Some Notes on the Environment

Why I Care And Why An Inconvenient Truth Doesn't Matter

This post was written for Blog Action Day, in which a group of bloggers are all posting on environmental topics on the same day.

I’ve written several times in the past about environmental issues and saving money:

The Green Dollar
Conserve Energy, Save Money, Save The World
Prosperity and the Planet
42 Ways Going Green Saves a Ton of Money

If you want specific tips on how to simultaneously save money and also help the environment, all of those articles will point you in the right direction.

In fact, this article started off along those same lines, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized just listing environment saving frugality tips probably wouldn’t make much of a difference. Honestly, repeating the talking points from An Inconvenient Truth won’t make much difference, either – almost all of you have already heard this stuff and have already made up your minds about it.

Instead, I thought I’d tell why I, a person pretty devoted to the idea of free market capitalism and largely opposed to the Environmental Protection Agency, am rather green in my beliefs and actions and what I’m actually doing to make a difference. And, no, it’s far different than just changing a light bulb.

If you read The Simple Dollar for money stuff, just bear with me here, we’ll get around to it.

Why I Care About The Environment

The reason is simple.

My son is almost two, and he loves to run around in our back yard barefoot. We have thick grass that we allow to grow rather high. I go out there barefooted myself quite often to play with him – there’s nothing like the feeling of a few inches of grass under your toes, squishing beneath them, as you run around.

It was an experience that I had in childhood, and also that my father had in his childhood – we’ve talked about it before.

It’s an experience that I want to exist for my own children, and their children, and their children. I want them to have big leafy trees to climb and thick grass under their toes. I want them to be able to breathe in big mouthfuls of fresh air. I want there to be places where you can open windows on opposite sides of the house and have the wind blow through. I want there to be rain clean enough that they can stand in the yard, looking up with their mouths open catching raindrops. I want there to be clean, abundant snow in the north so that children can make snowmen.

This isn’t just for my own children and grandchildren, it’s something I want for every child out there.

What I’m Doing About It

windmillHonestly, I’m not that concerned about the global environment. I’ll gladly support candidates who make what I consider to be sensible choices about large-scale environmental concerns, but for the most part, there’s not much I can do. What I worry more about is the environment that I can control, the local area.

1. I try to do things that reduce my footprint

This almost always ties into increasing my gas mileage and reducing my home’s energy use. I also dream about things like a wind turbine at home for the eventual day when we move to a place deep in the country. I usually try to minimize our garbage output, and a big step in that direction is in the form of cooking at home, eating as many leftovers as possible, and utilizing our composting bin for many food wastes. We try to minimize our own possessions if at all possible for the same reason – less stuff, less overall footprint on the environment (this is the best argument of all to battle my wife’s pack-rat tendencies). I also focus strongly on reliability and energy efficiency for appliance purchases – I’d far rather pay a lot more up front to not replace my appliance very often and have it eat only a small amount of energy. Almost all of these things not only help with environmental issues, but they also save money, especially in the long run.

2. I follow hobbies that help

For example, we have a boxed garden ready to go for next spring and a compost bin that’s almost finished with a batch of compost to spread on it. Growing our own vegetables serves several purposes – it absorbs CO2 and produces oxygen, it allows us to eat these vegetables and thus reduces the need to transport them, and we also do things organically (hence the compost) so we don’t add unneeded chemicals to the system. This isn’t efficient in terms of time spent versus food produced, but it’s a hobby that is productive that we both enjoy.

3. I make small moves to keep the local area clean

I often pick up trash when we’re walking with our kids and make sure it finds its way to a trash receptacle. We are very open about sharing with neighbors so that there are fewer unneeded things littering people’s garages and homes.

These are all small things, but they all add up to a better future. The more people committed to little things like this in their lives, the better shape the environment will be in for our children and generations to come.

