can we buy our way to a greener planet?

So I was stumbling around the internets today, and ran across this site. I’ve been thinking a lot about our consumption of energy lately (although I still haven’t bought a new car). For some as-yet-undetermined reason, our electric use has increased tremendously in recent months. Landisdad thinks it’s due to our expanded use of dehumidifiers in the basement. I’m blaming the dryer, which is really just more of a tumbler of clothing at this point–I think it might be getting up to 50 degrees in there, but not much more. It’s certainly taking waaaaaay longer than normal to dry the clothes.

Anyway, I’ve flown a lot for work this year, and we’re all about to go away on vacation. I was somewhat startled to see, though, that our family’s total flight time has created about 7.5 tons of CO2. Ugh! When I added up the miles we drove, and the energy we use at home, I was feeling pretty bad about the whole thing.

I’m not really sure how I feel about the idea about offsetting one’s bad behavior by buying carbon credits. There are other things I’d like to do to reduce our energy consumption–landisdad and I have been talking about putting solar panels on our roof, for example. Can you have solar panels on your roof without being considered cranks by your neighbors, though? I think we’ll do it when our roof needs replacing, but I’m not sure we’re ready to go through all that work yet.

We were watching Mythbusters the other night, and they did a show about whether or not it actually saves electricity if you turn off the lights when you leave a room. Conclusion? Yes, it’s much better to turn the lights off than to leave them on when you exit a room. Great. Now if I could only get my kids to actually do it!

I didn’t buy myself a TerraPass, but I am still thinking about it. I guess I’m not opposed to paying to offset the environmental effects of our consumption, but I’d still like to find ways of reducing our overall use of energy. What are the things that your family does to use fewer resources? And how do you talk to your kids about it?


December 14, 2006. politically motivated, thoughtful parenting.


  1. Kimberly replied:

    We don’t turn on lights if the sun is shining. Why pay for something when nature is already providing it? Plus, it makes the whole not turning off the lights thing a bit of a non-issue.

    Our big one is we don’t have a car. We either bus or walk most places we go. Diva Girl doesn’t love that, especially during a Canadian winter, but we talk a lot about how expensive a car is, and how bad it is for the environment for everyone to always be drving everywhere.

  2. chichimama replied:

    We actually just had a conversation about global warming yesterday (r I should say *I* had a conversation with C about global warming…anyway, he ran around and turned off all the lights, even then night light in his room! Although it went back on pretty quickly.

    I tried to talk M into a hybrid when we bought a new car, but it was so much more expensive, and it would have taken us 15 years to offset the cost through reduced gas consumption at the rate that I don’t drive the car, and given out current financial situation, I couldn’t convince him that our buying a hybrid car would save the world. I actually fell rather guilty about our car because it is not all that gas efficient, but it wasn’t a battle I could win. M had his mind sent on it.

    M has gone paper free as much as possible in our home office, and I’ve been trying to eliminate our use of paper products around the house. We also keep the heat very low, like 60ish, except when someone is coming over. I wash in only cold water, and when our current hot water heater kicks the bucket we will get one of the instant on ones which apparently is the most energy efficient option out there.

    I’ll be curious to see what other people do…

  3. Elizabeth replied:

    Before doing anything radical with the dryer, clean the vent — it improved ours’ efficiency dramatically.

    We just put florescent fixtures into our halls, which helps a good bit. But living in a townhouse (vs. detatched house) and taking public transit to work are the big things that reduce our energy burden.

  4. Twiss replied:

    When I lived in a studio in San Francisco, my electric bill was about $10 a month. I had a heater that was never used the entire time I lived there. I took public transportation. I walked. I did every green thing there was to do. But this summer I moved home to take care of my aging father. I am living in the house I grew up in. The winter lows can be in the teens but hover around freezing. The summer highs can be in the 110s but are usually around 90. We don’t have air conditioning. We don’t have central heat. The house is well-insultated and once you get it warm (some electric heaters and a fireplace) or cool (our summer nights do not stay warm), it will STAY that way. Over time the windows have been replaced with double-paned ones. We’re looking into a fireplace insert but wow they are expensive. Dad is sold on whatever solar improvements can be made as we have a solar generator on a pump to water livestock and he loves that thing. Mostly we wander around in the cold and the dark. We heat only the rooms we’re in and close the doors on everything else. We wear sweaters all the time. We hang clothes on the line unless it’s too cold for towels to get dry; the dryer is only for emergencies. We don’t use the dishwasher unless we have company – but that’s as much about the water as it is the power. Now that I’m here, I’ll have to buy a car and since we live 20 miles from the nearest gas station, a hybrid makes the most sense and seems the most responsible. I’m looking at a Honda Element just because they sit up a little higher and we live just off a very dangerous road so the more visability the better.

