It's a Good Thing You Can't Smell This Post (And Other Wisdom from Reduce Your Impact Month)

This month is all about trying to lower our environmental impact by following the advice of blogs, books, viral videos, listicles, etc. (See our Calendar page for our inspiration list.) Here's a recap of Week 1.

WE WEREN'T STARTING AT ZERO

For the sake of transparency, we wanted to be clear that the idea of being kind to the environment is not new for us. Prior to the start of this month, we were already habitually doing a number of things to try to be responsible humans:

  • Eating a mostly plant-based diet. (We occasionally indulge in fancy cheese or a nice piece of chicken, but 80–85% of our meals are dairy-free, egg-free, and meat-free.)
  • Recycling all containers and composting our food scraps. (Our city makes both of these things easy. We know it's much harder in other places.)
  • Biking to work—well, Chuck bikes to work (weather permitting)
  • Always using reusable bags at the grocery store
  • Supporting CSA's and local farms (when it's financially feasible)
  • Opting for vehicles with the best gas milage vs. other features
  • Limiting the amount we water the lawn (even if that means it dries up and dies)
  • Using "old-school" gadgets like a push-lawnmower instead of the gas-powered alternatives

So if this is our starting point, we were a little concerned about what it would look like to go even further. But there's always room for improvement, right? Here's a peek at the first week of July. Drumroll please... 

CHALLENGE #1: NO AIR CONDITIONING

There are people who swear we can improve the health of the planet if we all just use less AC in summer and less heat in winter. (Also, Huffington Post promised me that half my energy goes to heating/cooling, so I'm banking on a 50% reduction in our energy bill this month.) So in July, we're turning off the air completely. We're cooling the house by opening all the windows at night and pulling in the night air. During the day, we close everything up and try desperately to keep the night air trapped inside.

PROS: There are no tangible pros to report at this point. There is only the intangible hope that somehow not running the air this month will lengthen the life of the planet. But realistically, our actions maybe gave the planet .00000000001 milliseconds more life with this endeavor. For this idea to have any real impact, it has to be a collective effort. Anyone want to join? Maybe if we can get 100 of our friends to agree to turn up the temperature in their house by 2 degrees, we'll call it a win. Until then, I'll just be sitting over here in my own sweat, trying to save the world.

CONS: The temperatures outside are in the 90's. I spent the week working in a home office that ends up being 89–94 degrees by mid-day. The dog sits under my desk and pants loudly enough that it's distracting. I sweat. Everything smells a little musty. I crave popsicles. Then when it's time to cook dinner, I think, "No way in hell I am turning on anything that generates heat." So we eat a lot of sandwiches. We don't sleep well because it's too hot.

My hobbit hole. This is me attempting to keep my office cool with no lights and the shades down. It's pretty sad.

My hobbit hole. This is me attempting to keep my office cool with no lights and the shades down. It's pretty sad.

THE BIGGEST CON: On July 2nd, I woke up at 1am, choking from the overwhelming stench of skunk. That's right. A skunk had decided that since we were sleeping with all our windows open, it was the PERFECT opportunity to spray the neighbor's dog. I put the house on lock-down, but it was too late. The smell of skunk lingered in every room for a solid 2 days. (And let me be clear. I have never in my entire life been in the vicinity of a full-blown skunk attack. THIS IS NOT A NORMAL OCCURRENCE. THIS IS NOT EVEN AN EVERY-OTHER-YEAR OCCURRENCE. The world saved up this experience as a special treat to coincide with this month's blog.) And none of the articles or documentaries warned me that this was a possible problem. It's time to write a few letters to a few editors. 

CHALLENGE #2: USE LESS ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING

I've read so many horrifying articles about how modern lighting is screwing us over. It messes with animals, especially nocturnal animals. It messes with human sleep patterns, making us cranky and arguably less healthy. And new kinds of lighting are making it almost impossible for anyone to see the awesomeness of the night sky. Also, it requires an immense amount of energy to light our homes. So...we are experimenting with what's it's like to limit our lighting at night. No outdoor lights. Limited indoor lights after sundown. Solar-powered lighting when possible. I call it "environmentally conscious ambiance." I bet there's a five-star restaurant somewhere that would kill for the atmosphere we're cultivating here.

