Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sustainability

A few weeks ago, I took one of those on-line "sustainability quizzes". If you've never taken one, it's a series of questions which asks you about your lifestyle and then tells you how many planets it'd take to sustain your life if everyone lived at your level. The idea behind such quizzes is to encourage people to live lower on the hog in order to improve the environment.

This is the second such quiz I have taken and it always turns out that it'd take between 2-3 earths to sustain my lifestyle. Both times, this shocked me because I do not live high on the aforementioned hog. In fact, this year, I was considering my wardrobe and pushing myself to tough out the mild winter with no heavy sweater, no coat, and only 3 long-sleeved shirts. I didn't want to buy new stuff if I could get by with layering what I still have because I didn't want to waste money or resources if it wasn't absolutely necessary.

To be honest, hearing that it'd take 2.8 planets to sustain my lifestyle made me angry. I live in a very small place which uses little energy to heat, cool, and light. In fact, I daresay that few people in developed cultures live in less square foot per person in the household than my husband and I do. I don't shop as recreation, I conserve water and energy, I cook most of my own food from basic ingredients, and I recycle everything possible. I can't compost, but the city does that for Tokyo residents anyway.

After taking the second quiz, I wondered what it is that I'd have to do to require only one planet for my relatively modest and unwasteful lifestyle. Is my coffee, dairy, and chicken consumption really that destructive such that it requires 1.8 more planets than this one to support? I discussed this with the CH and he said that the problem isn't that we are wasteful, but it's rather a matter of math. If everyone on this planet lived as we did, it wouldn't be sustainable. In other words, past a certain point, it's about the number of people, not the position one lives on the hog. If the population keeps ballooning, pretty soon the only way that we'll be able to meet our needs with only one planet will be if we all live in dirt huts, eat rice and beans, and share the same book with our entire community. The resources are finite (or shrinking), but the population just keeps growing so everyone's sliver of the pie keeps getting narrower and narrower. We all have to use less and less as the division keeps whittling down each person's share to an ever smaller amount.

Several months ago, I was reading a blog where a woman wrote a piece about "breeders". She was essentially asking if it was irresponsible for people to have a lot of kids in this day and age and she got a lot of comments from mothers who, of course, said they felt that it was not a concern. One of them said that she had six kids and felt that, if she didn't have a lot of kids who would put a strain on resources and therefore more resources would be available for the rest of the planet, everyone else just would consume more. This sort of attitude seems based in naivete, or willful ignorance, of the seriousness of the problems at hand.

It's pretty clear that it's reached the point where everyone is facing a serious degradation in lifestyle if the entire population does not begin contracting soon. It's not a matter of lowering lifestyles or living with less, but a matter of everyone (and I mean every single person) adopting a standard of living that many would find unacceptable and/or some people dying because there's not enough to go around and they drew the short end of the stick resources-wise. By U.S. standards, much of my current lifestyle is already unacceptable - no car, hanging laundry out to dry, no central air, limited water use, very small living space - and it'd require 2.8 planets for everyone to live at my relatively modest level.

The situation seems pretty hopeless to me because the solution clearly is going to be for no couple to have more than 2 kids for the foreseeable future, and that's not a factor I personally can do anything about. No matter how much I freeze because I question the absolute necessity of new clothes or how much time I spend showering by turning the water off and on to conserve resources or how many winters I shiver through or summers I sweat through, it's not going to be enough. About the greatest thing I can and have done for the planet is to remain childless.

So, I'm buying a sweater and some new clothes. I'm done actively suffering for the planet and debating every purchase as if I were personally responsible for every tree that is cut down and every strip mine that is dug. Though I'm still going to do the best I can not to be wasteful, I see no point in putting myself through any real hardship for a problem to which I'm powerless to control the main contributor.

10 comments:

Sherry said...

This is a very thought provoking post.

Orchid64 said...

Thanks for your comment, and for not interpreting this in the ways in which I feared people might.

'badmoodguy' is mike said...

Yes, quite thought provoking.

Your comment about breeders reminds me of my workmate CB and his wife. They vowed never to have kids because they didn't want to be "breeders" and were members of a "Child-Free" group here in town.

They now have two kids, four and two! Quite shocking for two self-avowed "non-breeders".