  5. chip replied:

    I think maybe the biggest effect isn’t so much buying the passes as it is seeing how much carbon etc we produce from a lifestyle we don’t even think about. We switched over to 100% windpower for our electricity last year, which I’m thinking helps some. But yeah, airflights are really unavoidable sometimes. I wonder if there’s any move to get airplanes to be more efficient and clean?

  6. thordora replied:

    The dryer is likely a big issue. Considering the cost to buy one that’s more efficient, you might be better off doing so. I know we’ll be getting a new one in January during the white sales since we have a similar problem. Many of us have appliances that are over 15 years old, and not functioning properly.

    We’ve also started replacing all the bulbs, our heat is kept to the bare minimum, lights/items turned off when not needed, we don’t own a car, we use transit/walk, buy locally, and attempt to do so with the minimum amount of packaging.

    Sometimes it takes a little extra time, but we feel it’s worth it for the girls. IF we buy a car, it WILL be a hybrid. It’s only fair to walk the talk.

    It does get depressing if you think about it too much though. But little things CAN add up.

  7. Jennifer replied:

    I don’t know how to talk about it with the kids. I mean, how do you get a kid to conserve water when he says, “But it just comes out of the tap!” Because he’s right, it’s just there whenever you need it…

    I try to buy foods as close to original as I can. This time of year it’s lots of canned or frozen fruits and veg and nuts, cheese and eggs, meat. I rarely buy potato chips or that kind of thing… We eat our bfast and lunch cold — sandwiches or just fruit and cheese.

    I keep the heat low but not as low as Chichimama (yikes!). Public transport is basically non-existent here but it’s a small town so even on days when I run a million errands, I only drive about 15 miles total. I try to cluster the errands so I’ll have days when I never get in the car — that’s mostly in summer — walking or biking anywhere we need to go.

    As I’m listing these things they seem pretty pathetic. I’m still an energy hog.

    You know the #1 thing I do to “help the environment”? I make sure my kids are intimately familiar with it. We spend a lot of time outside. We watch how the animals behave, even bugs. We talk about what happens when houses are built on a piece of land … etc.

  8. Kate the Shrew replied:

    I don’t think anybody is going to think you’re odd for having solar panels put on. I certainly plan to, when we get our long-term house.

    We’ve replaced most of our bulbs with compact fluorescents; we recycle; our appliances are all energy efficient, the washer is a low-water front-loader. Our current car is the same 30+mpg compact I’ve had for nearly a decade, and when we replace it we’re either going biodiesel or hybrid. My husband takes the light rail to work (we’re very lucky to have such a good public transportation system here). I have dreams of being a much bigger hippie than this, but until I get a yard big enough to at the very least have a compost bin, some of it has to wait.

    As far as teaching, Queen B is too young for anything very heavy, but we talk about saving water when we brush our teeth, and recycling, and I let PBS brainwash her a little. (She watches Bob the Builder, then runs around saying, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!”)

  9. Daydreams and Musings replied:

    You know – maybe if you put solar panels on your roof it’ll get the neighbors talking in a good way. It might not occur to someone that they could do that until you do it. Maybe it’ll transform the neighborhood! (I know – wishful thinking, it’s a kick I’m on).

  10. Comfort Addict replied:

    I turn off lights. I try not to have the temperature too high. I watch how I drive. Yet, I do feel very guilty about my consumption. Unfortunately, I have a lot of personal circumstances that mitigate against doing as much energy conservation as I’d like. Perhaps, the Terra Pass is for me.

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