(I am aware that I have written on this topic before, but after another year of living here I feel strongly enough to write about it again.)
There are a lot of “eco” trends in America right now. Sustainability, electric cars, tiny homes, homesteading. Yoga with trendy clothing. Designer tea that costs way too much. A new kind of consumerism, designed to make you feel like you are buying something wholesome, something timeless and fulfilling. Trendy shoulder bags or water-bottles with flowers on them. Biodegradable whatever.
Somehow, we think that “eco living” should make us feel good. We think that “eco living” is something that we are on the brink of discovering.
A lot of money is going into research to find new energy sources and develop environmentally-friendly products. I’ve learned a lot regarding eco living while in Japan, and I wanted to share that with you. Japan has a lifestyle and population similar to the United States, yet their energy consumption and pollution are far lower. How does that happen?
There is no shortcut.
I’d like to state that right off the batt, because that is the gist of everything else I am going to write here. There is no shortcut to eco living. Eco living means doing without. There is no environmentally friendly car. There is no environmentally friendly air-conditioner. There is no environmentally friendly way to get food out-of-season.
If you want to live a lifestyle that cares for the environment, you must do without.
I have no central heat or air-conditioning. I have no water heater tank. I have no car. In winter, I am freezing. I heat only the room that I am in using a kerosene heater. It is not environmentally friendly, but it consumes far less energy than central heating. I can sleep without heat all through winter because I have a down-comforter. I have no idea what process was used to create it- if the workers were payed fair wage (probably not), or if the birds used for the down were grown on free-range farms (also probably not). That doesn’t matter. What matters is I have a passive form of staying warm, and that I will use, repair, and take care of this comforter for as long as I can.
In the morning, when I shower I turn the gas on my water heater and ignite it using a crank. I shower. When I’m finished, I turn off the gas. This, too, is also not some kind of environmentally friendly miracle. But it uses far less energy than the usual water heater in an American home. When I am at work, the water in my apartment is not being heated, it’s just sitting there. When you are at work, your hot water is still hot.
To get to work, I either ride my bike or take a bus. I ride my bike even in the dead of winter. If necessary, I put on snowboard pants and wear a scarf around my face. It is not trendy- sometimes it sucks, especially if it’s raining or snowing. But I live. I am aware that buses take a lot of fuel to run, and that is not environmentally friendly. But when lots of people use public transportation that impact is reduced. There are less cars on the road, less cars being manufactured through processes which are also not environmentally friendly.
In winter, I pay a premium for fruits or I don’t eat them. Some seasonal foods are simply unavailable.
In summer, I rarely use air-conditioning. Instead I opt for a rotating fan, I fan myself, or I take a cold shower.
If you want to live an eco life, you must live a life that is congruent with reality. Think about Native Americans- people who had virtually no environmental impact. That was a hard life, a harsh life. Winter was cold. Summer was hot. Meat was eaten sparingly. Nothing was wasted. They lived that life not because they had no interest in technology (which is often mistaken for “progress”) but because they understood that the earth could be hurt.
An electric car will not save you. Solar panels will not save you. Trendy yoga pants will not save you. Running miles every day using running shoes made in some far-away place that you replace every two months will not save you.
Turning off your air-conditioner will save you. Taking shorter showers and installing a wall water-heater that you turn on every time you shower will save you. Eating less, particularly meat, will save you. Fixing up and riding your old beater bike instead of buying a fancy road bike that you will forget about in two months (or during the entire winter season) will save you. Taking your fleece jacket to the local tailor and getting that rip patched instead of buying some high-tech double-stitched seam-sealed gore-whatever jacket made across the world and then brought here through substantial pollution costs will save you. Carpooling with your Civic from the 90s will save you. Inviting the neighbors over for dinner and then eating the leftovers for lunch the next week will save you.
You don’t have to buy some new miracle technology. You don’t have to buy organically grown fruit or free-range beef. You don’t have to do yoga. You just have to buy less. You just have to enjoy what you have. You just have to do without (because what you don’t have isn’t that great anyway).