Friday, March 13, 2009

An Aha Moment - How Big is Your Family's Carbon Footprint?

You wouldn't believe how much energy your family's home and activities use, and more importantly, waste. A recent afternoon curled up with my "must read" pile that I accumulate over the week provided me with a lightbulb over the head moment! As I read the informative March issue of National Geographic regarding the average American's home and carbon emissions I looked up and was shocked at how blind I had been! As I looked around my immediate environment I saw: 6 rooms lit, a TV on in an empty kitchen, a TV on in the room I was "reading" in,2 desktops and one laptop "on," a window cracked open still from the warm day before, and the vacum cleaner waiting to be put away from just being used. I could hear a radio, the thump of our heater turning on in response to the now cool brisk morning, the dishwasher, laundry and my husband showering upstairs all going at once. All this - and it was 7:30 am, and only 2 people were in the house. Like a guilty puppy, I jumped and scampered all over, turning off lights, radios and TVs. Vacuuming hardwood floors instead of sweeping, the lights, TVs and radio - right then, clear as day, was a crystal clear sign of my family's plain ole' laziness and non-chalant lack of concern regarding our home and enviornment and let's not forget, our finances!
Some say that a family of 5, with both parent's working, it's reasonable to have the dishwasher, laundry and shower all going at once. But it isn't reasonable - it's downright excessive!
Our dishwasher has a delay wash button, as does our laundry. It would be better to stagger the water use, and even more efficient to time our usage at the during the non- peak hours. Late at night is just as convenient, you don't have to be around and hear what little noise they make now and then and you can swap things in the morning etc., I started giving un-planned and impromtu "bonuses" to the family when they knowingly or unknowingly, behaved in a more eco friendly manner. When a kid FINALLY remembered to take OFF the plastic caps on soda bottles, milk gallons or gatorades before recycling, or turned off the TV as they left a room, and maybe even some lights, I casually offered them an extra five for pocket money that week, or cooked their favorite breakfast, or offered extra scoop of icecream. After about a week or two the kids knew something was up... and in a good way! Finally my son said why are you in such a good mood lately? I didn't miss a beat, I had been waiting for them to ask ME, so I wasn't "lecturing" them! I replied, "when we save energy, and do things to help, instead of hurt the environment I get in a good mood. The extra dollars you're helping Dad and I save by turning things off make it so I have a few extra bucks here and there, so I'm passing it on. On Thursdays I try to plan our weekend adventures, errands and running around so we don't waste a mile. Instead of dividing and conquering, my husband and I try to merge the needs of the family in the most efficient ways. The bonus - we have more time for ourselves! My kids are getting used to me saying, "I can take you there, but how about in a 1/2 hour, when I'm also taking your sister in the same direction?" Or, "nope, you need to plan a little better, see if you can car pool - I'm not going 10 miles in 1 direction to immediately turn around and go 15 more miles in the opposite direction just so you two can get ready together."
We live in a world that has an underlying current of urgency in all things. Many of our new technological advances have done wonderous things, they have also created a generation of people who demand instant gratification in the sound of a click.
In our children's eyes everything needs to happen, now. They want to get in the car and go to the mall now, not for any particular reason, just to go. At first I was told it was ri-dic-u-lous that I wanted to turn the computers off at night. WHY? They fought me hard on this one! WHY - it will take too long to boot up in the morning before school, just in case some one posted some thing on their facebook 2 seconds after they went to bed. The sports world has created a whole new travel niche in the escalated and elite "travel" team. Exxons, Paneras and Courtyard's across the country are grateful for the soccer/baseball/basketball/lacrosse/football etc.,etc., parent who packs her van, surburban, Explorer and carts her children up and down the coast. The kids who are eally good - they are loaded into planes to play 4 or 5 games. Don't get me wrong, I lived the soccer mom life. I enjoyed it and my son loved it. But I can say now, at the time, I didn't see how much waste was involved. We carpooled, we packed food and all that. But was it really necessary for our 10 and 11 year olds to go up and down the coast to get a good game of soccer? Yes most of our team excelled and now plays in college, but I'm pretty sure they would still be playing even if we had held off on the travel until they were a little older. Perhaps if we all vowed to cut back a little on our excessiveness, the by product would be a quieter, simpler and greener world. We might have to wait a little to get the next _________ or go to the next ________, etc. Oh well!
From my perspective, there is a lot to be said for anticipation, hoping, dreaming and wondering. More importantly, the legacy we will leave our children's children will be a cleaner and healthier world.
Think of five ways your family can reduce their foot print. Then act on them. Enjoy the fringe benefits!

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