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Personal choices and sustainability

March 20, 2013

Carol Roig’s excellent opening article (Mixed Greens—Seeking Sustainability, TRR March 14-20) exactly states the issue of sharing without greed the communal resources of the earth. The devil is in the details. I, like many, have wrestled with the difficult choices of how to reduce my footprint, while enjoying the comfortable lifestyle I have become accustomed to. Taken literally, we in the USA would have to reduce our standard of living drastically to leave enough for everyone else to share equally. We all end up feeling greedy and hypocritical, or destitute.

I heat my house with renewable wood but back it up with climate-damaging oil. To compensate, I don’t have air conditioning and I replaced all my old windows and added insulation to my attic. I hate natural gas since I found out how devastating it can be to the environment. But I cook with and use some LP (plus wood) to heat my studio. I could convert to inefficient electric heat, and/or install super expensive solar panels, but the gain in sustainability would be so small. To compensate, I pay extra on my electric bill to a supplier that uses only renewable sources of power and I turned down the thermostat five degrees and put on warmer work clothes.

For increased safety, I chose a somewhat lower gas mileage all-wheel-drive vehicle over a hybrid car. To compensate, I combine chores and drive as little as possible. I might enjoy living in a larger house, but I don’t expand because sometimes, enough is enough. Alas, individually, I make little difference and often refuse to make the right choices.

I sometimes think that the Industrial Revolution was a huge mistake. It made cheaper products available to an expanding population, but it created a giant underclass, enabled unsustainable overpopulation, reduced general worldwide quality of life and devastated the environment. What if every decision we made to introduce new practices was determined by the oath “First, do no harm?” As individuals, figuring out what to do would be daunting. But as a society, collectively, perhaps we could decide to do without something until we could do it without harm. We would still have progress, but it would be slower, measured and more universally positive.

Allan Rubin
Cochecton, NY