TV has ads?

Remote controlMy schedule is all out of whack. Maggie and I have been house/dog-sitting, meeting with mortgage lenders, and trying to adjust to daylight savings time all at once. I’m lucky I can remember what day it is!

Away from our usual entertainment, Maggie and I watched normal TV for the first
time in months. I’d forgotten how annoying ads are. No sooner would I get into a plot
than they would break it off and try to sell me something. I felt like one of those
kids they test for Sesame Street to see when they look away from the screen. As soon as
an ad came on, I’d lose focus and start looking around (usually egged on by some dogs
desparate for attention).

Unlike Maggie, I actually like TV and think it can have a positive impact. Shows like
Lost and Heroes get you thinking and can provide a fun way to
interact with other people (I’m not the only one who had Saturday evening family time to watch Dr. Who, am I?). I also have an real respect for a well-told story in
any medium. Nevertheless, our opinions mesh over advertising. It’s specifically made
to distract when you want to be doing something else.

I love that the choice is no longer TV or no TV. We have a TV (how else would I play my Wii?) but no cable and no access to broadcast channels. Although we’ve got some shows on DVD, most of our viewing is through Netflix. When we weren’t so busy, and it wasn’t as nice outside, we had two movies out at a time but at the moment we’re making do with one. I’d love to see a cable plan that let you do that.

But then I’d still have to deal with the ads, so it’s probably better this way.

At first, I had a hard time dealing with no TV. I kept wondering what was on and what I was missing. As time went on, I realized that I was using TV as a distraction. It wasn’t that I wanted to watch TV, it was that I didn’t want to do what I was doing (and couldn’t be bothered to think of something else).

Now, I’ve filled my time with other distractions. Reading, playing games, working, even writing for a blog. I no longer get stuck for hours when all I really wanted was a fifteen minute break. I haven’t noticed any social stigma either. There are enough channels and shows that nobody could watch them all, so nobody is even particularly surprised when I haven’t seen the episode they’re desperate to talk about.

I do wonder how universal my experience has been. How much would other people miss live TV shows if they only used the TV for watching DVDs or playing video games? Do people really want to watch TV or are they just looking for a distraction?

Give it a try and let me know how it works! Even if you go back to cable in a week, you’ll have skipped almost fourteen* hours of ads and that’s got to be worth something.

* That’s no typo. The average family has the TV on for almost 7 hours a day with ads for 3 out of 10 of those hours.

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Climbing the mountain: sustainability one step at a time

Living Like EdNow that my big work push is over, I have a little more free time to catch up on my reading. I’ve started with a book Maggie got at the library last week, Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life. It’s by Ed Begley, Jr (yes, the Ed Begley, Jr. of Mighty Wind and Best in Show) and basically goes through all of the green things he’s learned to do in thirty years (!) of becoming more sustainable.

I’m not done yet, but overall the book is pretty good. It covers very simple things (recycle) as well as more labor or capital intensive things (buy a wind turbine), interspersed with comments by Begley’s wide with an “everyday joe” perspective. However, an analogy Begley makes at the beginning has really stuck with me because it resonates with some things I’ve been thinking recently.

Living sustainably,Begley writes, isn’t a sudden change. Instead, it’s like climbing Everest. You go up a little, then stop and get acclimatized before you head up some more. When you change your lifestyle, make some achievable changes then live with them for a while. You’ll usually find that it’s not a big deal. Once you’re there, you can make some other achievable changes. Eventually, you’ll be much higher on Everest that you ever could have imagined.

That doesn’t mean you should avoid pushing yourself, just that you shouldn’t look at the distance to go and give up. Even if you just change a little, it’s still making a difference. I’ve found that it’s easiest to combine different types of changes. Do something easy (putting in CFLs), habit-changing (cook more lunches), handy (making a worm box), and something long-term (save towards small solar panels). That way, you can really feel like you’re achieving something while you’re working towards the harder goals. It’s a lot like the concept of a debt snowball and I think it can work really well.

Even though I haven’t finished the book, the parts I’ve read are really good. Begley has a whimsical tone that compliments the more serious subject matter. Maggie also liked it, although I think she found most of the advice old hat.

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Sustainable fun: geocaching

Will looking at his GPSOne of the most sustainable leisure activities out there is just taking a walk: no equipment, low impact, definite connection with nature. I sometimes find it hard to get outside, though. It seems frivolous to just walk, so I don’t spend much time at it (although I make an exception for beautiful days like today). For someone like me who’s more goal-oriented, geocaching adds that extra kick that walking lacks.

Geocaching started several years ago as GPS units started becoming more affordable. In its simplest form, geocaching is an invisible treasure hunt. You use your GPS (I use a Garmin eTrex that I got for Christmas) to find predetermined coordinates. Once you get there, you’ll usually find a hidden cache with a logbook and some small goodies inside. The amazing people at geocaching.com have created tens of thousands of caches all over the world. Some are multi-stage, historical, or more puzzle based. All of them are a great excuse to get outside.

