I’ll be recording a spot about the election and the environment on the Montel Williams show on Thursday (and I think it will appear that day but have to double check). In preparation for that spot, I had to answer some email questions. Here are the answers just for you. If you’re a long time reader of the blog, you may want to skip halfway down.
PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR YEARLONG EXPERIMENT.
For a year my little family and I tried to live in the middle of Manhattan while causing as low as possible environmental impact. That meant learning to live without make trash (so nothing with packaging), using no carbon producing transportation (so we only walked and biked), eating only vegetarian, local and seasonal food (so a lot of eggs and cabbage in winter), not buying anything new (so a lot of shopping second hand), not using mains electricity (lots of beeswax candles), and conserving water. We also tried to negate what negative impact was left by having a positive impact through various types of volunteering.
It was an extreme experiment. The idea was not to try to get everyone else to live the same way, but to see whether what would happen to our quality of life if we consumed substantially fewer resources than the average American.
In other words, do we, as Americans, need to consume so much to be happy?
The answer was a resounding no! In fact, reducing consumption, in many ways, made us happier. This makes sense if you think about our finances alone. We are all up to our knees in debt and it is incredibly freeing to all of a sudden live a lifestyle that doesn’t force one to live paycheck to paycheck. But of course the experiment extended far beyond just better finances.
WHAT IS THE START AND FINISH DATE?
Nov 21, 2006 to Nov 21, 2007.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO EMBARK ON THIS JOURNEY?
I became very worried about the state of the planet that we depend on for our health, happiness and security. I wanted everyone else to change. Then I realized that I needed to change too and that I should start by looking at the log in my own eye instead of the speck in my neighbors.
WHAT DID YOUR WIFE SAY AT FIRST?
She wasn’t really paying attention when I asked her. She was tired and buried in a magazine. I said let’s live environmentally for a year and she said “uh huh.” Then when she realized what she got herself into, it was too late to back out! You should try being married to me! But the fact is that she is a hell of a sport and embraced the whole thing and also agrees that we need to do a whole hell of a lot to clean up our planet so that we can all be healthy and happy.
I LOVED YOUR CHRISTMAS BLOG ABOUT YOUR DAUGHTER, TELL US WHAT HAS HER RESPONSE BEEN?
Children are our teachers. Isabella constantly teaches me that what is right in front of her nose is the most
important thing. She doesn’t care about the toys she could have had at Christmas. She cares about the toys that are right in front of her now, which means a dry leaf when we walk down the street, our dog when we are home, the salt and pepper shaker in a restaurant.
WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT THEIR GLOBAL IMPRINT?
That we Americans could be way happier if we used fewer resources and took better care them. People talk, for example, about how industrial chemicals end up in the water and how bad that that is for the “environment.” But what’s worse is the toxic lode may well be what is causing more of our children to have autism.
People worry that, because we drive too much and warm the globe, polar bears will die. But the fact is that driving too much means, for example, that kids all over our country are getting asthma they shouldn’t get from the exhaust fumes. And it’s not even like any of us like commuting by car and getting stuck in traffic jams. So the point about reducing our global footprints isn’t that it will make the planet happier, it’s that it will make people happier and also healthier and more secure.
SHOULD THE ENVIRONMENT BE HIGHER ON PRIORITY LISTS, AS FAR AS ’08 ELECTION ISSUES?
Way higher. Because what we’re talking about is not really the “environment.” That’s a buzzword that makes it sound as though it is something separate from us. But what we are really talking about is making sure that we don’t get sick from the air we breathe or the water we drink. Or that we don’t change our weather patterns and ocean levels so much that disease spreads and we have widespread droughts, two of the effects that climate change will bring. This is not about “the planet.” This is about American health, happiness and security.
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO PEOPLE THAT THINK GLOBAL WARMING IS JUST A “THEORY”?
You don’t need to believe in global warming to see that consuming less fossil fuels would be better for America. We need to burn less oil and coal. People whose main concern is national security know we need to rely way less on foreign all. People who care about human health know that we are poisoning the air through the fossil fuels we burn.
So what we need to do is find ways to burn way fewer fossil fuels which means conserving energy as a society while at the same time investing in the development of energy sources like wind and solar that don’t poison our land, water and air. And the great news is that, by some estimates, the work required to take these steps will create 5 million new jobs.
HOW CAN WE IMPACT THE ENVIRONMENT FROM THE VOTING BOOTH?
By choosing a candidate who will do something about the fact that we are poisoning the home that we live in. All the Democratic candidates and the Republican John McCain have decent environmental platforms. So voting for one of them is a good first start.
But even though all of these candidates have decent things to say about the environment, none of them have declared that they will make it one of the defining issues of their presidency. And that is what we need in order to deal with the emergency we find ourselves in.
So that means we need to do more than just vote. We need to get more involved. We need to organize together and
speak as the people of this country to tell the candidates that we what our health, happiness and security to be their first priority. One way to start is to get involved with 1Sky, an organization that is trying to help the candidates see the wisdom of putting the condition of our home planet at the center of their agenda.
WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUNG PEOPLE TO KNOW THAT WILL BE VOTING FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2008?
Don’t let the old folks decide your future for you. All that you have to do to make a difference is believe that you can make a difference. That this is one of the most important elections for many years. It may well decide what kind of home planet we are going to live on. One where we get to be happy and safe or one where we get to be frightened and insecure.
Young people are the ones who are going to have to live on this planet for the longest time to come. They have the most at stake. The good news is that if they turn out in what could be a close thing on voting day, they also will get to make the decisions by being the extra voters that tip the balance.