To me, it’s not a global commitment. It’s a commitment that begins and ends with me. I waste stuff all the time, but how can I minimize that waste so that my grandchildren have fewer mistakes of mine to deal with? It’s a challenge to me and the way I live that’s far more relevant than An Inconvenient Truth.

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  1. mgroves says:

    Very refreshing! You’ve decided to do what you can to clean things up, and you aren’t forcing others to pay for it.

  2. Hello Trent,

    Congratulations on making all those green steps with your family. You are way ahead of me! I find it much harder to walk than to talk the talk . . .

    Today, in honor of Blog Action Day, I started this new category in my blog, called ‘blogacts’, a collection of stories from fellow bloggers engaged in the dual action of blogging+activism. If you would like to contribute a story, I would love to host you.

    marguerite
    http://lamarguerite.wordpress.com

  3. Laura says:

    I appreciate the well-thought out post.

  4. Joe Richars says:

    One thing often not talked about with respect to being green is having fewer kids. Fewer kids means fewer resources of the world being used up in every generation; everyone knows the evils of overpopulation…

  5. Johanna says:

    I’m afraid I don’t understand: You want every child to have clean air and so forth, but you’re not that concerned about the global environment? Isn’t that inconsistent?

  6. dong says:

    I don’t see anywhere here where Trent says he unconcerned with the global environment. If anything I see the exact opposite. However, I do disagree with his stance on the EPA. I’m a big supporter of free market capitalism, but the free market by themselves without government oversight fall short when it comes to the environment. When it comes to environment, it’s all about externalities. Externalities are costs or benefits that benefit or harm individuals outside of the market transaction. Pollution is such an externality. While I may disagree with how the EPA may do certain things, I don’t disagree with the need to regulatory body either in the U.S. or the world as a whole.

  7. Sunshine says:

    Are you familiar with “No Impact Man”? Just discovered his site today (so, I’m not a shill [sp?])and I am thoroughly enthralled. Talk about making a smaller footprint!

  8. yvie says:

    It’s good that you have become environmentally aware.

    Now take the next step: don’t eat animals. Instead eat what the animals eat–fruits and veggies, grains and pulses. Much less land is needed without the intermediary animal, therefore much less fossil fuels need to be consumed.
    yvie

  9. Johanna says:

    @dong: It’s in big bold letters right under “What I’m doing about it.”

    @yvie: Word.

  10. Grant says:

    I’d like to know why you are opposed to the EPA. It’s an entire agency devoted to making sure that we all have clean air and water (among other things). How can anyone be opposed to that?

  11. dong says:

    oops, missed that. mea culpa.

  12. Woody says:

    Theres one problem with your stance Trent. You assume that others will do the same as you.

    Reality is that some people could give a rats end about how bad things get, as long as they make a quick buck off if it. They don’t plan on being around to deal with it later, and don’t care what others have to suffer as long as their life is nice. By removing or not promoting laws and agencies to regulate such things, you get huge polluters that make a profit on making a place unlivable and the use some of that to move to another place to start the cycle over again. (Just look at hot spots right here in the US that once were small towns but are now waste zones, where the companies that made it just left and won’t shoulder the cleanup costs.)

    Doing what you can in your own area is an honorable thing, and a step in the right direction. But thinking that just because you’re doing that everyone else will follow is not at all realistic. Pulling down the few safe guards that protect you from having a nickel processing plant, or high voltage power lines being setup in the empty lot behind your new house is equally narrow minded. (Don’t think it can’t happen… it can, and does every year.)

  13. Kat says:

    While the EPA is not perfect, no agency is, it still does good work. Look at all the countries where our manufacturering has been outsourced. They lack any agency close to the EPA and we are all suffering for it, especially those on the West coast. We get China’s pollution from across the ocean and Mexico’s coming up with the current.