PROS: This forces us to stay outside longer than we normally would. We sit outside on the porch and soak up every last ray of sunshine. We eat dinner outside, which is pleasant. We play yard games. We play with the dog.

CONS: We cry a little when the sun goes down. I bought a solar-powered lantern that we can use at night. (That is the hippyest sentence I've ever written.) But that means that everyone—me, Chuck, my little brother—have to travel in a pack from room to room, using the one light. You can wander off if you want, but you'll probably trip on something. Trying to use one lantern also presents a problem when someone has to use the bathroom. (I think next week we each get to carry a candle around after dark.)

Another definite con: When my solar-powered lantern arrived, I noticed it was made in China. And it was wrapped in plastic. And it was over-packaged. So how long will I have to use this solar light to negate the impact of buying a plastic-based product made on another continent and having it shipped here? Not sure. 

Here's me attempting to pit cherries under the light of my solar lantern. It's surprisingly bright, but the light is highly directional. So you can see everything in a 5-foot radius and nothing else.

OUR PROGRESS: We don't turn on lights at all during the day anymore. There's plenty of light from the windows. I'd say that's pretty impressive. However, after the first few days, we started slowly increasing the amount of indoor lighting we use at night. It's not like we are going to hop into bed at 8:30pm when the sun goes down, so using some kind of lighting is necessary. And walking around the house with one solar lantern for three people is asinine. However, you can bet we are never leaving the lights on when we leave a room. We've broken that habit. Win!

CHALLENGE #3: REDUCE OUR CAR TRAVEL

The goal here is simple in theory, but oh-so-hard in practice: Whenever possible, we are trying to travel via walking, biking, or public transit.

CONS: It's f-ing hot. That makes biking the least appealing form of transportation. So when the dog ran out of food this week, Chuck was not thrilled about having to bike down to the pet store and load a 25 lbs. bag of dog food on the back of his bike. Me? I didn't leave the house for six days straight. I am a hermit (which is probably a good thing given the fact that I'm not showering...see next section).

PROS: It's not all bad news. I carpooled with my friend, Cami, to do my grocery shopping. So I got to hang out with a friend while doing a mundane weekly chore. I'd call that a win. Also, Chuck is pretty excited that he's logged over 110 miles already and burned a lot of calories:

Chuck's workout log

Chuck's workout log

CHALLENGE #4: USE LESS WATER

We've all heard the warnings that clean water is going to run dry at some point if we don't change our consumption. So here's what we decided to try for the first two weeks of July:

  • No showering and definitely no baths (Did you know a bath uses a lot more water than a shower? I didn't.)
  • If a shower is absolutely necessary, take a two-minute shower (using a kitchen timer)
  • "If it's brown, flush it down. If it's yellow, let it mellow." Yep, that's our house rule right now. Another house rule: NO ASPARAGUS MAY BE CONSUMED IN JULY.

PROS: Just attempting this has made us more aware of how much water we use. It's always good to be aware of your impact, right?

CONS: Awareness has a dark side. Every time I turn on a faucet, my brain screams, "Noooo! Just look at all that water you're losing! Capture the water! Capture the water!" It's turning into a kind of paranoia. I mean, can someone tell me how much water use is acceptable water use so I can calm the f down? Also, you can't decide not to flush in public places. People are judgy if you leave pee in a toilet. It's socially awkward. And if we don't flush, the next person will just flush before they go. So what's the point? 

Also, if you are not going to be flushing, carefully evaluate what you put into your body. It will come out. It will have consequences.

OUR PROGRESS: Listen, if it's in the 90's and you aren't using AC, you sweat profusely. If you bike to work, you don't smell like a rose. After three days, I looked and felt like absolute shit. (See below.) I couldn't stand the smell of myself. So I'm opting for short showers every other day. Chuck has been showering daily (at my request). Maybe this would be easier in the winter?

Three days in with no shower and no AC. It's a good thing you can't smell photos.

Three days in with no shower and no AC. It's a good thing you can't smell photos.

Also, it's really, really difficult to break the habit of flushing the toilet. It's engrained. So at least once a day, I hear the sound of the toilet flushing, followed by the cursing. We'll get better.