Sunday, November 22, 2009

It’s Not Easy Being Green – But It Has To Be

I'll be the first to admit that I talk more about being green than I actually do.

I'll bet most of us do.

I was reading Ian Aspin's ReallyGoodThinking blog this morning - he was talking about how we have to be "Super Heros" - each and every one of us - to change the tide of the environmental changes we see happening before our eyes.

And I thought to myself - "Super Heros?, that sounds pretty hard. Good luck achieving that one!"

Clearly, with all due apologies to Kermit the frog, it's not easy being green.

I wrote a long piece here a year or so ago about developing trains that will carry cars like a ferry, and how if that were to happen – and actually catch on - the cars would evolve to be more compatible with the trains that ferry them.

But the two cars I own are gas guzzling pigs – A Chrysler 300 and a Jeep Liberty.

Why would I buy those two cars?

Because I live in the heart of North American automobile manufacturing – on both sides of the U.S. Canada border, and Chrysler (or Chryslers as we know them in Windsor) are a very big part of our local economy.

And because I got a really great deal on both.

I buy only the new style of low energy light bulbs – but only because the legislation in Ontario is that we have to use these bulbs. I actually like the old ones better – they don't need a warm up period when they turn on. If you flip the light switch they immediately come on bright – not dim like the new ones until they warm up to a point where you can see what you're doing.

I put environmentally friendly lawn care products on my lawn – but only because the province of Ontario has banned the old fashioned "good stuff".

We still use canned products like non-stick cooking sprays and such – that release fluorocarbons into the air and eat away at the o-zone.

And I will print an email or a word document or a spreadsheet so that I can take it away – digest it fully to completely understand what is being conveyed to me – and dispose of it into the office supplied shredding boxes when I'm done. If I need another copy – I print another copy when I need it.

Our washing machine uses only the "he" (high efficiency?) detergents – because that's the only type of detergent the washing machine can use – and it cleans our clothes much better than the old style one we had. And this dryer doesn't eat every button off my good dress shirts and slacks like the old one did.

I'm all for saving buttons. They're a bugger to sew back on.

Our swimming pool in the back yard re-uses most of the water it holds year after year – but we pump chlorine pucks, algaecides, and acidity equalizers into that water to keep it sparkling clear.

Who wants to swim in murky water?

One of the fellows I work with just finished installing some thirty-five or so solar panels on his roof. We were talking about it at lunch on Friday. He did the work himself and says he dumped about twenty-five grand into this project.

"I admire your conviction to do something to save the planet", I said.

"I'd love to tell you that's why I did it", said my slightly eccentric colleague. "Truth be told", he continued, "I did it for the financial return."

"Really?", I was kind of surprised, "How long before you can see a return on that twenty-five grand?"

"About six years?"

I just looked at him as he took another bite of grilled chicken.

"If I wouldn't have done the work myself, it would have taken be about fifteen years!"

I think he saw my confusion in the way my jaw dropped and my eyes bulged.

"It's not something everybody will jump up and do. I did it partially to see if I could", he explained. "It took about two years, and I cut a special hatch to my roof so I could get quick access".

"So I guess your wife has long left you then, eh?"

"No – she hasn't. She actually helped! Not voluntarily mind you!"

My eccentric friend – eccentric in the way many software programmers are eccentric – went on to continue telling me that the electricity he produces is now greater than the amount he consumes. He signed a twelve year contract with the power company – and he gets a larger check from the power company than he pays to the power company for the energy his house uses.

"All the power the panels create goes into the power grid and my house takes power from the grid just like anybody else's."

"The last time we talked, you were putting up a windmill?", I asked.

"I was, but the neighbors complained". He looked down at his plate.

They're not allowed to complain – another one of Ontario legislated green initiatives states that unless you are putting up a really big windmill, or unless your blocking a significant piece of scenery from your neighbors view, like a lake view or something – that they cannot complain.

"I didn't want the neighbors all hating me.", he said. "Besides, the maintenance to keep that turbine working efficiently enough to produce optimum power is pretty high".

Clearly, it is not easy being green.

Now, with all this being said, I know one thing to be true.

People – in general – meaning people who are not eccentric brilliant software programmers – are not going to go out of their way to be green.

People – in the manner of the common masses – will always take the path of least resistance.

The less the resistance – the better – until the clear advantage to the common masses clearly outweighs the inconvenience.

Twenty five grand for a large do-it-yourself project is not exactly the path of least resistance.

The only solar power used at my home is the blanket I put on my pool to warm up the water to a swimmable temperature in the early June and late August days. And those little garden lights that have strategically stuck in various parts of my grounds.

They both serve a convenient purpose and they do not do anything to contribute to the betterment of our environment.

Green cars either cost a ton of money – like the new hybrids and electric powered cars showing up on the market, or are so impractical for a family of four – like the smart cars by Mercedes – which look like they need to poles sticking out the front so the rickshaw pullers can help you get up enough speed to get on the expressway on-ramp.

They just don't fit yet.

I read a great book some years ago – written by an employee from IBM – in which he discussed what it took for a software program to reach "critical mass" – the point where everybody saw a feature in the program that they couldn't live without – like email of the day.

You have seen these applications emerge – the iPod to download and play your favorite music. The digital camera to take millions of high quality pictures to store on your computer and print when you need to. The various new applications on phones like texting that is quickly surpassing email as a means to communicate with friends and business colleagues.

These applications all have the same lowest common denominators. They are simple, they are convenient, they do not require a tremendous investment to use, and they are seen to make our immediate personal quality of life immediately better.

The push to be environmentally friendly has to continue to move this way. To be "green" must be convenient - and must show immediate benefit to the consumer.

It shouldn't have to be legislated by the government.

The green movement has to reach critical mass. Or – as Al Gore will quickly tell you, our planet is doomed.

Products we commonly use must become convenient and affordable to use to contribute our environmentally efficient objectives.

Currently there are some who a seen in the media as pushing the need to change our lifestyles quickly before the impacts of global warming completely change our big blue marble in horrific ways.

But their means for spreading their gospel is to guilt the masses into changing. Harping on our human flaws like our gluttonous waste of materials that demand greater landfills, or our gluttonous use of natural resources like water, clean air, and oil to serve our simple needs to get kids to soccer practice in large SUVs.

Making us feel bad won't make us change our ways.

And we don't as a broad mass of people yet fully recognize what the full extent of global warming means to us, more so to our children, or even more so to our children's children.

No matter how many power-point presentations turned into movies are presented by newly-bearded ex-presidential candidates.

We need that "What's in it for me" question to be clear – concise – and indisputable – understood by everyone!

And it has to be convenient.

The Inconvenient Truth exposed by Mr. Gore has to have a clearly convenient resolution. There has to be a resolution that everyone can adopt without sacrifice.

It's the law of achieving "critical mass".

It has to stop working against the path of least resistance, and instead start embracing that easy path.

People will go with the flow – if the flow goes where they want it to go!

I don't want to see the planet self destruct.

And I don't know how accurate the gloom and doom predictions of the environmental pundits of the day are.

But I do know that the as a whole, the human inhabitants of this planet are gluttons to the worst degree.

And gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins.

Now that being said, I really have to get to work hanging our Christmas lights today before it gets any colder. It's more convenient you see to hang them now.

And I'm proud to say they are all LED lights. So I'm doing my part.

Why? Because LED lights are cheaper to buy now, cheaper to turn on every night from now 'til New Years Day, and they look nicer than the old style.

It's beneficial to me to use LED Christjmas lights.

See what I mean?

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