Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lazing a Trail to Sustainability

Many of the things we’re supposed to do to “save the earth” fall into the category of onerous tasks requiring more time, money, and effort than their less eco-friendly alternatives.

For example, we know it’s good to bike to the food co-op to fill our reusable hemp bags with local organic produce, but we’re more likely to just hop in the car and grab some plastic-wrapped Chinese take-out.

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Indeed, even among those who care deeply about the environment, most are too busy or too lazy to consistently perform out-of-the-way eco-chores. Here’s the unfortunate reality: If saving the environment depends on a majority of the citizenry voluntarily doing things in more difficult, expensive, and time-consuming ways, it won’t happen. I see three ways to get around that:

1.     By making it the LAW to be green. We already have environmental laws that apply to industries and organizations. Perhaps in the future we’ll have more laws governing individual behavior as well, like fines for not recycling. I can’t imagine this being popular, but who knows?
2.     By having economic INCENTIVES to be green, like extra taxes and fees on products and services that are bad for the environment combined with subsidies for products and services that are good for the environment. (Currently a lot of our laws do the opposite of this, like subsidizing eco-nasty fossil fuels, meats, and sugar while putting fees on eco-friendly solar power, etc.)
3.     By emphasizing how some kinds of LAZINESS can actually be greener than industriousness. This would get us away from the stifling notion that being green always requires extra work, but it would require removing existing taboos against certain types of laziness.

In this blog post I’ll focus on eco-friendly laziness by giving examples of specific ways that less work can accomplish more good for the environment.

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Examples of eco-friendly laziness that we should embrace:

1.     Cleaning Less. Cleaning the house consumes a lot of electrical energy and pollutes the environment with nasty detergents, disinfectants, and disposable cleaning implements. And it’s a pain in the ass. Save the environment by cleaning less often and less thoroughly.

2.     Lazy Laundering. Doing laundry is also a big environmental burden, which wastes water and energy and contaminates the water. Embrace your lazy distain for laundry by re-wearing clothes until they start to actually look and smell dirty, then re-wear them one more time as your working-out or fixing-the-car clothes. Underwear and t-shirts may not last more than one or two uses, but pants or an outer shirt could go for a week. Another lazy aspect of eco-laundering involves washing all your clothes in big, unsorted loads on the cold setting. Yes, some of your whites may turn strange colors, but that just marks you as a true earth-saver.    

3.     Letting the Lawn Go. Lawn care is labor intensive, energy-intensive, water-intensive, and chemical intensive. Fresh water, in particular is a precious resource that should be reserved for drinking, irrigation of food crops, and supporting natural wetlands and waterways. Also, lawn fertilizer is notorious for leaching into streams and groundwater and then causing harmful algae blooms in lakes and rivers. Even if the costs of maintaining a “perfect” lawn weren’t so high, the lawn itself is an eco-loser: It has very low biodiversity (only 1 plant species) and provides only a fraction of the beneficial functions of a naturally-vegetated area. Lawns give little food or hiding places for animals, no energy-saving shade or wind protection for your house, and minimal runoff and erosion control. So you should let your lawn be taken over by the natural vegetation that grows in your area, which doesn’t require watering or fertilizer. Trade your mower for a machete, and just cut a path through the brambles to your door. Caveat: I recognize that communities and individuals have a legitimate need to maintain certain open areas for sports fields, public assembly grounds, etc., and that mowed lawn is better for these areas in comparison with alternatives like pavement or bare dirt. I'm just saying that if something doesn’t NEED to be lawn, the best thing we can do for the environment is to be lazy and let nature take it over.

4.    Working Less. Working less is good for the environment because it means you’ll be driving less, using less gas and creating fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Also, since you won’t be making as much money you’ll be buying less; eschewing the goods and services that you don’t really need. (See #5)

5.    Not Bothering to Shop. Being too lazy to shop for food and stuff is good for the environment because not buying as much means that less will be produced. This reduces the consumption of energy and raw materials and reduces pollution. Also, your being too lazy to shop forces you to efficiently use up every last bit of what you have, so there is less waste accumulating in your house or going to the landfill.

6.     Giving Up the Fight. Much is made of the irrepressible, industrious spirit that inspires men and women to rebuild after a natural disaster, or to invest millions and billions in engineering projects to fight the destructive forces of nature. Sometimes, though, that spirit is foolishly applied to losing battles; situations where a tactical retreat would lead to a better outcome for both humanity and the environment. So instead of praising those who go the hard way to rebuild and maintain their increasingly vulnerable holdings, we should praise those who take the “lazy” way and cede their land to nature.   

Well, that’s about all that I can think of for now. Do y’all have any of your own ideas of ways we could apply laziness to sustaining the environment?


Johnny Douglass said...

Hey! You’re a chip off the old block. Let lazy work for you is my mantra and, as you point out, it can be green too. I especially like the idea to let the lawn go. Tell people it’s a rain garden. Soon, when you’re outside you’ll be able to pee in your yard without the neighbors seeing. That will save flush water and eliminate need to vacuum the dirt you’d otherwise track into the house. The wild animals that your “gone-natural” yard attracts will be more diverse and hang around longer. Give names to the regular animals. It builds a bond of affection for them and, unlike owned pets, you don’t need to pay for their health care and food.

Catherine said...

Hmmm. There must be a fine line between conserving your own energy to protect natural resources and becoming a stinky, lazy lout not willing to do one's share to keep house and home somewhat tidy. I personally find serenity in a clean house and a cared for yard, though tall grass is one of the loveliest of nature's gifts so if people give up lawn mowing, so be it. Granted, too much cleaning can get in the way of creative living, but so can too much dust.

James Douglass said...

Dad- I think I'll use your "rain garden" idea. We'll see what our landlord and the City of Bonita Springs say about that.

Mom- Good points. All the members of a household would have to be in unanimous agreement about how much cleaning and yard care they were going to do. I'm not advocating untidyness and total lack of hygiene- just a strategically thrifty approach to avoid superfluous use of electrical energy and chemical cleaning agents.