Saturday, May 19, 2012

Material Tranquility in an Artifactual Environment

 I read an article this morning that really caught my attention.  It was about LED lighting.  You can see why it excited me so, can't you?  LED lighting is pretty cool.  Literally.  It puts out very little heat and thereby saves gobs of energy.  As a matter of fact, in comparison to incandescent bulbs, LED lights last about 50 times as long, use about a tenth of the kilowattage, and cost about one tenth as much per year.  (As a side note; if you have algae problems, like the great Mammoth Cave, LED lights will help to kill the algae and keep your cave crickets from spending all of their time inside.)  They are also mercury free (unlike compact florescent bulbs). 

While all of this info did impress me I never would have mentioned it here if a single line had been omitted from the article.  The owner of the store was quoted as saying that, "You don't have to change your lifestyle, just the lights."

I beg to differ.
I believe that we as a society have achieved a material tranquility in an artifactual environment.  If you want a technical description of artifactual environment you can click here.  For me the term simply means, an environment created by man for man.  This environment that we have created has largely separated us from the natural environment to such an extent that we are willing to sacrifice the natural environment for our own material tranquility.  Even those of us who claim to be living an environmentally sound life bow more to the artifactual than the natural. 

Changing out our light bulbs has been a popular method of standing up for "green" principles.  So has driving hybrid vehicles, recycling, and on a grander scale "Gold LEED" standards in new buildings.  All of these adjustments seem environmentally sound on the surface, but in the end are just smokescreens that allow us to continue in a wildly consumptive lifestyle with a "holier-than-thou" twist. 
  • Light bulbs - If we change out energy hog incandescent bulbs for more efficient CFL or LED bulbs it is true that we will use less electricity per hour, but if this encourages us to light our houses more elaborately (which is often the case) we can end out going backwards in energy use.
  • Hybrid Vehicles - You will pump less fuel into a hybrid than a conventional car when you are at the gas station.  However, if you consider the environmental costs of producing new vehicles, and the heavy metals use in the batteries, the benefits to buying a new hybrid rather that refurbishing an old but reasonably efficient car begin to pale.
  • Recycling - Am I actually going to attack recycling?  The cornerstone of the green movement since its inception?  Yes.  Recycling has encouraged a phenomenal rate of consumption, particularly of plastics.  I refer you back to the video in my post Take a Little Break.
  • Gold LEED - This is a certification that is handed out to show that a new building has been built using "green" standards.  One non-green result of this program is that organizations choose to build new buildings rather than refurbishing old ones.  Another, that I have seen again and again, is that to live up to the standard, component parts of buildings are built, torn down, and then rebuilt, sometimes repeatedly until the final "Gold LEED" standard is reached.  This is the pinnacle of absurdity.  And I'm not the only one who thinks so.  Check out this article in the SF Bay Guardian.
The point I am trying to make here is that we DO need to change our lifestyles if we are going to make an honest difference.  So far, most of the methods we have chosen to repair our relationship to the natural environment have only resulted in higher consumption and more garbage in our landfills. This is our material tranquility.

Here are a few possible solutions that will require a change in lifestyle but can actually loosen our grip on the artifactual environment.
  • Lighting - Use a lot less of it. Only light rooms you are using.  Do not use security lights (they just light the way for burglars anyway).  Put all ghost load items on switches and make sure no electricity is being used when the item is not in use.  (This is a biggie because it means that all the preset gizmo stuff will not work.  Suck it up.)
  • Travel - Plan your trips and do not take extra ones.  Learn to enjoy life without needing to drive to do so.  Walk or ride a bike any time you can.  Use public transportation if it is available.  And if you buy a car, look at older, but efficient models (many efficient cars were built in the '70s and '80s and the '65Ford Falcon we drove 24 years ago got 30mpg, that's almost as good as the average "efficient" vehicle being built today!)
  • Reduce and Reuse - We often forget the first two tenets of the green motto "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle".  The first two are first for a reason.  Reduce consumption.  Period.  Then Reuse anything you can.  As a matter of fact, choose to buy items because of their reuse-ability rather than their recycle-ability.  Think about every purchase you make and determine whether you really need that item in the first place.
  • If you must build, build as small as possible, using the most environmentally friendly means possible.  You have your own perfectly good brain.  Do you really need someone else to tell you whether or not you are doing something in an environmentally friendly way?  
  I'll say it again, unabashedly.  We do need to change our lifestyles.  

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