Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Toys

I was sitting in my living room playing with my son and his new toys from Christmas when he stopped paying attention to me and focused intently on his toy. As I watched him, I could see the gears turning in his head as he connected the dots and realized several things the toy could do that he hadn’t noticed before. His brow furrowed and he continued to do these new things over and over again. When he was satisfied that he had mastered this, he looked up at me and gave me a huge smile, looking thoroughly pleased at his ability.

I looked on with pride and reaffirmed his excitement with a big smile and a “yay!” We continued on with what we were doing.

This made me think about all of the times I had these same “aha” moments. Several of these came in college when I saw how classes seemed to correlate with others that you wouldn’t have expected. Topics like World Humanities and Waste Management don’t really seem like they have anything to do with one another upon first glance; especially when your world view is so limited at that point in life. 

But, we live in a world where nothing really stands alone. Everything is connected in some way. As humans, we are constantly trying to relate new experiences with something we know so we can make sense out of it. We do this in conversations too.

So, why is it that some of us can’t see the connection between the economy and the environment and things that affect both? I am amazed still by the benefits of things like conservation and recycling, and their compounding benefits on the economy and the ecosystems that we depend on. Likewise, it is astounding how much degradation of these ecosystems occurs from consumerism, overuse, and negligence when you are not keeping these things in mind.

Consider this: When we recycle 1 ton of material (2000 pounds), we save 3 cubic yards of landfill space (and consequently the methane it will produce), trees (at 17 trees per ton of paper), energy, water, air pollutants, oil, soil erosion (from mining practices), and all of the added CO2 emissions from the extraction, transport, refining, and manufacturing of new materials.

Energy and water are our biggest threats in the near future. We have aging and at capacity transmission grids and our water supplies are strained by overuse and pollutants. There are more and more spills, accidents, and unintended consequences from our ways of extracting raw materials that cost taxpayers billions. Though, we don’t usually see these costs. Hidden costs.

Has there been an “aha” moment yet? 

The only thing I can hope is that more people, and our government, will come to the realization that we need to make a bigger effort. Treat it like a new toy. It may take a little work and you may have to turn it over in your head several times but you will eventually see so many new possibilities.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Java Jump

Every evening, I set up my coffee pot to brew just enough coffee for my husband and me in the morning. It is much more sustainable and cheaper than buying coffee at a coffee shop every day. This is especially true if I opt for a fancy designer coffee beverage. 

My routine consists of making and eating dinner, playing with my son, giving him a bath, reading stories, and putting him to bed around 7:30 (or 8 if he pushes it). I then turn to making my lunch for the next day, setting up the coffee for delay brew, dishes and sometimes laundry.
However, sometimes things come up that completely throw me off my game, and thus, I end up buying coffee in the morning. 

This brings me to a recent popular story in the news about a certain large coffee chain wanting to be more sustainable. This nationwide coffee chain decided that they will charge an extra $1 for their pricey coffee if you opt for a reusable plastic cup. Every time you bring your cup back for a refill, you get 10 cents off the price of the coffee, essentially paying for the cup after 10 uses. While this seems like a great idea, the company is betting on a lot of things coming together for this to take hold. 

First, you have to bet that the customer will pay an extra dollar on top of their $4 coffee. Then, you have to bet that they will remember their cup in the morning. (I sometimes have trouble remembering my cloth bags when going to the grocery store and that is when I am fully awake and have had coffee already.) Then, you have to bet that the customer will get out of their car and come in the shop for their order. 

This is where the biggest issue comes in, I think. We are Americans after all, and as such have a love affair with our cars. Drive-thru convenience is paramount. So, unless you are in a busy city where people walk more and drive-thru lanes are few and far between, or in a very green-minded city, I don’t think this will last long. This is unfortunate but true. I know when I am in a hurry in the morning (which is every morning), and I hadn’t pre-made coffee, I probably will opt for the faster drive-thru option. And the coffee shop isn’t going to want to wait until I get up to the window to take my cup and then make my drink. 

So I guess we will have to see how this experiment turns out. In the meantime, I am still working on the more sustainable and cheaper option, of making coffee at home.