Eco Vices

As I've become more aware of the environmental impact of things I do, certain things from my day-to-day life jump out at me as being totally environmentally irresponsible. And you know what? I'm probably going to keep on doing them. They're my eco vices.

Here's three of them:

Skiing trips - pile the family into a large SUV (need 4WD and room for lots of gear), and drive into the mountains during the harshest conditions. Spend the day on a mix of manmade and natural snow (what's the carbon and fresh water impact of manmade snow?), hang out in a lodge heated to 60 degrees over the outside temperature, and get pulled up the mountain numerous times by a huge electrical pully system. Best family time we have, wouldn't miss it for the world. (Note: golf and waterskiing are probably in the same bucket)

Reading the newspaper - each week part of my trash ritual is getting the recyclable paper out to the curb. Generally its a big recycling bin, most of which is newspaper, full of ads and information I could easily get online. The paper is created (huge water usage), printed, driven to my house in the middle of the night, I read about 5% of it at most (all of which is now on the web somewhere), and then its put out to be driven somewhere else to be recycled. But there's something about sitting down in the morning with a cup of coffee and having the newspaper in your hands.

Heiniken - How absurd is it to sit down at night and drink a beer that was brewed in Holland, or Japan, or where ever? A bottle of fermented water was shipped by multiple means of transportation to your favorite restaurant or beer distributor. In the end the bottle (and the beer) hopefully get recycled, 10,000 miles from where they were produced. Sure I support local breweries, but sometimes there something about a particular beer...

One thing that all of these show is how our current economy doesn't really account for the environmental impact of many products and activities. Its amazing (at multiple levels) that you can brew beer, make a bottle, package it up, ship it to me from Holland, and I can buy it at a store for around $1, and that money is enough to cover all of the costs and a little profit for all of the people and processes who touched it along the way.

So what are your eco vices?


I live in CA, which has experienced a drought this summer. But still, I can't seem to give up a shower that is too long (and often too hot) to be environmentally sound. That has to be my biggest eco vice.

Posted by Krista on June 22, 2007 at 04:00 PM EDT #

I drive 40 miles each way, every day, to work. When I'm not on the road. Based on a personal preference to live in a city, rather than the burbs. That's a lot of carbon emitted, over a number of months and years, for a simple preference.

I fly on airplanes a fair amount - do I absolutely have to be there? Maybe not, hard to tell - but airplanes aren't wonderful for the environment. Especially private flights with very few passengers.

I have a garden. To look at, nothing more. And that requires a non-trival amount of water... in a state where water's a scarce resource.

I would hate to know my personal carbon footprint...

Posted by Jonathan Schwartz on June 22, 2007 at 05:26 PM EDT #

Air conditioning. I work from home in Lafayette, CO and day time temperatures are already well into the 90s. My AC kicked on at roughly 9am this morning and is still running. And that's to keep the house at 76-78F upstairs. Due to a terribly designed ventilation system, the basement is usually below 70F. I should really be spending a lot more time in the basement, and a lot less time cooling the upstairs. I sympathize with the trips to the mountains and the commute. I love to spend time hiking & snowshoeing to enjoy nature, but I'm doing my part to harm it by driving a relatively fuel-inefficient vehicle up there. Likewise, the ability Sun has given me to work from home, and my own personal preference, have resulted in my building a house in the mountains that's a good 20 miles further from the Sun campus. Thus when I do commute, I'm actually increasing my carbon output. I can only hope that the commute issues net out positive. Given how infrequently I'm in the office, and how frequently I'm in the mountains, I'm definitely reducing the miles driven. (Of course, I spend more time in MPK than I do in BRM and I'm about to increase my commute time to the airport...)

Posted by Matt Artz on June 22, 2007 at 05:49 PM EDT #

Yes, skiing and similar vacations are a must ... I'm not willing to give up air travel or piling people into big cars if it means I couldn't get to know the people and places I have worldwide. But perhaps the worst is my need my charcoal BBQ and wood burning fire place. Nothing like 'em with friends/family. Of course, I simply must have my campfire when we hit Yosemite in Spring and Fall!! And, while I should go tap or filtered, some bottled water just tastes better (particularly if you've seen the lipstick marks on the water dispensers at work -- how does that happen (eeew) -- or the flecks that fall into the water in the cafeteria if they don't clean the valves properly). I live 1-2 miles from "the Tank", but I still drive to hockey games that get out late at night. On the bright side ... I just traded my 20+ year old washer and dryer for high efficiency, front-load models. Hopefully soon I'll switch 26 single pane windows to double and add a smidgeon of insulation to my 83 yr old house (Q4 bonus anyone ;-))

