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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Carrying On The Discussion Which Began In The Comments Section Of The Previous Post

Because Dave, Chris, and Jeff have all brought up things that I'd like to discuss.

First, the environmental cost of travel:

I totally get where you (Snowleopard) are coming from about the plane stuff. Actually, the guy who's running this place is working on starting a second/daughter project in Morocco so that Europeans can do the same sort of stuff only by using buses and ferries, and it's a frequent topic of discussion amongst the staff and volunteers. Are we doing any net good by coming here? Do we do more good living almost zero-impact lives for a while but flying to do it, or would it be more effective for us to just stay home and try to live as low-impact as is possible in our high-impact societies. If you know a website that can help with these sort of calculations, I'd love to see a link. I just checked one site that put my flight impact at 1.38 tons of CO2. Another says that the average American is responsible for 20 tons of C02 a year, and I doubt Koreans are far behind. So if those numbers are to be trusted, the flight is equivalent to living in the USA for a month, and my emissions here are far lower than the average Indian's, who already consumes only about 1/16 of what an American does. Those numbers are a little more encouraging than the ones Chris came across, but who knows which to trust?

(For what it's worth, which isn't much, lots of us use only bicycles to get around while we're here. I'm seriously toying with the idea of trying to bike all or part of the way back home, but I have no idea how long it would take or how safe it would be.)

Actually, there's a similar logic behind why the community here eats vegan. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to plant a forest and then eat meals that depend on razing other forests to make space to raise crops to feed animals, just like it doesn't makes sense to do water conservation work from 6:30-8:30 in the morning and then take long showers out of taps. We're doing our best to be conscientious, both in terms of the work we do and the lifestyles we choose.

Also, I like to think of my time here as a sort of investment. It may have an immediate carbon cost, but it's conceivable that it will be paid off in the long run. There's no such chance or even intention as far as meat is concerned. It reminds me a bit of our solar panels in the sense that there's an immediate environmental cost in producing them but that after a few years said cost will have been recouped. Sitting at home, or rather wherever you are, even if it's not home, might be the best way to keep low emissions, but it's also not proactive in any way and doesn't lead to sustainable solutions.

Another thing to keep in mind is that lots of the people who are in Sadhana didn't get a flight to India with us in mind. They found out about us after arriving, and are deciding to stay with us in lieu of traveling elsewhere in India, and not in lieu of staying at home. In their cases, the plane argument isn't relevant. In my case, though, since I came largely with farming and low-impact life in mind, it definitely is.

I didn't understand the Soccer Mom metaphor because I don't picture them as having much cognitive dissonance due to the environmental externalities of their lifestyle. That's why I only picked up on the fatalistic sentiment in what you wrote. I do see what you mean, though, about how I may in this case be choosing to pursue my travelicious lifestyle despite what I know about how it affects the environment and others. I think I've addressed this, somewhat, above. Also, it's worth mentioning that traveling and not eating meat is better, environmentally, than traveling and eating meat.

One more thing, just for the sake of arguing. I don't think that refusing to fly is the single best thing we can do. The single best thing, I'm guessing, is probably not to have children. This, of course, may or not not be a palatable option and may be another of those SUV-driving-soccer-mom issues where our thoughts about what things in life are desirable override our concern for larger, less immediate and tangible matters. But just imagine how little of an impact we'd have if we didn't exist at all.

I'll make another post about the reasons for my vegetarianism/veganism shortly.

7 comments:

Dave said...

I keep wavering on exactly how effective carbon offsets are, but generally think they're a good idea--at least in principal. I've purchased one for my car the last couple years (in an effort to help ease my conscience), and think it's a worthwhile donation.

When you do get around to purchasing one to offset your travel, spend a little extra time on your solar-powered laptop and comparison shop between the various groups offering the service. There are both for-profit and non-profit companies selling the credits, and the companies spend the funds in different ways. It probably goes without saying, but I'm assuming for-profit companies like terrapass.com spend a much larger percentage of your contribution on staff salaries and profits for the owners, whereas a a non-profit like carbonfund.org probably sends more of the funds to renewable projects. I've used Carbonfund for the last year, and am generally satisfied with it. However, for all I know, there's probably a better option out there.

thesnowleopard said...

Mike I don't think anyone (especially me) was trying to back you into a corner regarding your new lifestyle, so I hope you didn't feel like that. Heck, I might even join you in March if you decide not to come back, precisely because rather than being a short-term benefit to the environment, I would be learning information and skills that would help me maintain a similar lifestyle wherever I go in the future. And it sounds really fun.

BTW, I used this website to estimate your carbon footprint. I calculated your footprint using the figures I found for average korean electrical consumption per capita, and your basic lifestyle, which came out way less than the average Korean, which it turns out is half the average american, so your flight to India is much more costly, relatively.

I think the point I was trying to make with the soccer mom reference was everyone has to reconcile their desired lifestyle with environmental cost, (and non-vegetarian soccer moms care about the environment too) and its really easy for you to disregard that where you are now, yet you have also done the same thing in flying internationally twice in one year, which costs the same environmentally as a soccer mom driving a Ford Taurus station wagon 15,000km in one year.

