve gotten too lazy to even use a traditional mop. Do you have the pre-soaked Clorox wipes in your kitchen? We’re too lazy to spray a counter today or a paper towel. This is pathetic. We’re creating massive amounts of additional trash to save ourselves an extra 20 seconds here or there. When we were kids, even paper towels were a luxury. I don’t remember paper towels in my house when I grew up. We reused wash cloths until they smelled like a dead hamster. Our kitchen sponges would last through an entire presidential administration. I remember thinking people who had Brillo pads or Dixie cups were rich. We had a pretty fancy dishwasher when I was growing up. I believe the brand was called JBNikkeStephanieChris, oddly named after me and my sisters.

Are you starting to get the idea of what massive consumers we are today? Let’s just look at the exterior of your home. Think about your tool shed today. You have a chain saw, electric pole saw, leaf blower, electric edger. This will freak you out. Did you know that your gas leaf blower running for 30 minutes puts out the same emissions as driving your car 2,000 miles! Your rake, zero emissions! I remember raking leafs through half my childhood. In fact, it’s difficult to find a photo of me from my childhood without a lawn tool in my hands. You know the famous “American Gothic” depression era painting of the old man with the pitchfork? I was the pre-teen version of that. My sisters and I would edge the lawn with a pair of hand clippers. Don’t get me wrong, we are not looking for accolades or anything, we pretty much bitched about it the entire time we were growing up. We were well compensated with dinner on the table every evening and a bad case of poison ivy on our crotch every spring. I can’t complain.

As you continue to dig into this, just as I have. Think about your childhood upbringing and compare the two. No one I know today carpools. Heck, we were even carpooling on bikes back in the day. Every memory of riding bikes as a kid I either had a friend on the handlebars or I was sitting on the bars getting “pumped.” We were so green we would conserve energy amongst friends, which in turn took fewer calories and less food consumption to sustain our energy. How’s that for green? We would walk to school, few kids do today. Have you seen the line of moms in giant SUV’s heading in and out of the schools today? My dad drove a beetle with four kids. I hated sitting in the middle. I have a funny walk to this day because it was a stickshift.

Reduce, reuse, recycle seems like such a new thing, every since the City of Austin handed out those blue bins. We were on it a long time ago. My mom could stretch the life out of clothing like no other. She would buy them big, hem them, slowly let them out and put patches on any tears in the clothing. My mom had a bit of a nautical fetish, so I was often seen sporting ships and anchors on my jeans that I had torn in skateboarding accidents or Evel Kneivel reenactments. There was nothing cool about going to school looking like the president of the Popeye fan club. Our kids would be appalled at the thought of wearing their cousins hand me downs. How about this…why don’t you suggest to your kids that they share the bathwater before they drain it? See what kind of reaction you get. Try hanging your clothes our on a clothes line to dry for on month…just try it. How’s this for recycling, one year my great aunt made us Easter baskets out of empty ivory snow containers.

I’ve really got to rethink my lifestyle. My dad was always bitchin about wasted electricity back then. At this very moment, half the lights are on in the house. The dishwasher is running, laundry is running, the landscape lighting just kicked on and the sprinkler system just finished. I’ll never forget the sprinkler system we had when I was a kid. My dad would stand in the middle of the lawn and spray in all directions til his 40 ouncer of Schlitz ran dry. Which didn’t take long. I could go on and on with my list of how we lived green back in the day. I’m not belittling those of you who just spent massive amounts of money on solar panels, rainwater collection or quadruple pane windows. I applaud those things, but really, really think about your total consumption. By the way, did you know Al Gore’s house has 8 bathrooms?


Wencked said...

Awesome perspective on living green!!! Makes me love my "little" 1700 sq. foot house even more.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe there are no comments on this post. Love it.

amanda said...

great food for thought JB - well said.