Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Critical Mass

Friday was 'critical mass' at my university: all the cyclists congregate at a given time and place, and commute en masse through the centre of town, to raise awareness of cyclists and cycling. I understand the point--hey cars! share the road!

Unfortunately, Munchkin and I got caught behind them as they blocked our road home. It was a matter of one red light. Waiting at the edge of the ring road at said red, I watched them all pull out, at least two hundred of them, from the parking lot across the street. I was dismayed. Our usual 8 minute commute home instead took half an hour and about 4 extra kilometres of travel. I wanted so badly to get home, to start the weekend, to unstrap us from our seat belts and park the car until Monday, to get out in the sun. Ironic, then, that the bicyclists trapped us on the road, trapped us in our car. I saw one of my students in the mass, weaving around, waving a flag. I support the cause. I've ridden in a critical mass ride before. I would love to ride my bike to work like I used to. But Munchkin changes things, changes me, changes what we, as a family, do, the choices we make.

This is my post for September's BlogHers Act Canada, on the topic of 'reduce'. And maybe on the challenges to said reduction posed by parenthood.

Reducing, for us, is a balancing act: we can reduce mileage on our car by taking the bus to daycare ... but this reduces also our time together as a family, and increases our commuting time. We could reduce packaging by shopping at the bulk grocery club store ... but this increases the mileage on the car and reduces our connection to our own neighbourhood, whose relatively expensive grocery store we can walk to. We could reduce waste by switching back to the cloth diaper service we used for the first seven months of Munchkin's life ... but we would increase by far the amount of laundry we do, the number of diaper changes and clothing changes and bedding changes from the leaks.

We try hard to remain conscious of the costs of our practices. It's never perfect. But neither is it hopeless, or zero-sum.

The choice: commuting by car, commuting by bus.
Pynchon takes the bus, and I drive Munchkin. Munchkin and I are both on campus, and Pynchon works in the opposite direction, so this makes sense. We drive, then, 8km per day. We did choose to buy a new car when I was pregnant, the smallest most gas-efficient model we could get, a car we intend to drive for at least ten years. We got a four-door Toyota Echo, and we're averaging about 20,000 km/year. Not bad. We're trying to be a one-car family, and to walk to more places. We're reducing our mileage.

The choice: groceries.
We buy from the local grocery store. We live in an uptown core and we think it's important to shop locally to support the merchants. This is more expensive, and we can't buy in bulk. We do, though, use canvas bags exclusively. And we do try to buy more from the periphery of the store than from the middle--that is, more fresh food and produce, and fewer packaged goods. That reduces our waste. We do buy soda in cans as well as bottles: we bring cans to work (save money) and recycle them there; we drink from bottles at home. We no longer buy bottled water. We bought bottles instead, and refill them at home. We're reducing some packaging, then, and again reducing our mileage.

The choice: housing and heating and cooling.
Our house is about a hundred years old, cheap, in the uptown area, a bit ramshackle. We spent a fortune to insulate it to reduce our heating and cooling costs. We have a mid-efficiency furnace, but it's pretty new and we're not going to replace it. We do have central air, but we try not to use it. Both heating and cooling are managed by a programmable thermostat that we bought and installed: we minimize nighttime and office-hours consumption. Our house is old and leaky and not terribly efficient. But on the upside we live in a neighbourhood where we can walk around, which is well-served by public transit, and which uses existing sewer and utilities infrastructure. So we are reducing the strain on 'green space' I guess. Our house is not big: at about 1800 square feet, it's smaller than average, but it means we try to have less stuff in it, trying to reduce our consumption and collection of the various Things that cost money and take up room.

The failures:
We'd like to feel virtuous, but often don't. I quite often forget my travel coffee mug at home; we buy individually portioned cookie snacks so that we don't overeat; we drive to the gym. We seem to go the mall a lot. And while we usually only put out one half-full black bag of garbage a week, our two quite-large recycling bins are overflowing. Our car is not a hybrid. Our baby wears disposable diapers and is cleaned by disposable wipes. I use a swiffer-style duster, and hate myself. At base, we try to reconcile our comforts with our consciences, and hope, over time, to have conscience win out more often, to have our sense of comfort moderated. We try to reduce--the size and number of our cars, the size of our house and yard, the packaging on the food we buy, the amount of waste we place at the curb--but it hardly seems to really cost us anything. We could do more.

Maybe next year Munchkin and I will join critical mass.

"I'm reducing the bummer-level of this post! Hooray!"


Alpha DogMa said...

I think it is about being mindful.

Here is my horrible confession of the day: I do not recycle tin cans. Other stuff, yes. But there is something about recycling tomato and bean and tuna cans that irks me. I apologize in advance to lil' Miss Cute Stuff for the landfills I am bequeathing her. I endeavour to do better.

slouching mom said...

Well, she IS exceedingly cute.

The hubs and I were just having a conversation last night about recycling peanut butter jars. By the time the jar is clean, so much water has been wasted that I don't know if it's worth it.

A small dilemma, I know, but still a dilemma.

Jenifer said...

That is so funny what slouching mom said because I feel the same way! I swear I need the water running for like 5 minutes before the peanut butter jars are clean!

Like you we sometimes succeed and sometimes fail miserably. I think just having the awareness to make a choice that while might not be perfect, is the lesser of the two evils is a good effort. Time with your daughter is a legitimate factor as is buying locally.

Great post Mimi. I sometimes worry that I am the only one who feels like this.

Beck said...

What a sweetie.
Overall, I think we're doing okay. We do drive a minivan - hello, three kids - but it's pretty efficient and we take good care of it. Our house is elderly and leaky, but we've replaced the furnace and it's well insulated. Much of our food comes from local sources, and I'm able to make almost everything from scratch, reducing the amount of packaged stuff we buy. And my little raggedy-ann kids wear TONS of hand-me-towns. So, pretty good, I think.

Oh, The Joys said...

We use our own grocery bags. It's great that it is good for the environment, but it is GREAT that I don't have 400,000 plastic bags in my house!

Mad Hatter said...

Do you know how much I want your kitchen floor? When I took my Wordless Wed pic, all I could think was "how great would this be on Mimi's floor."

As for the green stuff, we're about the same. We do our level best where we can but we know we suck at a lot of things. Somethings we try to get better at, some we know we can't, and some are a give-take.

Kyla said...

I think you're doing great. We don't even have a recycling program in our area. Nothing. Ack. It is awful.

nomotherearth said...

You know, I think it's a very had thing to do with very young children. Maybe I'm lazy, but to spend more time with the Boy, and to reduce the amount of time I spend doing extraneous "stuff", I am less environmentally friendly than I would like. It's something that I want to improve over time, and something I want to teach my children - but I do think it gets easier as they get older. And can help.

crazymumma said...

We all do our best.

kittenpie said...

It's easy to feel like a failure, because there's always more. I've decided to focus on one or two things at a time until they become habit, and I can add another new thing. To try to do it all at once dooms me to failure, I have found. This month it's the coffee cup and more reusable bags.

Omaha Mama said...

Great post. I think being mindful is important, and should ease it a little. Your mind, that is.

Your Munchkin is changing, becoming a Girl.