  14. Hannah says:

    Trent, while I strongly applaud your localized efforts, ignoring the rest of the world’s environmental problems isn’t very smart. There’s no invisible shield that protects you and your children from the acid rain and other nastiness produced outside of your backyard. And if the planet gets even slightly as bad as scientists are predicting, there are likely to be huge security and economic issues that your children will have to deal with. I think it’s worthwhile to be concerned.

  15. kris says:

    I care about the environment because its the right thing to do. period.
    I am concerned about the global environment. It is sickening to see the world trashed and direspected.
    And, the EPA has done a tremendous job regulating corporations and cleaning up the environment. In fact, they have done such a good job many of you actually believe the environment has always been clean! Don’t schools still teach about the industrial revolution and the unchecked pollution it created that nearly strangled this country ….and continued to do so into the 70’s? Thats right, LBJ initiated the EPA in the early 70’s – long before anybody boasted about being “green”.

  16. Susy says:

    I hold pretty much the same views and do all the same stuff. I agree that it all begins at home. My husband and I really try to reduce what we use and recycle as much as we can. As a result we usually put out about a half a bag of garbage each week while everyone else in the neighborhood puts out mountains.

    So often we don’t do anything because we think what we do won’t be significant enough to make a difference. If we all tried to do what Trent does it would have a huge impact on the global environment.

    Ultimately we can really only control what we do, and every little thing we do adds up.

  17. 60 in 3 says:

    I think all this energy would be better spent talking to people who do nothing rather than Trent, someone who may not act on the global scale but does good things on the local scale. Is that good? Absolutely. Can he do more? Sure, but I still think we’re better off trying to change those who do nothing as opposed to those that are already acting, even if it’s on a small scale.

    Gal

  18. Brett McKay says:

    Trent-
    I’d also like to hear why you oppose the EPA. I’m going to have to agree with others here. While I’m a big free market guy, the EPA and other environmental agencies are a necessary evil. While the idea that all our environmental problems can be solved with the market sounds awesome, I don’t think it would work out. We tried that for the first 200 years of our country. It didn’t work out very well for us. Additionally, the common law isn’t sufficient to take care of environmental problems. There’s only so much you can do with torts in environmental law.

  19. Amanda says:

    I would disagree with Brett most strongly. The government is the biggest polluter of anyone in the US. Federal programs have contaminated over 600 sites in the US, with a cost of $300 billion to clean up. The federal government has allowed waste dumping into the Potomac river, amongst many others. Why has it done so? It has absolutely no reason not to do so. That’s right – none. It’s not accountable to anyone (“the people” notwithstanding) and thus can do what it wishes. I _know_ this – I used to work as a research assistant for environmental litigation at the DOJ. Guess who we sued? Government agencies. All the time.

    Companies don’t pollute their own land. That’s a fact. Why? Because they own their land, which goes down in value if they pollute it. They don’t care, however, about polluting government land so long as they know their buddies won’t get over it. The actual free-market solution? Deregulate government lands, and allow their free sale on the open market. No more government land, no more government-sponsored pollution.

    This has never been tried. The “free market” has never been allowed to act in this country, no matter what anyone tells you.

    Can you name me any government agency that actually does its job without waste and unnecessary bureaucracy? Then why do you think the EPA does its job? They’re amongst the worst polluters going.

    There is no such thing as a “necessary evil.” Either something is evil or it isn’t.

  20. dong says:

    Amanda, the problem with pollution is that it doesn’t just affect “your” own land. It affects everyone’s land. That’s why it’s an externality. Air pollution doesn’t linger over “your” land. Pollutants that find themselves into the water system doesn’t stop at the boundary line of “your” land. Companies and individuals will pollute because it’s in their best interest to do so. It’s effectively a prisoner’s dillemna. If everyone doesn’t pollute we’re all better off. However by free market rationale, companies are better of by polluting because they gain a cost advantage. This is why we need regulatory bodies like the EPA. You argue about how the EPA can be more effective, but there’s no question that Environmental Regulation on the Government’s part has helped the environment not hurt it.

