Posted by: unlikelygrad | April 16, 2009

making a difference, part I

Earth Day is coming up, so this student who wants to study Things Environmental feels that this would be an opportune time for a series of posts on the environment. There is much talk today about what to do for the earth: forcing auto companies to make more fuel-efficient cars, mandating that cities increase the percentage of trash that is recycled, and so on. But these are things that the government does.

I truly believe that, in order for serious change to happen, the majority of people need to change their way of living. And so, this week, I present a number of ways that you can make a difference.

Most people say that fuel-efficient cars are the answer to reducing greenhouse gases. Of course, the drive for fuel efficiency is one that I support fully, and I hope that some day someone will make a large-ish hybrid minivan that beats our Honda Odyssey’s 17 mpg (around town). A Prius is all well and good, but it’s completely impractical for those who (1) have four or more children, or (2) haul large, ungainly objects like full sheets of plywood. (Both of these apply to our family.)

However, just because we don’t drive a hybrid doesn’t mean we haven’t cut back the fuel we consume in recent years. Here is what the UnlikelyFamily has done:

  1. Only have one car. You would think it wouldn’t make a difference–after all, who cares how many cars you have; won’t you still drive the same number of miles? Answer: no. Cutting back to one car has reduced the number of miles driven by 3-4k per year. It forces us to combine errands into one trip. It also compels us to look for other ways of getting places if we have to be in two places at once–carpooling or other alternative transit.
  2. Don’t drive unless you absolutely have to. We try to walk as much as possible. It takes a bit more time, but since I have started this regimen I am a lot healthier! If I’m alone, I spend my walking time pondering stuff–philosophy, project organization, homework problems that have me stuck. I also like when one of my boys comes with me on the errand, since it gives us a chance to talk: N, my 14yo, regularly walks with me to the post office so he can talk about girls he has a crush on!

    If something is too far for walking, I bike or take public transit. I have a low-cost pass which I got because I am a student of LocalStateU. I mostly use this to go to/from school, but I also use it sometimes for running errands or going to meetings. This pass has my name & photo on it, so I’m the only one who can use it. However, we also buy a monthly pass for my oldest son, A, to go to/from the community college. This pass is transferable, so after school hours it’s fair game for the other boys to use for going shopping etc.

    Of course, we can’t walk everywhere; I am willing to carry a can of paint back from Home Depot (about 1/2 mi), but doing the same with a sheet of plywood or sack of concrete would kill me. In short, we try to use our car judiciously.

  3. Live where you work (or go to school). When we were looking for a house, we could have chosen one at the fringes of Silicon Valley and had my husband commute 1/2-1 hour into work every day. We would have been able to buy a larger house for less money. We chose to live where he worked, in an area with a large concentration of jobs. (This is sort of a moot point now that he works from home, but still…) We live close to the downtown of a city in the heart of Silicon Valley. This is a hard thing for us, since we’re homesteaders at heart, but we make it work.

    In our current location, we can walk to the bank, the post office, the library, a grocery store, a produce store, and the train station (in case we want to go to SF). We used to be able to walk to Target, too, before they closed that store. We are within 2 blocks of 2 bus lines, and it’s less than a mile to the express bus service I take to school.

    When we move, we’ll look for a similar location: near a bus line that runs to FarthestU, close to the stores we want to frequent, and–hopefully–within walking distance from church, something that’s sadly not the case now.

  4. Public transit can be a pain, but it can be a good thing too. I have plenty of time to read, time to decompress from long and stressful days so that I’m not cranky when I finally get home. (I know that would not be the case if I were driving!)

    My husband and I are fully committed to driving as little as possible. This means some sacrifices on our part, but they are minor in the long run. We’ve become so used to living like this that we can’t imagine doing otherwise.


  1. […] (??) research I like to think that I am an environmentalist. I believe in being a good steward of the Earth. As you might guess, this is one of the reasons I […]

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