The extraction of “unconventional” fossil fuels, whether through fracking, deep-water drilling or the unimaginable waste of Canadian tar sands, has provided much of the motivation in my personal life to methodically reduce our family’s CO2 footprint. Since the baseline year of 2000, we have managed to reduce our contribution to greenhouse gasses by approximately 90 percent.
It is an ongoing effort, and the process has taught me a lot about myself and our culture. I have come to realize that most of us are addicted, in the truest sense of the word, to massive amounts of cheap energy.
Habits and patterns associated with addiction are typically characterized by immediate gratification (short-term reward), coupled with delayed deleterious effects (long-term costs). Addicts are also really good at denial.
The energy we crave is becoming increasingly scarce, riskier to extract and more expensive. The damage to our oceans, forests and aquifers is immeasurable. I do not want to contribute to the ongoing rape of our beautiful planet. If you think rape is too strong a word, just do a flyover of a fracking field in Google Earth.
At our house, for the most part, we have learned how to live within our solar budget, including driving an electric vehicle charged with 100 percent solar energy. It’s not perfect and there is plenty of embodied energy in the things we use, but we have not purchased electricity for more than nine years and no oil or gasoline for the EV for nearly three years now. We do still own one gas-guzzling Prius for longer trips.
We are consciously changing the way we live. Our solar home keeps us more in sync with natural energy flows. We use solar-heated water when it is most available, allowing us to keep the gas-fired water heater turned off for much of the year. We’re learning to “live in place,” enjoying where we are right now rather than compulsively flying all over the place in search of carbon-intensive satisfaction.
With regard to living a greener lifestyle I used to say, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” That has not worked. Now I believe it is time for everyone to do everything they possibly can to break our collective addiction. Our future is at stake.
Diet, lifestyle, mobility, reproduction, habitat, politics — no aspect of our lives should be exempt from careful examination and adjustment. There are many opportunities and they all matter.
In almost every case, the sheer number of human beings is a huge part of the problem. I think it is important to have more open discussions about population, in much the same way we discuss the impact of technology. The combination of 7 billion people and profligate consumption is putting our future at risk.
The “Living Planet Report 2014” was recently released by the WWF (also known as World Wildlife Fund). The study shows that over the past 40 years, the human population has doubled while the number of wild animals has plummeted by 52 percent. Biodiversity, the fabric of life on which we depend for survival, is unraveling.
In the document’s foreword, WWF Director General Marco Lambertini writes:
“In less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half. These are the living forms that constitute the fabric of the ecosystems which sustain life on Earth — and the barometer of what we are doing to our own planet, our only home. We ignore their decline at our peril.”
Lambertini continues, “We need a few things to change. First, we need unity around a common cause. Public, private and civil society sectors need to pull together in a bold and coordinated effort.
“Second, we need leadership for change. Sitting on the bench waiting for someone else to make the first move doesn’t work. Heads of state need to start thinking globally; businesses and consumers need to stop behaving as if we live in a limitless world.”
You will find the report at www.panda.org. (I’ll post the full link on my website at www.greendream.biz.)
Green living means living within the carrying capacity of our only home. Every action is a choice, including no action. Only one path leads to a future we can live with. Let’s take it together — right now before it is too late.
Steve Rypka is a green living consultant and president of GreenDream Enterprises, a company committed to helping people live lighter on the planet. For more information and links to additional resources relating to this column, or to reach Rypka, visit www.greendream.biz.