Driving A Big Car All Over The Place By Yourself
Having LOTS Of Kids
Idling Your Car
Eating Lots Of Meat
Voting For Climate Change-Denying And Pro-Oil Representatives
Taking A Really Long Shower
Buying Things From China
Eating Out Of Season
Using Lots Of Power When Your Electricity Comes From Coal
Not Sealing Your House
A slide show illustrating each of fifteen “Ways I contribute to climate change” appeared online at Huffington Post, May 12, 2014. Tempted to share it on FB immediately, I was stopped by its being imbedded in another page that showed up with the “front end” for sharing, where I would include any intro snark/remark I might like to add. That gave me enough time to think a little more about the list as a whole, about some of the individual items on it, and about what I could see from what is not on it that makes of it a troubling and troublesome list, indeed.
Personally, it’s a matter of small satisfaction that it takes me all the way to China before being hooked by the barbs on the list. Mostly, though, I had to admit that the main reason I get a pass on the previous ones is because of my age. I didn’t have a lot of kids; I have two. Maybe two is the new six, like my parents had, so again, I don’t deserve a pass. Anyway, who am I to look at someone else’s kids, if they’re loved and cared for by their families, and society, and say, “You shouldn’t have!” It’s not in me.
I waste paper. Yes, I do. It isn’t easy to stop, despite a better Korean approach to recycling paper than to limiting wasteful use of it to begin with. Paper laminates, product wrappers, handbills, towels and napkins and all forms of paper products considered “contaminated” if adhered to organic residues of any kind, are not recycled often, if at all. These go into landfills or incinerators, where they degrade into pollutants of great quantity and variety. Publications and large cartons and containers make up most of the recycled content.
Flying. Ah well, I am an expatriate, living on a peninsula from which there is no land exit. To come and go from Korea is to fly. There is the sea, but ferries to China, Japan and Vladivostok are the only ones running, and they contribute to global warming, too. Ticket prices have done wonders to curtail my flying will force me to do it. It breaks my heart to tell friends and loved ones abroad that reducing my carbon footprint means I must withdraw the open invitation to visit. Although my need and desire to extend affectionate hospitality to them overwhelms in certain seasons and mental states, I feel cornered by it, having accepted that the climate science is accurate. Before scolding others about their travels, I must look too my own. That mobility is a cornerstone of our personal liberty doesn’t free us from being judged by the same standard that apply to all.
I waste comparatively little food in this phase of my life. In the main, it is a result of choosing a combination of healthy level of consumption, and a minimal amount of waste. The Korean approach to food waste, such as it is, has us paying collectors who process it into livestock feed, compost, etc., according to the weight of our discarded waste. I have speculated that some form of odorless drying devices will appear, but maybe not. Few substances are more malodorous than kimchi gone too far off. We use a key card to open a bin with an attached scales to keep track of our “contributions” of collected wet waste. I call it our “crap account”.
Eating out of season may be a category in which I am more culpable than others. Dietary changes I’ve embraced as a part of my inevitably futile attempt to live forever are the cause. The avocados from New Zealand, the factory salmon from Norway, Florida orange juice, chickpeas and lentils from the sub-continent, it’s a long list; all are seasonal, imported or both. I’m determined to learn to live without them without sacrificing the pleasure of delicious food, imaginatively prepared, but it’s harder than one thinks at first glance, to find a lot of encouragement at the market.
Of the remaining four conditions, only one applies to me. I have two small dogs. When the last one is taken by natural causes, we won’t replace them, despite our sympathy for the unfortunate creatures cared for by pet rescue services and clients. Pets are wonderfully satisfying, crucial even, to the very young and very old, but until I have reached that stage of aging where I am unable to go about on my own, I will put off adopting another animal friend to keep me company. A certain grey-to-rust colored miniature poodle may outlast me if I don’t penetrate the secret of local foods only (another item on the list), but if not, he’ll be the last pet I have for most of the time I have left.
Air conditioning, though desirable during the hottest summer months here, we have lived without it for so long that it no longer appeals, for it would mean blocking the circulation of air between inside and outside. Our location at some distance from the center of the urban metropolis that is Seoul is, on most days, more refreshing than not. There is no water shortage (yet), and a cold shower in clean, cold water three times a day is not such a bad fate in semi-tropical conditions, so that’s what we do. It’s also nice to go without most clothing whenever we can, so we do that too.
Korea is moving toward renewable energy, mostly solar, some wind, but is still too dependent on gas and nuclear generation for electricity. Coal, to the extent it is still in use, is primarily for winter “ondol” heating by burning the cylindrical briquettes called “nine-hole coal” with a boiler heats water to circulate through a grid of plastic pipes in a cement floor. The coal isn’t always necessary, but private homes will keep it as an optional way of heating the boiler. No matter how the house (apartment in our case) is heated, cold season weather sealing and insulation reduce energy costs. It’s also possible to dress more warmly indoors, and to heat only rooms of heavy use.
But there is an elephant in the room, once we accept that what we’re really talking about is decreasing human contributions to the greenhouse effect, the pollution of air and water, and environmental damage from the industries that cater to one or many of our appetites that lead to our doing these things. Presented in the form of a question, what would happen if we didn’t? The answer is why we almost certainly won’t change and stop doing them, unless their availability is curtailed by circumstances in or out of our control.
In the real world, driven by material values dictating that, to enjoy any semblance of a “lifestyle” in popular parlance, most of us have no choice but to exchange our labor for pay, which we then spend on the “things we do”, which are, technically, the “things we buy”, that is, “our shit”, as we refer to our purchases. In a nutshell, then, the algorithm of our lives becomes “no job, no shit”. That’s the problem. There are very few jobs today that can’t be connected to, or related to the Big Industries that are based on our continued embrace of these products and services. If we stop doing these things, without some clear plan for what comes after, then they, and eventually we (many of us, anyway) will cease to be. There is no time to waste on preparing such a plan, and we are wasting almost all of it.