Posted by Ingrid on June 23, 2007 at 05:41 AM EDT #

Lighting. And, lots of it! I love a well lit house at night and with an open floor plan and cannister lighting (or whatever it's called) it means 30+ light bulbs are burning for hours on end. If that's not bad enough, my 4 1/2 year old son is already a light junkie prone to turning on additional lights at friends' houses. So much for those years of my parents telling me to turn off lights once you've left a room! Some apples do fall far away from the tree.

Posted by Michelle on June 23, 2007 at 10:24 AM EDT #

I started greening my life a few years ago but I still have several eco vices, though I hate to admit them: 1) I use too many paper towels after washing my hands in a public bathroom. I never use fewer than three and every time I do it I feel weird about it. And I always take too many napkins. 2) I drive to my favorite running path. It feels a little ridiculous to drive a mile or two just to run for 5 or 6. But there is a big hill between me and the water and these days, after 6 miles, I usually don't feel like running up it! 3) If I know I am coming home after dark, I leave my kitchen light on when I leave the house. I do feel weird about it every time, but it makes me feel safer. I live alone and my apartment is on the first floor and faces the street. So, my theory is that if someone watches me walk into the building and then two seconds later sees a light go on, they will know which apartment is mine and then...who knows what would happen. 4) Magazines and newspapers. I subscribe to The New Yorker and The Economist and read the Sunday NY Times regularly. All of which are available online. And many of which pile up, unread, for weeks at a time.

Posted by Marcy on June 23, 2007 at 11:23 AM EDT #

I have two bad ones -- I drive into NYC when taking the bus or the train would be more efficient and environmentally friendly, and when I'm driving it's my mid-sized SUV. Both stem from practicalities: the SUV is better for driving around kids (and my teammates) and their gear, and I drive into NYC because I usually like to make use of the time in and out to catch up on phone calls (going in to Europe, going out to California). While you can use a cell phone on the train, it's not the ideal place to discuss Sun's business. Thinking about this, though, I came up with four more that we're actually dealing with: (a) 300 days a year I drink two Dunkin' Donuts iced coffees in plastic cups. Turns out they can be recycled, and I've started dumping them in the bins rather than the trash. I'd love it if Dunkies had a "bring your own cup" program. (b) The paper cup holders I use to carry the coffee from store to car are now recycled; I have a stack of them in my car so I can "bring my own" until they get wet (and fragile) or ripped. Then they go in the paper recycling tub. (c) 4 adults in the house, up to two showers per day depending upon sports practices, dance, yoga, hockey or stressful conference calls, and we use a good volume of hot water. This summer's project: a tankless water heater. Recharging the big heater after every shower means reheating \*all\* of the water in the tank. (d) A 20 year old kitchen refrigerator. It's simply not that efficient and we're opening and closing it pretty much constantly given the family schedules (see above, this is correlated to the shower thing). The next summer project.

Posted by Hal on June 24, 2007 at 04:37 PM EDT #

- 3 cars, none a hybrid; our household CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) is about 23 MPG - routinely driving faster than the speed limit - a Kentucky-bluegrass lawn and non-native landscaping in a semi-arid high desert (but don't I get some credit for sequestering CO2?) - I \*never\* recycle my plastic grocery bags, or bring cloth ones...not even when I shop in Whole Foods! - staying up too late answering blogs, and keeping the lights on unnecessarily... :-)

Posted by mark monroe on June 24, 2007 at 07:22 PM EDT #

My major eco vice is that I eat meat, eggs, or dairy at almost every meal. According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), livestock is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions (18% of total when measured in CO2 equivalent) than transportation. I could conceivably see giving up the worst offender, red meat, at some point, but it would be extremely difficult for me to give up poultry, and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to deal with a life without cheese! Here is a link to the FAO article:

Posted by Gabe on June 25, 2007 at 07:14 AM EDT #

I read somewhere that it takes about 75,000 trees to print a run of the New York Times for one Sunday. Wouldn't it be nice to have a configurable, personalized edition of the print version of a newspaper? I ought to be able to log into my account at the newspaper's portal, and indicate that I only want, on a daily basis, the print version of the news and sports section delivered. And on Mondays I want the business section and on Fridays the weekend entertainment section. Everything else, I want in the online version, with RSS alerts for specific topics. It would save me time and effort in trash recycling, and I would even be willing to pay extra to compensate the newspaper for their lost opportunity to show me ad impressions, and the additional cost of managing the delivery of personalized print editions. (Now there's an idea for little start-up...)

