Greening your life #1: let’s take 3 little baby steps

“What to do, where to start, how do I green my life?” Perhaps it seems like an overwhelming question, so why don’t we break it down into baby steps to make it more doable and so you can congratulate yourself for doing your part. This post will focus on reducing carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) which are currently causing our environment the most trouble.

A little bit of editorial from me: there is nothing inherently wrong with a high-CO2 emitting lifestyle. I’m not making a lifestyle judgement when I encourage you to decrease your CO2 emissions. I don’t think that a high-CO2 lifestyle is “bad” or “evil.” I mean, when we breathe it is CO2 that we exhale…so how bad can it be?

The problem is the increasing per person rate of CO2 emissions, caused by our high energy-used lifestyles, multiplied by the explosive population growth our globe has experienced, 1 billion new people in the last 10 years, which has raised CO2 emissions to a point where our ecosystem, planet Earth, can not process the CO2 fast enough, via plants, etc. This is the problem. Too much CO2 and too many of us. This is why we need to individually reduce our “carbon footprints,” the amount of carbon we each contribute, to reduce emissions to a point where the Earth isn’t over-taxed and our ecosystem can go back into balance. Incidentally, the per capita CO2 emissions for Americans are 10,000 pounds annually the global average is a little over 2,000 pounds.

We are all familiar with the 3-R’s “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” however, many people don’t realize that the three words are in that specific order for a reason. Reduce is first because it eliminates waste by limiting consumption. Reuse is second because it means taking something that has already been created and using and reusing it until its spent, like turning old clothes into rags. The last step, and least important in the hierarchy, is to recycle. The reason why it’s the last step is because recycling uses energy and materials too, just not as much, so while it’s great, it’s not as great as reduce and reuse in terms of limiting waste/consumption/etc.

Because reducing is the best way to save the environment, we start with that one today:

On to the steps:

1. Make sure your to set your computer’s energy savings. One journalist wrote that by changing his settings so that his “computer and display both go to sleep when inactive for 10 minutes (as opposed to my original setting of three hours), I would save about 250 pounds annually.Talk about low-hanging fruit! For the PC I’m on right now this means going to “Start > Control Panel > Display > Screen Saver > Power.” The author in article above said that on his Apple he had to go to“System Preferences > Energy Saver.”

2. You’ve heard it before but replace your incandescent lightbulbs with compact flourescents (CFL) wherever possible. It’s impossible to overstate the potential impact of CFL lightbulbs on reducing CO2. CFL bulbs use about 1/4 of the energy of a standard bulb and last anywhere from 8 – 12 times longer representing a savings of anywhere from $25 – $50 over the life of the bulb in energy savings and replacement savings. Replacing a standard bulb with a CFL bulb saves from 100 – 400 pounds of CO2 emissions annually PER BULB depending on how often the light is used. There are already new CFLs that correct the two issues people hate most about them: their odd shape and the blue-ish color they cast. However, if you already have first generation CFLs installed, know that the light color issue can be corrected by using lamp shades that have a yellow – bronze tinge which will color the “cast light” and make it a more pleasing yellowish glow like incandescent bulbs. I’ve used this trick for the 7 CFL bulbs I have in my living room/dining room area and it works like a charm. Whenever possible, buy Energy Star certified CFLs so you know what you are getting.

3. Lower (or raise if it’s summertime where you are) your thermostat by 1 – 3 degrees. Heat and AC are the biggest costs in home energy use. The U.S. spends approximately 1/4 of all energy consumption on AC alone. By lowering or raising your thermostate 1 degree you can prevent about 300 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Now, just so you don’t think I’m basking in my perfectly temperate house while you are too hot or too cold, the fact is you probably won’t notice a single degree different or even 2 or 3. Personally, I hate forced air heat and AC…it makes my skin so dry and my contacts feel like they will pop out of my head, and we turn our heat/AC on only a handful of days a year. Call us masochists but we regularly wake up to a house that is 54 degrees in the winter because our house was built in the 1950s and has zero insulation in the walls. At some point I hope to correct that, but for now we simply dress accordingly and in the winter it is not unusual for us to sleep with 5 blankets and a hat on.

