Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's Not Easy Being Green: a modern-day rant.

Thanks to my sister-in-law who inspired today's blog when she referenced a newsletter about the consistent trend in our society over the past 30+ years that "bigger is better". Ugh! I spit on that kind of talk and battle my own internal demons when I want things I shouldn't. But I am aware during these modern times that - and I will take this time to quote Kermit-the-frog, "It aint easy being green."
So, let me step up on my soap box for just a quick second.

In her recent book, Juliet Scor, author of Plenitude, responds to the recent economic crisis by highlighting a few important trends:
  • The average single family home built in the U.S. in 1980 was 1,740 ft sq. By 2000, it had expanded 45% to 2,521.
  • Nineteen percent of new homes have 3-car or larger garages.
  • One in ten houses now rents storage space, a 65% increase since 1995. (For all that additional crap.)
  • In 1991, Americans bought an average of 31 pieces of clothing each year. By 2007, the average rose to 67 items, which means that Americans buy a new piece of clothing every 5.4 days. (The damn Macy's sales encourage this type of behavior.)
  • To keep up with one's neighbor, Americans work more than any other country, with the exception of Japan. In 1979, the U.S. worker averaged 1,703 hours each year. By 2006, that number rose by 180 hours - the equivalent of one full month of work - to 1,883 hours annually. (I might be the exception to these statistics.)
These numbers disturb me. I want these numbers to shift back in time when a narrow, one-car garage is all it took. I want attitudes to change and people to lead more simplified lives. I want folks to be content with a glass of wine (because you must never leave this out) and the outdoors; digging deep within to develop one's own authenticity without the desire to keep up with the Joneses.

In a recent letter to Natural Home Magazine titled, "Sustainability? Really?", the writer clearly was disillusioned with the way the term "sustainable" is used when homes highlighted for being "green" and "sustainable" include excessive square footage for a two-person family unit. The writer went on to give examples when referencing a 2,028-square-foot house for two people. She began, "This amount of new built square footage per person is certainly not sustainable on a planetary basis." When referencing another article focusing on a new, 7,370-square-foot Virgin Islands home for two people, she continued, "I'm disappointed in the trend toward mega-homes and inaccurate terminology."

I'm disappointed too. I'm discouraged with this need for more, more, more. I am more inspired when I read about a young couple buying a cheap, un-buildable lot in Eastern Oregon only to create a small, 300 sq-ft getaway cabin built on stilts to utilize the land. They looked so rested and relaxed sitting on their rail-less deck with a peek-a-boo view of a lake. I like creative minds and wish I was savvy enough to attempt something like this. I regret thinking I needed more than my first 600 sq-ft condo in the city. I was really happy there and went to great lengths to be comfortable in the space. I still find myself fighting the urge for more space when I walk into my unfinished 1,000 sq-ft basement. Should I or shouldn't I?

Within the past three years or so, when our economy took a downward hit and is still staggering to make its way back up, I actually enjoyed seeing people buying less - even if it was/is forced because of the lack of currency. I want more people to move toward this lifestyle. I want more simplification in my own life. I don't want to keep up with the Joneses or Johnson's or Smiths. But, I know, as our economy strengthens, we will see an upswing in consumption and I, also, know we need this type of spending to generate a healthy economy. Just this past holiday season, we saw sales up to pre-recession conditions. This is inevitable. But, I don't want things to return to business-as-usual. I want folks to be more conscious in what they are doing and buying and driving. I want patterns to change. And I want people to create a more genuine existence reflecting what really matters in life: staying relatively sober, taking walks and spending time with family.

As I am reminded time and time again how far we've come, I realize how much further we have to go. My new year's resolution this year was discipline. Not about anything specific, but just using it every day. So, I will continue to exercise this new mantra of mine in hopes of a better mindset and a brighter future.

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