Posted by SB on June 25, 2007 at 09:29 AM EDT #

1) Everytime I get a new car I consider buying a hybrid. But, everytime a cool looking car that's fast & fun to drive wins out. 2) Using the non-biodegradable & probably chemical laden laundry detergent that my boyfriend prefers. He insists it makes his cloths smell nicer & the colors stay brighter -- I don't know -- but it makes him happy! 3) Long showers -- I use much more hot water than is necessary, but it's a luxury I don't want to give up!

Posted by Jessie on June 25, 2007 at 10:20 AM EDT #

I like to think that my wife and I live a lifestyle with a low eco-footprint, but we have a long way to go to squeeze out add'l unnecessary waste. My three vices: (1) using one plastic bag/day to dispose of solids from our cat's litter box -- we could and should use biodegradable bags instead; (2) using my car to run errands in the city when I could almost just as easily catch a Muni bus; (3) taking long, hot showers -- I often waste time in the shower thinking over issues on my brain (perhaps I should think about how I'm wasting BTUs in the process!). Redefining Progress has a fun eco-footprint calculator on their website that you can use as a rough gauge of your personal ecological footprint.

Posted by BWetstone on June 27, 2007 at 06:14 AM EDT #

Good post, David. Actually, the world needs to stop doing all our activites NOW, for a year, take a complete break, to rehearse for what it might be like in the future. THis means, for everyone, all nations, no cars, no trains, no planes, no ships, no coal plants, no buses, no subways....just STOP the EARTH for a year and see if we can survive this way. I know, it sounds radical but we must prepare. we cannot go on with our SUVs and airplanes and commuter cars forever. It's gonna have to stop soon. We should practive now. And yes, we need to plan for polar cities, too. Mark Twain's famous quip that "everybody talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it" is sometimes cited in the debate over global warming. Some people even say that the time for debate over this issue is long past. Perhaps we should pray that the time for effective action has not passed as well. I am not going to talk about the weather here, because there is not much I can do about it. But as a former Massachusetts resident now residing in Taiwan, and very concerned about the issue of global warming, I have done something worth talking about. I am calling for the creation of polar cities in the future to house remnants of humankind who might survive the hell of global warming 500 or 1000 years from now. And I am calling, through a blog and a Wikipedia entry on the Internet, for the planning, design and construction of these sustainable polar city retreats now, while we still have time, fuel, materials and transportation to build them.

Posted by Dan Bloom on June 30, 2007 at 06:52 PM EDT #

Dave, great insights. You are dead on w/ the economical costs, externalities if you will. If products were priced to reflect their environmental costs and costs to society, it'd be fascinating to see how prices and society would be affected as a result.

Posted by Mike Coe on July 03, 2007 at 05:37 AM EDT #

POLAR CITIES ENVISIONED TO SURVIVE GLOBAL WARMING Webposted: July 1, 2007 Environmental activist Dan Bloom has come up with a solution to global warming that apparently no one else is talking about: polar cities. That's right, Bloom envisions future polar cities will house some 200 million survivors of global warming in the far distant future (perhaps in the year 2500, he says on his blog), and he's lobbying on the Internet for their planning, design and construction -- NOW! "Sounds nutty, I know" the 58-year-old self-described "eco-dreamer" says from his home in Asia, where he has been based since 1991. "But global warming is for real, climate change is for real, and polar cities just might be important if humankind is to survive the coming 'events', whatever they might be, in whatever form they take." Bloom, a 1971 graduate of Tufts University in Boston, says he came up with the idea of polar cities after reading a long interview with British scientist James Lovelock, who has predicted that in the future, the only survivors of global warming might be around 200 million people who migrate to the polar regions of the world. "Lovelock pointed me in this direction," Bloom says. "Although he has never spoken of polar cities per se, he has talked about the possibility that the polar regions might be the only place where humans can survive if a major cataclysmic event occurs as a direct result of global warming, in the far distant future. I think we've got about 30 generations of human beings to get ready for this." Does Bloom, who has created a blog and video on YouTube, think that polar cities are practicial? ""Practical, necessary, imperative," he says. "We need to start thinking about them now, and maybe even designing and building them now, while we still have time and transportation and fuel and materials and perspective. Even if they never get built, the very idea of polar cities should scare the pants off people who hear about the concept and goad them into doing something concrete about global warming. That's part of my agenda, too." For more information: GOOGLE: "polar cities" WIKIPEDIA: "polar cities" BLOG SEARCH: "polar cities"

Posted by danny bee on July 03, 2007 at 01:02 PM EDT #

Biggest eco-vices?