Three baby steps that can lower your family’s carbon emissions by thousands of pounds annually. It’s a great start…pat yourself on the back!

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Creating Community: How to host a progressive dinner

I’m a huge believer in the power and importance of community. I think the best part about being human is meeting and hanging out with other humans and what is community if not that? As an anthro major undergrad it always cracked me up that one of the defining characteristics of being human is that we are “social creatures” and yet we will often go out of our way to avoid interacting with each other. Like how in church or classrooms the unwritten rules are 1) avoid eye contact with strangers, 2) sit as far away from the other people as possible and 3) NEVER engage the stranger in conversation if it can be helped. Unfortunately these same rules seem to apply to American neighborhoods too.

As native Angelenos who also attended college locally, our parties are often a mix from the many different stages of our lives, however, what is surprising to our non-neighborhood friends is not that we have friends from grade school through graduate school at our parties, but the fact that we have (*gasp*) neighbors at our parties. “How did you become friends with your neighbors” is a common question.

I think the way I started to get to know my neighbors was because of my background as a Resident Advisor (RA) in college where building community and planning activities was the main purpose of the job. Being an RA was one of the most fun and fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had and it also helped me grow a lot as a person too. I think the most important lessonI learned as an RA was that a group of random and diverse people thrown together can become a community if two things exist: 1) the people WANT to become a community and 2) a little bit of energy is put into it. And since I’m still an RA at heart and I WANT to be part of a community and am willing to put some energy into it, I thought a good way to start in my neighborhood would be to plan a progressive dinner.

What’s a progressive dinner? It’s a dinner where a different course is served at a different house or apartment. It’s a fun casual twist on a potluck that throws in a little bit of walking around and house-touring. You can have as many houses/apartments as you want involved, but over the last five years I’ve fine-tuned it and I find what works best for our community is:

Saturday Night, 3 houses, 6-10PM
House 1 hosts appetizers at 6:00PM (at 6:50 I round up everyone to move on)
House 2 hosts entrees at 7:00PM (at 7:50 I round up everyone to move on)
House 3 hosts desserts at 8:00PM

If someone with kids is hosting, I always offer them first chance at the appetizer or entrée courses because the dessert house tends to be the house where people stay late.

The way I set up our dinner is that hosts provide plates/napkins/cups and drinks and then the rest of us bring the actual food dropping it off at the host houses between 5:00 and 5:45pm. That way it isn’t too much work for the hosts.

When I send out the EVITE I ask people to tell me what dish they’ll be bringing and I try to make sure that there are more 2-3 more people signed up for entrees and appetizers than for desserts since that is what people tend to eat more of. Since our parties are capped at 50 (you have to decide how many people your space can comfortably fit), I ask each person to bring enough food for 8 people to have some. I also tell the hosts that they only beverage they are required to serve is water and that anything else is up to them (usually everyone has more than that…but it’s up to them and the dessert house usually has coffee and tea.)

I always write in the EVITE that the progressive dinner is about coming together as a community and getting to know each other and not about having your house in perfect shape or serving the most amazing food ever. It’s a really fun low-pressure opportunity for people to open their houses up to the rest of the neighborhood and my neighbors have really embraced it. I always plan the events, but really it runs itself now. We do it twice a year in March/April or September/October so that it is warm enough that patios/outside areas can be used and I set a cap of 50 on our events because they’ve become so popular. I always ask around for who wants to host the next event at the current event…it’s the easiest way to get it done quickly and people never say no.

