The Challenge of Being Green
Green living brings in ethics, where the choices aren’t always clear-cut and easy
More than appreciating the beauty of nature, being eco-friendly involves many lifestyle changes that are not always easy to make. I’ve been at it for many years now, with shifts in diet, but new challenges crop up all the time. It isn’t easy being green, for many reasons.
First, green living brings in ethics, where the choices aren’t always clear-cut and easy. We’re used to religious admonitions with very clear dichotomies of what’s right and what ‘sin’ is but in green living, we don’t have a listing of absolute dos and don’ts.
Let’s take diapers as an example. It’s almost a no-brainer that the environmentally sound way to handle baby’s pee and poo is to use cloth diapers. Solved? Not quite. If you’re serious about it, you know you’ll need to run through almost a dozen of these diapers each day. That’s a lot of laundry to do. That’s a lot of water involved, detergent (is it biodegradable in the first place?) and electricity.
I’m not defending disposables. With two million babies born each year in the Philippines and the majority using disposables, I can imagine landfills full of horrible soiled diapers. But there are all kinds of intermediate solutions now, like using a sturdy cloth or plastic outer layer together with smaller inner cloth ones and a paper liner (I get mine from Mothercare). You might want to try chlorine-free organic diapers, which are available in some eco-stores.
It’s not just diapers that create ethical dilemmas. There are now so many other difficult choices that have to be made because of environmental concerns. People forget that plastic bags were first introduced as an ecological measure: to reduce the trees that have to be cut down to make paper bags!
I do use paper bags now, but they’re not always very practical, especially when packing food for children because they tear easily, especially when wet.
That takes us to the second reason why going green is not always easy: convenience. Green alternatives are not always easy to find, and when you do find them, they often seem to be so much more difficult to use.
I’ve found though that the inconvenience comes only initially, and is usually more a perception than reality. Let’s be concrete here and look at fresh versus processed foods. Fresh foods are better for many reasons, including more nutrients retained and lower risks of bacterial and chemical contamination. In terms of environmentalism, fresh foods are preferred because there was less transport involved, which means less fossil fuels used.
People complain though that fresh foods seem such a hassle to prepare. Time yourself though and you might find that you don’t really save that much time using canned foods heated in the microwave. If you know how to multi-task, you’ll find the time going into ‘slow’ cooking... and ‘slower’ eating, isn’t that much more, and certainly it’s not wasted time especially when you think of the returns, like tastier and healthier food, as well as the warmth of eating truly good food with family and friends.
Yes, finding green products is still a major feat but thankfully, we’re moving ahead.
Third, there’s the matter of expense. Organic food and other green products can still be quite expensive. When I installed solar water heaters in my home for 40,000 pesos (US$828), friends and relatives said I was crazy, that the savings compared to electric heaters were not going to pay off even in 10 years. But saving on electricity costs wasn’t my intention. I don’t want to sound Messianic and say I’m trying to save the planet since I know that all the things we do seem too little and insignificant, but I do believe the efforts add up, and can have an impact.
Besides, by buying more green products, we’re encouraging the producers or manufacturers to keep on. And as demand pushes production volume upwards, we might find prices dropping. Twenty years from now, people will be picking up LED lights and solar electric panels and organic food from groceries and wondering why, in 2009, these were still so hard to find.
Green economics can be complicated because going green often means reining in our consumerism by postponing a purchase or simply deciding not to buy something because we don’t really need it that badly. That might include walking, for example, or biking, instead of taking the car. Think about it then: spending less on what you don’t need can allow you to pay a bit more for green products.
Come to think of it, going green seems so difficult because old habits die hard. Many of us grew up in an era of relative prosperity, when the world’s natural resources seemed infinite. We know better today, and we preach about the need to be green, but walking the talk in our homes and communities will be the real test of our commitment.