1) Large SUV. Hauling the kids and their friends around, trips to Costco and Home Depot, etc. Need the big car. As I'm typing this I am also wondering, what eco-impact do laws designed to protect us have on our decisions? I remember as a kid that some parents used to pile 8-10 of us in a station wagon and go to the beach. Now, in my county at least, it is the law that a child must be in a booster seat until 8 years of age. That means that I NEED dedicated seats for each kid under 8 that I carry, plus the adults. This most definitely impacts my car buying decision. (Note: I'm not implying that these laws are necessarily bad, I want my kids protected to the best of my ability, just pointing out how some laws designed to help can hurt in other ways.)

2) "Wall Warts". I have a lot of electronics in my house. Being a gadget junkie, that means a lot of "wall warts" (i.e. power supplies) are always plugged in and sucking electricity, even when the device is "off".

3) Land. We have a beautiful lawn and landscaping and it USED to require a lot of water. However, after installing a sprinkler system that communicates with weather satellites, it has actually decreased our water consumption and is trending down to a 40% water savings. So, what was once a vice, is now more eco-friendly than ever before. Nice when that happens :)

Posted by Chris Melissinos on July 12, 2007 at 02:58 AM EDT #

Our car is a big (by Irish standards) '95 BMW 318i with 1.8 Liter engine. We drive almost 3000 miles each year, mostly buying groceries at Lidl when we should utilize delivery or the small grocer 200 meters away. We have a big American-style refrigerator and freezer which is necessary when you do a big shop at a supermarket .

I haven't yet asked the landlord to replace the kitchen T-50 and sun-room 12V halogen sockets so I can remove the remaining (5% efficiency) Edison lights in our house. I take the DART into work instead of telecommuting or bicycling. I sometimes use a laptop instead of the Sun Ray. But my biggest vice is that I love to travel. When it comes to carbon footprint, hopping on that Ryan Air or Aer Lingus jet suddenly makes me a bad person.

Dave, you might want to try "kite skiing", no lifts or mountains required! All you need is a cold, snowy winter, a stretch of open field, wind and a lot of guts.

Posted by bnitz on July 18, 2007 at 12:14 AM EDT #

Excellent question. Seems that there is a fairly common thread, the most common culprits are large SUVs (read low mpg vehicles in general), long, hot showers and air travel.

I would have to say mine are air travel, it's the only way to get off of the island, a boat is more wasteful and paddling is out of the question. The fact that the plane is generally always full is somewhat of a consolation.

The second big waste is my Mac even when not in use and sleeping it is virtually on and consuming power. Unlike my Sunray which I can power off. Third are the "wall warts" and warm power devices such as the computer monitors and TVs. It baffles me why we haven't engineered devices that can communicate with their wall warts and disconnect the input power when not in use. On the bright side I have a '94 2.5 liter BMW 325i that used to get 24 spirited MPG and now gets 32 slightly less spirited MPG. The simply answer is "Eco driving". Less throttle (easy on the gas) and less braking (anticipate stops and slow downs and decelerate).

I have to comment on the OMG I need a large 4WD SUV because we live in snow country as not necessarily being the entire truth. Having lived in Colorado and survived numerous snow storms and consistently passed SUVs with confidence in nothing more than a rear wheel drive 325i it could be said that it's somewhat of a myth. Well that's not entirely true a 2WD vehicle must be properly prepared. Let's examine why the little BMW could perform in snow. One it has almost 50/50 front rear weight distribution which aids immensely in preventing spin outs. Secondly it was always sporting Micheline Alpine snow tires installed on all four corners which gripped the snow and ice like no tomorrow. It was so comfortable and fun to drive in the winter that I quickly learned to leave the 4WD drive Explorer parked at home on snowy days, actually every day.

Posted by Bob Douglas on July 27, 2007 at 06:15 AM EDT #

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