I remind CB of this constantly and he just rolls his eyes. Always good for a laugh. :)

1tess said...

Quizes simplify complex topics, but can be effective as an inspiration for deeper thought as you have proved. But the more I think about your post, the more complexities I see. It's late here for me to write or think.

Orchid64 said...

Mike: Just to be clear, I'd never use the word "breeders" as I think it's offensive. I think it's a pretty derogatory way to refer to couples who have children or heterosexuals. However, the woman whose blog I used to read (she stopped blogging, I didn't quit her blog), used it in her post so I was quoting her.

I vowed not to have kids, then was open to the possibility, then we worked out that it just wasn't for us. I think people should voluntarily consider to have fewer kids just as people voluntarily decide to live a less wasteful or consumptive life, but that it shouldn't be forced upon them. Personally, I think that the parental experience is less likely to be more fulfilling with a ton of kids than with a few, but I can't speak from experience.

I think "child-free" groups are a bit silly. I can't understand why a group is necessary. It's not like parents are banging down your door trying to force you to conceive or anything and you need a posse to fight them back.

Helen said...

I think "child-free" groups are a bit silly. I can't understand why a group is necessary. It's not like parents are banging down your door trying to force you to conceive or anything and you need a posse to fight them back.

Hmm. Are you sure about that? I've had some run-ins with family members that have been quite upsetting, trying to force /persuade me to become a parent. Granted, it wasn't from my parents (they're both long gone) but I went through quite a nasty time where a sibling harangued me for not having a child.

I do belong to a group of women who are child-less/child-free. It's a sub-group of the women-married to Japanese men group that I belong to. Many of us got tired of hearing in gruesome detail about birthing, potty training and school bento making, so we started our own group where we could discuss adult non-child related things.

If you're meaning "child-free" in the sense that we don't want to have children because of the planet, then it's not that sort of group, but for some of us it is a welcome relief!

Orchid64 said...

Helen: I guess I've been pretty lucky because my sister (I only have one) agrees with me on the child-free choice and my mother was too far away to badger me much about it. Also, most of the people I deal with are also child-less and/or single with no plans to marry or have kids.

I can definitely see though where you'd join a support group of foreign wives of Japanese men who don't have kids. I read a few "mommy in Japan" blogs (and enjoy them), but they really do have a different focus to their lives (as it should be). I can see though how you're a subset of a subset (married to a Japanese person but childless). Of course, I'm not even in a subset, let alone a subset of a subset, living in Japan, but being married to a foreigner who is not in the military or temporarily here on business. We're sort of our own little island with the tiniest of tribes. ;-)

Helen said...

No worries..I think my sister was on my case for a while mostly because SHE wanted to have another child, but she did go a little overboard. (She did have another child and got off my case!)

My subset is very supportive, in fact when one member did become a mother we even let her stay, she just can't talk about her baby there...she does on her blog!

I like hearing about your "tribe", so I hope you keep writing. After all, every person living in this country has a very different experience. Even some of the women married to Japanese men with no children have totally different lives to mine...and it's interesting to hear about.

Kelly said...

My husband and i have no kids at present but are trying.

I enjoyed your post and i basically agree that 2 kids are enough for each person. If they can do it in china then why not everywhere else? I would like to have 2 kids, that would be great. I would be happy with one. I would be happy with a dog, though it's not quite the same!

I joined a group on facebook called click green. They send you advertisements and you click on them, and you earn a tree which they plant for you. For every tree they plant for you, you can offset the carbon footprint, and help sustain the environment.

I've been looking around for more of these types of organisations.
I've also started turning "green".
Would you mind posting the link to the quiz? It has me intrigued, i'd like to know how many earths i need!

Kelly

Orchid64 said...

Unfortunately, I can't find the quiz that said I'd need 2.8 planets to sustain my lifestyle. There is one that I took awhile ago which says I need 1.8 earths which is here:

http://sustainability.publicradio.org/consumerconsequences/

The interesting thing is that I scroe 1 earth on 3 parts of the test, zero on 2 parts, and 3 on the food one. The only reason my food score is so high is that I eat a fair amount of dairy (cheese and milk, especially). Other than that, I can't see any reason it'd take a lot of planets to sustain me.