Going Green in the Suburbs: Baby Steps

You’ve made the commitment to TRY to go green.

Congratulations! Going green is a hard decision, because it is contradictory to the great American psyche. Over the history of our country, Americans have strived to make our lives easier, more convenient and comfortable. And now, we realize we have gone too far and we are destroying the planet. We have to pull back, make our lives less convenient, less comfortable, and more difficult. We need to give up the single serving plastic wrapped containers that are piling up in our landfills. Give up our comfy SUVs with the heated leather seats and climate controlled cabins, because they suck the earth dry of fossil fuels. Turn down our thermostats in the winter; turn them up in the summer. Don’t let the water run when we brush our teeth. Unplug your appliances, don’t wash your clothes so often and when you do, use cold water, and so on and so on.

You get the point. That is a lot of change. It’s like being asked to transport ourselves into last century. But here’s the kicker, we’ve tasted the sweet nectar of modern conveniences and now we must give them up. Forget you ever had them. Keep your eyes on the prize. You are saving the planet for future generation.

The only way we can keep this commitment is to start with baby steps, nothing that over-the-tree-tops, just a few simple changes that the neighbors might notice. Your carbon footprint will diminish as your neighborhood approval rating with the Volvo and Prius owners will leap off the chart. (Or, if the couple next door with his-and-her Hummers has re-emerged now that the great recession is receding, just try to offset their imprint on the environment.)

Just taking a few steps could make you the Ed Begley, Jr. of the cul-de-sac. Unless, of course, you’ve got an Ed Begley, Jr. in your cul-de-sac. Your know the kind of guy—the one who has just installed a bank of solar panels on his roof, has looked into making his backyard a wind farm and is putting the final touches on converting his Prius to hydrogen only.

Where to begin? A quick Google of ‘going green’ generates 5.5 million results. Don’t try to survey all of them, but instead chose to peruse the blogs. Therefore, availing yourself to the already mined resources of people who have invested quite a bit of time and energy in the quest of “going green” and thus conserving YOUR energy, which results in. . . Tada—your first act of greenness.

1. Easy starter: add more flora to your life.

Full disclosure— my spouse loves plants of all types, especially plastic. It’s easier to wipe than water. And while it seems like a wonderful and naturally relaxing idea to fill you home with lush verdant life, we can never relax, filled with guilt and anxiety over having killed or in the process of killing a plant from watering it too much or too little. But the knowledge that a few real plants can bring health benefits to your body has convinced my wife to give it another go-around. According to a University of Agriculture in Norway study, indoor plants can reduce fatigue, coughs, sore throats and other cold-related illnesses by more than 30 percent, partially by increasing humidity levels and decreasing dust and cleaning the air.

And for the truly ecologically ambitious, a quick Gardening Tip for what’s hot, but fabulously green: Neem trees.

Other blog-driven Neem fun facts! It’s native to Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, and Pakistan; thrives in tropical and semi-tropical regions, reported to treat 40 different diseases, and around 50,000 neem trees have been planted near Mecca to provide shelter for the pilgrims.

In fact, as far as the green blogosphere is concerned, the Neem may only be surplanted by the tree of wisdom in the realm of research and reporting. Neem is deemed very effective in the treatment of scabies, head lice, and intestinal worms. The oil is also used in sprays against fleas in cats and dogs. Rich source of protein.

Yes, and they do go on…

Unfortunately, they seem not to thrive well, in any climate that drops below freezing at winter. Check with your nearest friendly Neem Tree farm online. (I get the feeling these were former Ostrich ranchers.) Online you can buy neem products for yourself, your home and your pet.

So if you don’t see neem farming in your future, as an alternative: plant a tomato. Then move up to basil. Procure some good fresh mozzarella and have a delicious salad of your own creation.

2. Get reel!

Full confession— when I first tried my shiny, new reel mower I hated it.

It seemed primarily designed to separating gullible green-doers from about $130.

I, in fact, took the little beast back to my neighborhood pretty-good hardware store and asked for a refund. What I received instead was a quick seminar on how to properly push a reel mower. The position is nothing like standing behind a power mower. You’ve got to get your back into it and kind of bend forward in a slightly peculiar way to exert downward pressure on the wheels. But it works!

Best of all, there’s no fumes or noise, so giving the yard a 9 a.m. trim is no problem. Edges are an issue because a reel mower has to move to work, so I’ve retained the services of my large, nasty gas-powered weed whacker.  Of course if you’ve got a big yard, I would recommend buying everyone in the household a mower. Because the family that mows together, will probably run into each other quite often.

3. Get Boxed!

Boxed wine usually comes in the scoffable Franzia or Gallo forms, but the quality may improve and shed its tacky taboo. In lieu of heavy glass bottles, the lighter packaging “bladder pack”) is more environmentally and economically friendly. According to Tyler “Dr. Vino” Colman in a New York Times op-ed piece yesterdays standard wine bottle (holding 750 milliliters) that travels from a California vineyard to a New York store generates about 5.2 pounds of carbon-dioxide emissions, while a three-liter box generates only half the emissions per 750 milliliters.

Perks of boxed wine: the box is good for table wines that don’t need to age (which includes all, but a handful of top global wines); saving leftovers is much easier (a box preserves wine for about four weeks compared to a bottle: just a day or two); and long term, the box is better for the American economy.

4. Get on your bike!

Riding a bike to work is one of those things that sound great in theory, but in reality takes quite a commitment. So when I left the Element in the driveway and undertook the daily commute straddled atop my trusty Trek 7.5 FX Hybrid, little did I realize the uneasy relationship between the two and four-wheeled world. First of all, the usual route I would take is a nasty, twisting affair—not all that comfortable in a car, let alone a bike. In fact, there was no shoulder in most places, leaving me on the road followed by with a parade of annoyed drivers. It’s far better to determine the most “bike friendly” route, which in this case actually increased the distance of my commute. But it’s well worth it, during those magical moments zipping past that same line of cars now stalled in traffic. Try not to be too horribly smug. But feel free to ding your little bell as you pass.

5. Get Hung!

Again, the economic and ecological benefits of using wind and sun to dry clothes strikes me as self-evident. But even this simple act is not without its social/aesthetic ramifications. Some communities have even banned the humble clotheslines, not because of their unseemly appearance, but to keep up appearances— somewhere along the line hanging out laundry became a badge of poverty. But if you encounter resistance from neighbors, let the numbers speak for themselves. According to the Sierra Club, clothes dryers consume nearly 6 percent of the electricity consumed by U.S. households with an average cost of $1,530 over the lifetime of the dryer. So I say, fellow right-to-driers, frugality is the new fashionable! Luckily, our backyard is quite private, so our laundry can flap away, though Jennifer still insists underwear is not suitable for public display. Especially mine.

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