You also said that "traveling and not eating meat is better, environmentally, than traveling and eating meat." True, but a much more true statement would be "Eating meat and not traveling is better, environmentally, than eating meat and traveling."

I'm not trying to say you shouldn't have gone there or that you shouldn't feel good about what you're doing, but when Dave says he's looking forward to his chicken quesadilla, he should also be able to feel good about eating that quesadilla.

Oh and if our goal is ultimate conservation of the earth's resources, instead of not having children, why don't we just have a mass suicide party this weekend and save the earth some trouble.

Dave said...

Mike - I'm guessing you're going to do this at some point, but I'd love for you to provide a list of co-op farm inspired conservation tips we can use in our daily American lives. I'm sure lots of them would be obvious (take shorter showers, use cooler water when showering, etc.), and one of your last posts got me thinking about this type of stuff, but I'm sure you'll come away with a ton of great ideas. "Mike's conservation tip of the week" could also be fun.

As I think you know, in terms of the average American, I'm fairly environmentally conscious. I bike or walk whenever I can; my initial residence in SoCal was chosen for proximity to work; I'm a big supporter of "if it's yellow, let it mellow"; I'm a recycling Nazi; etc. My opinion on this stuff is that as long as we're conscientious of what we're doing, and aren't obnoxiously wasteful, we earn the right to splurge (even if it's ever so slightly) in some areas.

I do all the things I do partly in an effort to not feel bad about eating the aforementioned chicken quesadilla, or driving my Jeep Cherokee with four friends to go on an awesome hike. I also think there's nothing wrong with taking a few long flights to have an incredible experience and learn some valuable lessons (many of them regarding how to better care for the environment).

There's little point in being a conservationist if we're not going to get out there every once in a while and actually enjoy the thing we're trying to conserve--even if we need to fly or drive to do it.

davesjank said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jamal said...

Sorry to have disappeared for the last month(s). Hopefully I'm not too late to join in on the fun.
My comment is just that I don't think I understand the environmental effects of flying. As Mike stated in an earlier response, the plane would fly regardless of him being on it or not. Sure, if you choose to fly you in a very small way increase the need for flights, but we are evaluating a single act, and not a lifestyle. If Mike had not purchased that ticket, the same plane would have flown from point A to point B, emitting the same carbon emissions, so how can his choice to be on it be considered to have any sort of causal relationship with those carbon emissions?
-Confused in Camden (I probably shouldn't admit to this, but I saw part of Sleepless in Seattle recently)

Mike said...

Dave, thanks for the info. I do intend to do some shopping around
before I offset, and I suppose it might not be a bad idea to post the
results of my search when the time comes. There are also some people
here who know a thing or two about it, so I'll try to spread the wisdom around.

Chris, I appreciate the kind words and the attempt to control the tone
of our little argument. Living in an environment like this, it's very
hard not to feel like the entire world is working against you. I hope to clarify that statement later in relation to some work that we've been doing in villages around here. Anyhow, please understand and forgive me when I get touchy and cranky.

As for soccer-mom thing, I am still not 100% down with the comparison.
(I didn't mean to say that none of them are environmentally conscious,
just that I don't think that's one of their primary/defining characteristics.) This is because I think the "soccer-mom lifestyle" largely ignores the interests of others, and is heavily consumptive even when attempting to minimize, whereas my current travel mode has at least some noble intentions, whatever they're worth. I don't see my travel (this time around) as just some pasttime or way to achieve personal fulfillment,
but rather as a way to help me think about and practice living respectfully and conscientiously. It's very hard to know if I'm actually succeeding, but the intention is there. I don't think I'll travel again in the future if it's just for fun or just to kill a month ofr two, especially not by plane.

I did think the suicide thing might come up. But it's possible that while living and consuming, one can convince others to modify their habits and in the end have a net positive impact, so suicide isn't always the most earth-friendly option. It probably is most of the time though. Ouch!

Dave #2, regarding the tips, I unfortunately don't think there's a
whole lot we first-worlders can do to reduce our impact meaningfully.
I've heard that if every human consumed like an American, we'd need 6 more earths to support us, and that we consume, per capita, twice as much as a European, 9 times as much as the Chinese, 16 times as much as Indians, and 25 times more than the average African. Things like eating less meat, buying organic produce and toiletries, driving less, taking shorter, cooler showers, not using AC, and other tricks may do some good, but I doubt that anything individuals do can really be effective. People need to stop believing that happiness has anything to do with consumption or that anything we do is free of effects on others, and politicians and business leaders need to stop indulging or perpetuating those ideas. Not so likely, in my opinion.

Mizzle, good to have you back! You're right that the plane is going to release the carbon whether I ride or not, but that doesn't convince me that it's not selfish for me to ride it. If someone were robbing me, would it be alright for you to come steal some of my money too, given that it's all going to get taken anyway?

I can't hold myself responsible for all the shitty things that happen
in the world (though I feel like I do that sometimes), or for the fact
that people may do things I don't like as a result of my attempts to be virtuous, but I still feel better knowing that I'm doing my best to avoid actions that will affect others negatively later.

thesnowleopard said...

Mike when's the next post man? All's been quiet on the hippie front lately...what gives?