Monday, 26 October 2009

modern life

i like to think of myself as someone who cares about the environment. i'm concientious with recycling & separate out all my paper, vegetable scraps, plastics/glass/cans and other rubbish. i try to reuse plastic containers and bags as much as i can. i avoid buying bottled water unless i'm desperate, use discarded boxes at pak'n'save to take my groceries home, and carry my shopping sans plastic bags from as many retailers as i'm able. i haven't planted trees myself, although my garden is full of them.

but there is one area of my life where i am unable (or more accurately, unwilling) to reduce my carbon footprint. appliances. i love them. i can not possibly imagine living a life without my dishwasher, clothes dryer, dehumidifier, heater, rice-cooker, food-processor, microwave, computer, mobile phone and electric blanket.

i'm talking about the (basically) non-essentials here, ie not just the stove, vacuum cleaner, telephone and washing machine which the majority of households couldn't manage without. i'm talking about all those extra devices which exist purely to save time or to provide comfort. in this regard, i'm a total urbanite. for me, a fun holiday does not involve camping in a tent, cooking on an open fire, relieving myself in a hole in the ground, and bathing in the nearest lake or river. no way. i want a decent motel/hotel with all the modern comforts available.

i know it's naughty, and i often feels quite decadent when the dishwasher, the dryer, the laptop and the dehumidifier are all going at the same time. but i can't seem to help myself. some of these appliances are crucial to me as a working mum with a hectic lifestyle. i just don't have energy at the end of a busy day to be doing a whole pile of dishes or hanging out and taking in the clothes. the dehumidifier is a health requirement - i find that my asthma is a lot worse if i don't use it in the winter months.

but most of them are just habit, a part of modern living. but i wouldn't have any of them taken away. i grew up in the era before mobile phones, but now i can't imagine living without mine. i grew up writing with pen and paper, but now i only feel comfortable composing on the computer. i love the concept of electronic books and MP3s (even though i don't own these), so that you can have access to thousands of songs or books in one easy and small device.

generally, i think progress is a wonderful thing, and i don't tend to look back into the past with any kind of nostalgia. what i'd really like, though, is to be able to enjoy my appliances without any kind of guilt. to me, they represent freedom. in the sense that they free up my time, which means that i can blog, i can volunteer for various organisations, i can be politically active, i can do all sorts of things that i wouldn't have been able to do if i didn't have these appliances.

i think of most of my appliances as feminists devices that enable to me achieve and that give me choices i wouldn't otherwise have had. so what's the best way to mitigate my huge carbon footprint without giving up my beloved appliances?


homepaddock said...

"i'm concientious with recycling. . ."

But do you know the enivronmental impact of that?

I ask ths seriously after reading in the ODT acouple of years ago (and can't find it online) about a factory recycling our plastic in China which causes awful air & water pollutuion & where workers get lung diseases.

The mantra is reduce, reuse, recycle. Reduction and reuse we can be pretty confident are better for the environment but recycling may be worse than dumping.

Trouble said...

I keep a compost heap and a woodburner for heating, and have CFLs throughout my house, but you'll prize the disposable nappies from my cold dead hands. The time and labour of washing out cloth ones is worth more to me than the 40c per disposable nappy. I realise there are costs to producing and landfilling them that I don't bear, but there are external costs to washing and sterilising cloth ones as well - hot water, napisan in the waste water, dryer if the weather's bad, etc.

Anonymous said...

A dryer isn't a necessity. We don't have a dryer and have never had one even with two small children who seem to go through at least 2 changes of clothes a day, young one because of water play etc at the creche and older one because of fashion requirements...
And we both work full time, so I can't bring the washing in at the first sign of rain.
The trick for getting clothes dry is having the washing line in the sunniest spot in the garden - even if it means that it is visible from the house and the road. And also taking note of the weather forecast...

Byron said...

I wouldn't feel to guilty about the dishwasher, hand-washing dishes is not always more environmentally friendly than using a dishwasher.
There is a new standardised charger for mobile phones out soon, which should reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 13.6m tonnes due to reducing the manufacturing of quickly obsolete chargers. So next time you buy a phone, get one that takes a standardised charger, and if you want to go one better, get a solar charger (there are a lot available).
I've been using the same computer since 2003, I've upgraded parts of it and given old parts to others who have older computers they want to upgrade, or when that's not an option given old parts to a local non profit that does electronics recycling. If you want to reduce the environmental impact of your computer use that's a good way to do it. Not everyone has the skills to do upgrades, but if there is a time bank in your community it may be possible to get upgrades done in exchange for doing some other work (or you could hire a technician).
Oh, and cooking in a microwave is more energy efficient than cooking in an oven/on a stove

stargazer said...

yeah, anon, my dryer going down is what started this current bout of musings. i've been trying to do what you've said, but i'm just finding it really difficult because i have meeting and/or teleconferences many nights, and have been out of town for two weekends in a row. and the weather has just been annoying - it's only been fine on the days i've been away!! i ended up putting the washing in front of the dehumidifier, and finally managed to catch up yesterday because it didn't rain. but couldn't help thinking what an inefficient use of my time and energy it all was.

trouble, i'm absolutely with you on the disposable nappy thing. i never used anything else. i would have preferred environmentally friendly disposable and would have been quite willing to pay more for such an option, but there wasn't one available at the time my kids were in nappies.

thanx for the tips byron, really helpful. and homepaddock, i do the home compost thing, and i'm sure that recycling paper is a good idea too. you may be right on the plastics thing, and i do try to minimise there.

