Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Wanton Consumption ... A Birth Right?

Every now and then, I hear something or read something in which the entitlement attitude is so strong that my entire body has an intensely negative reaction, and I have to remove myself from the situation lest violence ensue.

Not really. I wouldn't get violent, but I do want to yell at the speaker until he/she recants the statement and begs forgiveness from the non-human, unrepresented masses who suffer immeasurably from those very privileged and entitled feelings and sentiments. Or from the humans who have and still do suffer across the globe so that we, pampered citizens of the United States, can continue to bask comfortably in our artificially sustained, climate controlled environments.

My oldest and his family were visiting recently. He has been waiting until his son was old enough to take his family to the Boston Museum of Science, which he very much enjoyed seeing as a youth. So, we all went.

The museum is dynamic with the exhibits changing frequently, and most of the exhibits are interactive, allowing visitors to actually work on problems and find solutions, or just to learn through doing rather than just seeing. Last time we went, there was an exhibit on Ancient Egypt. This time, there was a pretty amazing exhibit on spiders. I also loved the living wall - three stories high and planted with nine different plants - most of which are typical household potted plants, and several I recognized as being good for cleaning indoor air.

One of my favorite exhibits, not surprisingly, is the one on energy, which talks specifically about renewable and low impact choices. There's an interactive display in which one is given six magnetic pucks and five energy choices: fossil fuels, solar power, hydro power, nuclear, and wind. The object is to choose the best combination to light up the city of Boston with the least environmental impact. We played with it for a while, and I was finally able to light up Boston using a combination of hydro, wind and fossil fuels. I was disappointed that in order to power itself, Boston still required fossil fuels.

Which is probably why, after coming home at the end of a wonderful, very educational day, and seeing this very entitled comment, I reacted so negatively. I had just come from playing with an exhibit that shows, at our current level of usage, there's not much chance that we, as a population, will ever be able to release ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), and the more we insist on our own, personal comfort, the more we destroy this place on which we are wholly dependent for our lives.

I grew up in the coal fields, and witnessed, first hand, the destruction of not just the beautiful land, but also of the communities. I saw how the coal industry kills, not just the environment, but also the people, who become bent and broken and old before they reach my age. They live in perennial poverty and constant deprivation. It's heart-breaking.

We all know the destruction drilling for oil wreaks on the environment, especially when it's deep water drilling, which is, really, the only untapped oil fields we have left to pump dry. How many coral reefs and sensitive coastal habitats do we need to destroy before we say, "Enough! I'll learn other ways to stay cool during the summer."?

The environmental nightmare caused by fracking for natural gas is all over the news. Fracking has resulted in the contamination of huge areas of ground water. Here in Maine, we are currently in a severe drought. Out West, they've been experiencing a severe drought for the past ten years. Can we REALLY afford to poison anymore of our water so that we don't sweat during the summer?

In short, we are killing our world so that we can live with a year-round, indoor temperature of 75°.

The comment that put my knickers in a twist was a person railing against her electricity provider's recommendation that she set her air conditioner to 78° to save money on her electric bill, and her assertion that she was not going to die of heat stroke in her apartment by having the AC set so high. I'm pretty sure if one is just sitting, watching television, that 78° is not hot enough to result in heat stroke (but to that, maybe if one turns off the television - and all other heat producing appliances in the apartment, 78° wouldn't feel so hot ... just a thought).

And I thought of that display, and all of the coal it takes to keep her apartment cool enough for her (below 78°, presumably).

And I thought of the fact that I've given up a lot of convenience to save money on my electric bill and have a lower impact on the environment. I don't have an air conditioner. I don't have a clothes dryer. I don't have a television or a VCR or a DVD player or a stereo with a CD player. There's no microwave in my kitchen, or kitchen-aid, or toaster oven, and my dishwasher is a counter-top model made for a single person who lives in a tiny home. I don't have a gas-powered lawn mower. In fact, I don't even have a lawn mower. What little lawn I do have is cut using a battery-powered weed-whacker. It takes a week to "mow" my lawn, because each of the two batteries only has about 15 minutes of charge, and I only have one charger, and it takes a whole day to recharge the battery. Fifteen minutes a day, for a week = lawn mowed. Wash, rinse, repeat. For the whole summer.