  21. Monica says:

    And yet you plan to own both a pick-up truck and a minivan?

  22. lotsofbluesky says:

    I read this post about the environment way back in January 2007 and it has stuck with me ever since. I think it would be good for more people to read it.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathy-freston/vegetarian-is-the-new-pri_b_39014.html

  23. @Grant, the answer to why anybody is opposed to the EPA can be found in your own question…

    “It’s _an entire agency_ devoted to making sure that we all have clean air and water.”

    That sums it up about there.

  24. Vicksen says:

    Alas! When honest, thoughtful, caring and decent folks (and I definitely think that’s you, Trent!) stop being involved in the big picture/society/political realm, things get really bad. The environment is only one example of the many issues which cannot be fully or adequately addressed _solely_ by individual action, but which require the concerted efforts of a whole society. Go on doing what good you can do, personally, privately, individually — but be sure to bring your experience, your beliefs and your passions to the world in which we act together, as a group, to change things, too.

  25. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Acting as a group has made the environment worse, not better. The energy expended on large-scale environmental issues end up with limp initiatives like the Kyoto Protocol and the Clean Skies Act (the latter of which actually benefits polluters). I could expend a bunch of energy and resources driving to a rally (burning fossil fuels) and waving signs around (wasting the resources used to make the sign), but it’s not going to make a bit of difference in the long run.

    I’d rather expend an hour’s worth of my energy reducing my own footprint by making my home efficient or planting trees than railing in Washington. Want me to fight on a bigger scale? Read this post again and think about the audience. If I can convince five people out of everyone who read this post to make some changes in their home, I’ve effected a far bigger change than I ever would running around waving a sign or fighting “the man” at a WTO protest.

  26. Siena says:

    I think it is up to individuals and businesses to do their part–but it is also up to the govt. to help those who aren’t doing their part. I was in Wal-mart and noticed a couple buying several boxes of regular light bulbs. They were buying other expensive items, and I wanted to say something to them from a cost and environment perspective. Well my state has banned regular light bulbs but that doesn’t start til 2020.

    The govt’s stricter mileage standards will force businesses to increase mileage in vehicles. Mandatory water conservation where I live even though water is plentiful ensures ecological peace for the wildlife/fish as well as enough water to outlast a drought. I try to conserve water because I consider it a precious resource. Others I know are conserving because they’ve already been cited and do not want to pay a fine.

    Yes, more individuals are acting now to help the environment, businesses are more involved than ever before, the govt. should absolutely get involved and be the leader, not the third place follower.

  27. Becky says:

    You are clearly concerned about your children’s health, and I know you eat at home so you must buy a fair share of vegetables. I’d be interested to hear your feelings on organic produce (especially _local_ organic produce). It’s more expensive, but it’s arguably healthier for your kids and the planet — do you spend the extra money for organics when they are available to you?

  28. Lisa says:

    What is your beef with the EPA? I value your opinion so I am curious to know. If you believe in the free market, then a product’s price should take into consideration the pollution it produces but emits to the air, water, & land fill for FREE. We are paying a price for these, it just happens to be listed under the “asthma and other health problems” heading of your spreadsheet.

  29. Hannah says:

    I agree that you’ve likely helped reduced the ecological footprints of some of your readers, and I strongly believe that progress can be measured in tiny increments. However, in this post you seem to be telling people that activism is pointless. I think that’s a damaging philosophy. It is because of people like you (and at times, me), the many millions who think their voices are useless to change the actions of our government, that the government often does as it pleases. If you don’t want to picket, at least write letters, send emails, vote. (I’m guessing that you don’t vote, either, because what’s the point?) This blog shows that your voice has power. I guess I’m just really surprised at this show of apathy, when you seem otherwise to be very driven.

  30. Brian C says:

    Trent, I like your push to reduce your footprint, but you should recognize the necessity of the EPA.