Boganette said...

I don't have a dryer so when it's raining I stick a clothes-horse under my heat pump.

That's probably worse than using a dryer but fuck it I need clean clothes.

I really wish I had a dishwasher. I'm pretty sure having a dishwasher would be more environmentally friendly than hand-washing since I tend to wash three things at a time because my kitchen is too small to have shitloads of dirty dishes in it.

katy said...

It is a good question, and everyone draws the line in different places. We had a discussion about reducing emissions at work recently: one person advocated giving up meat, another giving up cars, another apartment living etc and it was obvious that some things would work better for us as individuals than others. Personally my husband and I are pretty minimalist in some ways - we don't have a car or TV, we didn't have a fridge for the first year we lived together (until someone gave us one), we live in an apartment building with shared laundry facilities... However, I don't think it is appliances that are the problem, rather the fact that the cost of manufacturing/purchasing/running them maybe doesn't reflect their true cost to the community (same with flying). I don't think there is anything wrong with the activities as such, I just wish the costs associated were real ones so that we could make real decisions as to how important these things really were to us.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! You are the first person that I have come across in a long time to link domestic appliances with feminism. The question is how to balance feminism with environmentalism. Shared domestic labour. Now there's a thought!

stargazer said...

you're quite welcome! shared domestic labour rather depends on having another adult in the house to share it with, and many people don't have that. so should those people be allowed a bigger carbon footprint to make up for the fact? i'd be happy to allow that.

but yes, where it is possible, shared labour is definitely one of the solutions.

and i also hate the concept that using these appliances makes you less of a woman. or a less valuable woman. and i get those undertones so often, as if, by saving time through the use of appliances, i'm somehow cheating someone somewhere.

Deborah said...

I love my dishwasher, my vacuum cleaner, my washing machine, my food processor, my Kenwood mixer (I do a lot of baking) my microwave, my computer.

Mobile phone, rice cooker, electric blanket - meh. But each to her own.

I think the one appliance I would hate to lose is the washing machine. Everything else I can manage, but the thought of washing our clothes and linen by hand makes me feel overwhelmingly tired. Appliances have freed up women's time enormously.

It is a little easier to do many of these things by hand if there are two more more adults in the house. We didn't get a dryer or a dishwasher until we had children, and managed just fine. I could manage now, but putting a load of washing in the dryer takes me 2 minutes, tops, and most of that is the time it takes to walk out to the shed where our dryer is, whereas it can take me up to 15 minutes to hang out a load of washing, depending on what's in it.

DPF:TLDR said...

I believe handwashing dishes is actually a false economy. Dishwashers use less water and the water doesn't need to be heated as much - and their internal heating is usually more efficient than a house's hot water cylinder.

My flatties and I tried not using our dishwasher to save power, and our power bills actually went up slightly.

So, if I were an environmentalist (which I'm not) I would be advocating dishwashers for everybody!

katy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
katy said...

"and i also hate the concept that using these appliances makes you less of a woman. or a less valuable woman. and i get those undertones so often, as if, by saving time through the use of appliances, i'm somehow cheating someone somewhere."

This is a bizarre reaction; who would begrudge someone appliances?? Does this come from older women? Men??

stargazer said...

both really. i get tagged with being lazy, which i tend to resent quite a bit.

i get it from women who wash all there dishes and hang out all their washing and delight in being the perfect housewife, so see me as less than. which again pisses me off, cos i do my best not to judge them for their choices (even though in my heart, i sometimes think they could be spending their time more productively).

and i get it from men who are proud of their perfect housewives and seem to think there's some nobility in housework even though they themselves will only rarely lift a finger in that direction. it's only noble when women do it. this pisses me off most of all!

Bevan said...

NZ society seems more judgemental than other countries - or perhaps it's just where my headspace has been lately.

Wouldn't the best solution be to generate your own power?
E.g. via solar panels or a wind turbine?
Obviously that's a bit expensive and possibly impractical, but if it were achievable on an individual household level then a lot of that guilt would be gone.

the Scarlet Manuka said...

Drive Less! And sign up for renewable electricity.

Seriously, the appliances won't be negligible but you need to know what proportion of your footprint they represent before you can know how important it is to make changes in this area. Odds on your transportation and food footprints will be larger, although obviously I know nothing of what you might already have done in these areas.

The footprint of your appliances will arise from the manufacturing and the ongoing electricity. Electricity can be purchased as guaranteed renewable or offset, which is something of a paper transaction at present but increases in meaning as more of us sign up to it.

A microwave costs roughly 300kg/C02 to produce, which corresponds to burning about 110L of petrol. That's 22L/yr for the 5 years a microwave is expected to last, or 1/2L per week.