Don’t be discouraged if your first event doesn’t have 50 people (or whatever your maximum is.) Neither did ours. I think our first 2 or 3 dinners had about 25-30 people but word got around the neighborhood and now I’m constantly meeting new people at these events. Stick with it and I’m sure you’ll get the attendance you want…and who knows, maybe you won’t be the only one planning events. Our neighborhood is full of neighbors planning events and it’s fantastic. We have an annual block party that is out of control fun, a monthly book club, a parenting group…and one of our neighbors is planning the first, of what I’m sure will be a really fun and successful event, a catered wine dinner where he will impart his varietal wisdom on those of us less informed (aka: me.)

There is nothing like living among people that you know and trust. It makes everything else, the political differences, asking your neighbor to cut their trees, borrowing milk and eggs…whatever it may be…a lot easier not to mention a whole lot more fun. Coincidentally, or maybe not so coincidental, but have friends locally means you drive a whole lot less meaning you save gas/carbon dioxide. Isn’t THAT intriguing…the universe throwing me a bone?

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Singing the Praises of a Laundry Line

Whenever I tell people I have a laundry line I swear they roll their eyes at me as if to say “what a freaking treehugger.” But I promise you, it’s so much easier than you imagine. I’m not kidding, I think it literally adds no time to doing my laundry but cuts serious dollars off my utility bills and serious pounds of CO2 emission off our carbon footprint.

Plus, as you’ve probably heard me mention, I’m a big believer that if you make efforts in the right direction the universe has a funny way of throwing you a bone. For instance, since hanging my laundry out to dry my whites have NEVER been whiter. I rarely if ever have used bleach in my life, I just think that anything that smells that bad can’t be good for you. But hanging my whites out to dry makes them SO white…they were literally factory white within 2 hangings in the hot summer sun. Why you ask? Because the water in the wet cloth interacts with the sun to form hydrogen peroxide (who’s atomic composition is H2O2…only one more oxygen atom than plain old water) and naturally bleaches the whites. Not only does the sunlight whiten, but it also gets rid of any lingering odors. I learned this when living in Spain and found that the only way to get the horrible cigarette smells out of my clothes after a night of clubbing was to hang them in the sun. The clothes smelled 10 times better when hung there then when hung on the balcony that faced an inner courtyard but got no sun.

But I digress…back to my laundry line. So I was very happy that when I took the initiatve to hang out my clothes, the universe threw me the bone of whiter whites. But that’s not all the universe through me. I actually found that my laundry got put away faster because you automatically fold every item as you take it down and you don’t have to “sort” anything. I also found that hanging my laundry out, with those beautiful wooden clothespins, served as a sort of meditation and was a welcome opportunity for me to slow down my usually busybody self. So I got all of these fantastic things AND I cut my gas bill by 75%. That’s right…75%!!!! Unfortunately, because of the super hot summer, I couldn’t tell if my electric bill went down much because we had to run the A/C. But my most recent post-heat-wave electric bill was a good 30% less even though we’ve had to resort to using the dryer for about 5-10 minutes per load depending on how dry they get on the line.

Okay okay, I know what you want to ask next. But aren’t your clothes all crunchy? Actually, they are not. I find that the only thing that gets crunchy are the cotton terry towels. My solution for that is to take them down when they are about 90% dry (or even 100% dry since I usually forget) and then I throw them into my dryer with no heat on (so it’s tumbling but there is no heat.) I have two of those nubby rubber dryer balls in my dryer and between the tumbling and the balls the stiffness gets beaten right out of those towels in about 5 minutes.

My brilliant friend Is reminded me to mention that you need to be careful when hanging your colors,particularly dark colors, out to dry to make sure they don’t fade. This is an especially important note for those of you who live in places with intense sun. Turn your colors INSIDE OUT and hang them up that way to avoid fading. I also do two other things: I don’t have my super-saturated colors out during the hottest part of the day (11-2) and I take colors down as soon as they are dry (whereas with whites I might leave them up to get them super white.)

So there you have it. My praise of laundry lines. So how do you get one of your own? Read my post about how my husband and I built our own laundry line.

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