    No EPA would make our environment similar to China’s… one sees the disasterous result of weak environmental regulation in China. When I visited Beijing & Shenzhen, the air was so polluted it was YELLOWISH BROWN for 2 weeks straight… I was gagging outdoors just walking around. China has not curtailed factory emissions until just recently.

    The EPA might seem slow and inefficient on the surface, but it has championed many sweeping changes to prevent (or at least slow down) the way Americans abuse our environment. Consider the positive impacts of the EPA, such as: eliminating lead from gasoline, lead paint, & banning asbestos; forcing factories to control pollution, thereby eliminating acid rain in the Northeast; outlawing DDT & benzene, making drinking water safer.

    The EPA receives a bad rap because it isn’t 100% effective in ALL areas. But it has been VERY effective in many different areas. There is no way the EPA could placate all the thousands of activists groups since they have overlapping/opposing views.

  31. Brett McKay says:

    I’ll agree that protesting at WTO meetings is pointless. When I was in high school and in my first year of college I discovered Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, and Adbusters. I thought it was pretty cool and started to get involved with left wing groups that protested against the Man ala the WTO protesters. You know what? It didn’t do a lick of good. I discovered I could do more to fight social justice by giving my money to the Red Cross or volunteering at a local soup kitchen.

    I’ll admit that I’ve become somewhat jaded about political involvement and activism. I think you’ll see more and more people from my generation become more apolitical. Who can blame us? We’ve come of age in a time with intense partisan division and an administration that has lost the trust of the American people. I think this can explain the popularity of Ron Paul among younger people. His message resonates with our generation: Government screws things up so less of it is good.

    Personally, I’m in a transition of political orientation. I find libertarianism appealing on many levels, but am still leery of of going for full blown privatization. I’m still not convinced that privatization is the answer to all our problems.

    Sorry for the thread jack. End rambling.

  32. Aaron says:

    To sum up the argument made by the majority, the public good can’t simply be left to private interests. It doesn’t work that way. Externalities and the prisoner’s dilemma both certainly apply, but I challenge anyone to familiarize themselves with the “tragedy of the commons” and then make the argument against government regulation. Debate ’til your blue in the face how effective the EPA is in practice, but that’s besides the point. This is a theoretical discussion, and in theory, on an issue such as the environment, there needs to be some sort of governing body that leads with either the carrot or the stick.

    Trent, I can only assume your kids will either be in private schools or home-schooled?

  33. Rhonda says:

    Why don’t you think you can affect the larger picture? If everyone in America exercised their right to vote you could force through major changes in how America acts towards the environment – and as a major world pollutor that would be an enormous change. I don’t understand why people with power to make a difference don’t use it. Wouldn’t you take away the keys to the family car if your son was driving irresponsibly?

  34. Amanda says:

    If you’re truly after a “free market” than the EPA cannot exist. It’s as simple as that.

    The solution to government-caused waste and pollution is not more government! It’s not voting, it’s not writing to your congressman. We’ve tried it and it hasn’t worked.

    The EPA hasn’t worked, and can’t work. It’s antithetical to its very nature.

  35. Johanna says:

    @Amanda:

    If someone steals, destroys, or damages something that belongs to me, I want the government (in the form of the police) to step in and impose some consequences. I don’t think the free market can be effective at imposing law and order in that way. Do you disagree?

    Similarly, if someone pollutes land that belongs to me, or air and water that belongs to everybody, then it’s totally appropriate, and not at all anti-free-market, for the government to take action. It’s as simple as that.

  36. Bill says:

    I love the EPA – firm made a ton of cash at my first job out of college working on their projects (outsourced to private consulting firms)

    The big advantage of working as a consultant to the government – it’s not their money, and there’s little accountability for results, so they aren’t very careful how they spend it.

    The fees the EPA paid were such it wasn’t worth going after private clients.

    We got all the best computer toys as well, which technically belonged to the EPA, but they never asked for them back at the end of a contract.

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