What if Reducing Your Carbon Emissions by Cloth Diapering, Baking Bread, and Riding Your Bicycle Could Actually Make You a Happier Person?

PICT0034-32As the weather turns cold (it was 37 degrees in Ashland last night and 51 degrees in our house this morning) in southern Oregon, we’re talking about personal consumption and lifestyle choices on Mothering Outside the Lines this week.

James spent the better part of an afternoon installing a Microsoft Hohm device to monitor our energy output. We now have a rectangular screen a little bigger than an iPod on the kitchen counter reporting how much electricity we’re using at any given moment. The kids check it obsessively. “Mom! Oh my God! It’s up to .04 cents an hour. Why the change?! Shut off some lights?!”

(Come back tomorrow for the technical details about installing this gadget, which was sent to us to test out by the manufacturer.)

In Europe, where electricity is more expensive, people tend to be more careful about how much they use. I’ve been trying hard to get out of the habit of leaving the lights or the radio on and I drive James crazy walking into rooms he’s just exited to turn the light off. (James: “But I’m going back in a minute.” Me: “Yes, but you’re not there now.”). I’m hoping this monitor will make us all more conscientious, at least until the novelty wears off.

A professor at Emory used to tell his students that, “Writing is a habit. A habit is something you do without thinking.”

After finishing Colin Beavan’s book, No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries he Makes About Himself and our way of Life in the Process, over the weekend, I’ve been worrying that I can substitute the word “Life” in place of the word “Writing.”

Life is a habit. A habit is something you do without thinking.

In order to complete the No Impact project, Beavan had to examine every aspect of his family’s consumption, lifestyle habits, and assumptions about what’s important in life. Over the course of a year, they made radical lifestyle changes. He and his much-more-reluctant-about-the-whole-project wife Michelle both came to realize that following the status quo, watching huge amounts of TV, and eating take-out every night (because they were too tired to cook after working so hard to support their lifestyle and consumption habits) was not making them happy. Though a lot of the changes were hard (especially at first), much of what they did actually improved their quality of life, made them feel more connected to each other, and gave them more time to spend with their daughter.

Beavan writes about how so many of us in America feel unhappy and lonely and unfulfilled. So we turn to psychotropic drugs—not carbon emission reduction—to fix our sense of disconnectedness. Did you know that so many people are on Prozac in this country that the unmetabolized drug, which is peed out, is showing up in quantifiable amounts in our drinking water?

We usually have at least one big snow storm in Ashland every winter. Two years ago the streets were impassible and the schools shut down. The kids and I clomped to town in our winter boots. Since it was impossible to drive, everyone was walking around town. Friendliness and conspiracy commingled: we were all playing hooky together, enjoying the bright sunshine on such a cold day.

What if reducing our consumption habits is not a hardship but a benefit? If everyone in Ashland walked downtown, like we all did that day it snowed, our city would be that much friendlier, safer, quieter, and less polluted. Humans are social animals. We need community to thrive. If we used our cars less, maybe we would feel that much more connected to each other (to say nothing of being that much fitter from all the walking, biking, scootering, and skateboarding).

Maybe I should commit to baking bread from scratch for this week. Added benefit: it’s freezing in our house and when the bread bakes it will warm up the kitchen.

Do you think it’s possible that reducing your consumption in some way could make you happier or give you a higher quality of life?

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on Monday, October 25th, 2010 at 12:00 pm and is filed under social change.
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