Photo courtesy Flickr
Things add up. There really are mountain climbers who shave the handles and bristles of their toothbrushes to save every possible gram of weight. When it became generally accepted that global warming is a real problem, I began to estimate the carbon cost of decisions.
This was not playing catch-up. I learned about global warming in 1967, and had been ranking transportation choices by least-to-greatest carbon impact (walk, bicycle, train, automobile, plane). I still drove, but the problem was in the back of my mind.
I considered my color Xerox habit the other day. I like to get reductions of stimulating images to use in my notebook pages. The copies I like are about a dollar a pop. They’re a low-calorie thrill on a boring week-day, but after Haiti, I found myself thinking there might be better things to do with the money.
It costs carbon to make money, and I learned in design class simply to render an image onto my page. Manual copying will eliminate worries about copyright as well as foster fine motor skills and free cash for higher priorities.
At a conference recently, my host grumbled that the students in his school want automatic light switches to save power in their dorms and classrooms. He costed out the change and found it would take twenty years to pay back the investment. He’s pondering how to educate the student body to be mindful of light switches.
A little hands-on effort is very profitable.
There’s an old Japanese story about a man who lived next to a pilgrims’ foot and horse highway. His neighbors laughed at him for collecting horse droppings, but over time they made him wealthy. I read this story to my partner, who commented that compost is manure without energy subtracted to operate the horse. I began to bury every bit of kitchen waste and sheet compost all trimmings from the garden. Thirty years later, the soil is a foot deeper in many areas of the yard, the plants are healthier, and there are areas where vegetables literally grow themselves. Garden professionals tell me I have the largest worm population of any site they know, and the lot, ten minutes’ walk from the center of the city, teems with wild birds and small raptors. Pests are no problem, and the place smells like the woods.
I achieved these results with less effort than hauling reeking refuse to the alley, and I cut my solid waste bills literally to nothing for the few years that zero garbage service was an option, and then to the legal minimum.
Composting saved the carbon load of hauling trash and earning the income to pay the city to carry away the wealth of the soil.