At the beginning of the month, Spring Mill State Park held their second annual geocaching event. Dozens of people, including us and our neighbors, headed out on a brilliantly clear day to explore the park a little more than we ever had. Every cache was placed in or near ruins of the settlements that used to be in the park. For example, one of the caches was across a creek where an old mill used to be. Despite some troubles with people hiding the cache too well, we had a lot of fun spending a Saturday outdoors.

Don’t think that geocaching is only for rural locations, either! There are lots of caches in urban areas. For example, there are 27 caches in downtown Bloomington!

Unfortunately, there are fewer caches south of Bloomington where we are, so I’d have to drive to get close to any. Once we move downtown, I plan to geocache a lot more and a lot greener.

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5 things you DON’T have to give up to be sustainable

TowelI recently saw a little bit of an Oprah show on sustainability. What really struck me was a moment where the guest was talking about low-flow showerheads and Oprah laughed a little and said she wouldn’t give up her strong showers. I think a lot of people see living sustainably in a similar way, as a form of deprivation. Every once in a while when I talk to other people about living more sustainably, they start asking me about what I’m giving up.

I think this is a really damaging impression of sustainability. In my view, sustainability isn’t about giving things up but about focusing on what’s really important to you. I’ve made some changes in my life, although not all of them remain a part of my routine (making soap is just not my thing). At no point, though, have I had to give up anything I really cared about. I’m just prioritizing a little differently.

So here are the things people seem most worried about missing if they start living more sustainably but that you don’t have to give up. I certainly haven’t!

  1. Hot showers – I still thoroughly enjoy hot showers, especially now that we keep the thermostat lower at night. I don’t take showers every day and I keep them short when I do take them (5-10 minutes). We could be more efficient still if we had a gas water heater or a tankless water heater, so there’s plenty of room to improve without having to give up my hot showers.
  2. Your friends – About a month ago, there were a lot of comments on No Impact Man about how living sustainably is necessarily lonely because what you’re doing is so different than what everyone else is doing. I don’t agree. Not only do my old friends still hang out with me, I’ve made lots of new friends by going to the farmer’s market and trying out new things. Even those who think living sustainably is a bit weird have fun coming over to make soap or eat a local meal.
  3. Meat – A lot of vegetarians tout the reduced environmental impact of their diet. I’m not convinced. Although it does take more plant matter to feed a cow than if I were to eat it directly, cows can eat a lot of things that I can’t. It’s also much easier to raise animals without changing the landscape significantly than it is to grow most plants. You don’t have to clear-cut forests to raise pigs. To me, the more important thing about my food is that it’s grown locally and sustainably. It’s entirely possible to do this with animals as well as plants. I do admit that I eat less meat than I used to, but that’s more a result of economics (good beef is more expensive than factory-farmed stuff) than a belief that meat is inherently bad.
  4. Your free time – I see this complaint with other lifestyle changes, like frugality or dieting, as well. It does sometimes take more time to go to the farmer’s market than the grocery store or to darn socks rather than buying new ones. It’s all about priorities. I enjoy going to the farmer’s market more than going to the grocery store, so I don’t mind spending more time on it. If you don’t, then skip it and figure out other areas where you can make an impact. For example, maybe you don’t feel like you have enough time to cook real meals every night. You could have friends over once a month to spend a day making freezer meals, which can be a lot of fun. Or, if that’s not your thing, you could start a dinner club with some friends and spend one night a month cooking and three nights a month eating meals others have prepared. The possibilities are endless!
  5. Electronics – Lots of the materials used to make computers and other electronics are really nasty. However, there are now lots of ways to recycle them (like the new partnership between GreenSight and Costco) and I feel they can improve your life enough that it’s worth it. I do think about the impact of the things I buy, but I weigh that against my life as well. I always buy laptops, which reduces my energy use, and I use power strips to reduce “phantom” energy use. I get enough out of my laptop (and Wii) that I’m willing to make some sacrifices in my sustainability.

So far, living more sustainably has consisted of looking closely at various aspects of my life and starting to cut out parts that don’t fit in with my values. Nothing I’ve given up has been worse than the things I’ve given up for other reasons, like deciding that I wanted to start my own business. I think the trick is to just start thinking about things more holistically. When you do that, you can make better decisions about what’s worthwhile for you and what isn’t. In general, it’s a painless process. Ocassionally, I’ll push myself and try something that’s outside of my comfort zone. If it turns out to be worth it to me, I stay with it. If not, I know I’ve given it a shot. I’d wager that most people could double their sustainability just by trying out something new without affecting at all the things that are really important to them.

I’m curious about what other people have worked around. What are some things that you aren’t willing to give up? Are there any things you were surprised to find could be done better with little effort?

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