I don't say any of that to pat myself on the back, but rather to contrast attitudes. I don't think I'm a paragon of virtue, but when it comes to energy usage, I don't carry the attitude that I deserve to be cooler simply because I exist.

Recently, I stumbled across an article about an Eco-cooler. It is made from discarded plastic bottles (hooray for repurposing!), and it works to cool a very small, indoor space. It was developed in Bangledesh, where the average temperature during the summer hovers somewhere around the level required to smelt iron. It's hot. It's humid. And people live in tin huts. Even in the hottest places here in the US, we have dozens and dozens of opportunities and methods of getting cool that people who live in places like Bangledesh don't have. Talk about privilege. At very least, we have unlimited access to clean, drinkable water that's often cool as it comes out of the pipes that nearly every American apartment has as a necessity, not a luxury.

I posted the link to the cooler on my FB wall, because I thought it was very cool - you know, recycled materials, non-electric climate control device. A friend posted a rebuttal she had received from her friend about how it doesn't work. Well, excuse me, but for what it was designed to do ... and WHERE ... it does work.

For that little entitled Princess, who complained about 78° being too hot, it wouldn't work.

Which is why Boston will never be wholly powered by the hydro dam that runs across the Charles River, and on which the Museum of Science was built, or even by a combination of wind power and the dozens and dozens of solar powered homes I saw as we were leaving the city.

People don't want to give up their conveniences, because we live in a country in which we believe we work hard for what we have and we deserve to be happy and comfortable, and I wonder why a laborer in southeast Asia, who toils 60 hours a week under a baking sun in 110° temperatures with no reprieve from the heat ... often, not even a cool drink of water ... deserves less than I do.


  1. Replies
    1. Exactly my thought ;).

      I've had a hard time over the last few days, as our temperature here has pushed past 80° and the temperature inside my house is roughly the same as the outside temperature, NOT saying something akin to "Oh, no! It's 78° inside my house and I don't have AC! What am I going to do to protect my children from heat stroke?"

      I was just shocked and appalled, not only by the person who said it, but also by all of the supportive comments that followed. *shakes head* If this is the majority attitude, we're in trouble.

  2. If you have heat stroke at that temperature your probably in need of a diet and activity change in your life. That is an omen of tax payers yet to pay for her wanton abuse of her esteemed body until modern medicine must restore it. Again another right that each generation must pay for the previous ones ignorant mistakes.
    No offense meant but batteries are not effecient for the most part due to thier chemicals, disposal, and need for recharging. A hand powered mower( just sharpen it every month) shoulde work for small yards. I dislike grass and think its a huge waste of land. Land is so much more precious in other countries, as a source of homesteading and independence. I see environmental minded people level their trees in favor of grass and i get mad at their wastefulness. Sorry if i seem frustrated, but your right on many things. Thank you for being awesome!

    1. By "hand powered mower" do you mean a scythe? Or do you mean a gas-powered push mower?

      The grass I have to "mow" is not a lawn, per se, but rather spaces between garden beds and planters, some of which are too narrow to fit a mower through. Mostly it's just trimming around the garden beds. I've seen people using scythes to hay fields. The space is even a little narrow and windy for that sort of movement, and I risk hitting a plant that I want to keep if I'm using an implement that requires a very wide swing. Neither of them would work very well in the space I have.

      I know that a battery operated weed whacker isn't the best choice, but we didn't need a full-sized mower, and we didn't want a gas-powered machine. It was a very conscious and thought-out decision.

      Also, I have never cut down a tree to make more lawn. In fact, I've been decreasing my lawn space ever since I moved into my house, and on my quarter acre, we've planted 12 trees since we bought the place.

      My land is very precious to me :).

    2. Oh, wait! I get it. You mean one of the ones that has the little whirling blades. Actually, we have one of those, but it doesn't work in those narrow spaces I mentioned above. It's too wide.

      It also doesn't work for the up-close fine edging around the garden containers.

      Again, it was a very conscious choice to get a battery-operated weed whacker instead of using a traditional lawn mower.

      We don't have a "traditional" lawn with lots of open space. There are a lot of obstacles and sharp corners and narrow spaces that a weed whacker can reach, but a lawn mower - of any kind - can not. :)