Saturday, April 25, 2009

When Green Sprawls

For the last year and a half, Mike and I have lived in the upper northeast corner of Dupont Circle, a wonderful part of Washington DC, which has all the conveniences you can imagine in city living: a grocery store three blocks away, at least three dry cleaners within four blocks, three ice cream shops down the street I live on (this is crucial in the DC summertime), bars and restaurants galore starting a block away and continuing for many blocks in every direction around our apartment building, even a dog park across the street. We don't own a dog, mind you, but there's something so wonderfully cheerful about dog parks. All these happy dogs running in circles around each other, or free to dig in the dirt if they so choose. And the dog owners, standing around together, watching their dogs, making small talk, creating a sense of community without having to even try very hard.

I love the location we live in, but so does everyone else and thus it comes at a decent premium. Now that Mike and I are both in school, we've stopped going out as much as we used to, primarily due to the lack of time between work and school. I find myself barely leaving the apartment for entire weekends now, and yet we're still paying the premium for our location. So, we've decided that we'd like to stretch our legs a little and find a new place that will accommodate the professional student lifestyle a little better. You know: slightly bigger, perhaps with room for a desk or two, and not necessarily in the center of the city since we're not using that anymore. After the last month of apartment hunting, we've finally just chosen a place this weekend. It's definitely big enough for two desks, and it is definitely outside of the city center-- but it's still very accessible to the city because it's right next to a metro stop, and actually sits on two different metro lines, so we'll have options in terms of mass transit.

But why am I blogging about this and what does it have to do with sincere green?

Well first of all, the apartment we're moving into is both bigger and has central AC, a dishwasher and a washer and dryer. You can bet that the nineteenth-century building we live in now has none of these things. The prospect of having them soon is both exciting for the modern conveniences, and terrifying because I can feel my carbon footprint doubling just thinking about it. So it will be interesting to see if I can still manage to justify calling my lifestyle green after the simple move of changing apartments.

Secondly, the idea of urban sprawl is readily on my mind as I make the move from a high-compact city to a far less dense suburban area. We don't have a car and will still rely on the metro to get from place to place, but suddenly we'll rely on the metro a lot more than we do now, because everything I walk to now will soon be a few metro stops away at its closest. Mass transit is good, but walking is better, so I'm increasing my carbon footprint there too. We're certainly hoping, of course, to explore our new highly-residential neighborhood and find the staples we need so that we will be able to buy milk without relying on the metro, but at this point I'm not sure what we'll find.

And so, I'm looking at this move as a case study on being green in the suburbs. Wish me luck.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Strange Bedfellows

I'm afraid the anti-consumerism movement has a new enemy. 
Bed bugs.  

For the first time since World War II, bed bugs are making a comeback around the world with a vengeance.  In the US, the problem has become so bad that earlier this week, the EPA held a two-day summit on the pervasive problem of bed bugs.  Not only are the tiny blood-sucking insects showing up in powerful numbers, but they're also appearing in unexpected places. Cell phones.  Computer keyboards.  Clock radios.  Commonly thought of us a problem only in impoverished or badly maintained areas, the pests are now equal opportunity invaders.   Complaints are pouring in from people and businesses of all economic statuses, including 5-star hotels. 

One article I read speculated that an increase in world travel is helping to spread bed bugs, which makes sense.  Mike also pointed out to me that Craigslist might be another culprit.  People are trading furniture a whole lot more these days, and with bed bugs being so difficult to detect, it can be impossible to know if you're passing along a colony of vampires along with that charming used love seat.  And with that point, I panicked.  All of our furniture, even our mattress, were acquired used.  The majority of my clothes were second-hand purchases from thrift stores.  I'm a likely victim of bed bugs.  For the first time in my life, I found myself wanting to throw away my belongings and buy everything brand new in sterile plastic wrap, just to make sure I'm not bringing bed bugs home.  

Mind you, I'm not a very squeamish person, and I've never thought twice about picking up a bookshelf from the side of a dumpster and bringing it home.  If bed bugs are now making me rethink having used furniture, imagine how hard it's going to be to get squeamish people to be comfortable bringing used items into their home?  Anyone who ever previously hesitated buying used items is definitely going to avoid them now.  And with that realization, I panicked even more.  Bed bugs are terrible for the environment!  They could single handedly wipe out the growing trend toward exchanging used goods, and make the concept of landfill diversion just a myth from the past.  Because bed bugs are so hard to get rid of, if someone suspects a piece for furniture (or a cell phone, apparently) might be infested, their best bet is to just throw it away.  So not only are people not seeking used goods, but they are also more likely to get rid of things they would otherwise keep.  

Bed bugs are my new environmental nemesis.   We need to get rid of them to keep the loop of used goods in cycle.  I'm finding myself weighing the virtues of DDT.  There is apparently a natural powder that is harmless to mammals and the environment but kills bed bugs.  Maybe I'll buy stock in that company. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Gleefully Frugal

There's a great article in the New York Times today about people embracing frugal lifestyles in today's tough economy.  More than just a practical (or necessary) budgetary act, frugality is being given much broader consideration lately; it's what the article refers to as "the emergence of thrift as a value."  I'm thrilled to see society progressing this way.  

The article primarily focuses on the economic and social sides of the trend towards thrift, but it's not shy about also linking the environmental benefits of embracing thrift.  Regardless of whether you're giving up paper napkins because you've realized they were an unnecessary expense or because they are a waste of paper, you are benefiting the planet with your conscious decision to live with less.

On the economic side, the article also addresses the "paradox of thrift," the concern that when  the economy is already struggling, it is dangerous (even "catastrophic" as the article mentions) for people to react by saving instead of shopping.  However, the argument I'd make is that our economy has reached a tipping point and we can no longer be as focused on material consumerism if we want to be even remotely sustainable.  And I'm not even talking environmental sustainability here, I'm talking the survival of civilization.  I think that the only economic solution that will get us out of this mess is the one that recognizes "gleefully frugal" anti-consumerism as the way of the future, and manages to build an economy from the ground up accordingly.  Exactly what that economy looks like, I'm not quite sure, but I'm certain that with some creativity, that economy is possible.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sincerely blogging better

I'm a neglectful blogger, and I apologize for that.  It's been brought to my attention that my blog on sustainability didn't turn out to be very sustainable itself. Oh, the ironies.  I'm going to try to fix this.  In the coming weeks, you will hopefully see some changes to Sincere Green.

These changes will partially be in the look and layout of the blog, in order to support the changes in content that I also hope to make.  The intention of the blog was to be all green all the time, but it turns out I have a lot of loosely related interests I want to talk about too.  I often find myself wanting to talk about materialism and the economy and notions of success or status, but I haven't blogged about these things in the past if I couldn't make a clear connection to the environment with the topic.  Realizing this, I thought about starting a brand new blog with a broader frame to give myself the freedom to write about all of these different topics, including but not limited to the green ones. 

My sister just called me to advocate for keeping the Sincere Green title of my blog and allowing myself more freedom within this existing blog- and I think she's right.  She pointed out to me that all issues relating to the economy and our consumer society do impact the environment eventually, and one of the biggest problems we have today is that people don't readily see that.  So, she argued, whether the point I am writing about at any given time has direct links to environmental issues or not, it's important to keep the distant correlations in mind, and to talk about non-environmental topics in the context of the environment too.  So I'm going to give myself the freedom to go outside the green box-- to see what I'm inspired to write about when I am not limiting myself to green-only topics, and we'll see if I become a better blogger for it.  

Here's to hoping!