My junior year in college, three of us made the pilgrimage to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where we let les bons temps rouler. We danced in the streets to "Iko Iko," threw back Hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's and scrambled for plastic doubloons as if they were solid gold. But the morning after was just that -- the morning after. I've never observed Lent, at least until now.
Thanks to the Church of England's truly miraculous "Carbon Fast," I'm in. (For the full 40-day list of guidelines, see here). As those of you who have been following this blog know, I have been converting slowly toward a greener way of life. So I was thrilled when my friend Ann forwarded the fast to me. In a modern take on Lent -- which usually involves giving up things like meat or chocolate -- two senior bishops devised it to address an "urgent need" to reduce carbon emissions and to protect poor communities around the world that are "already suffering from the ravages of climate change."
As I scanned the list, I couldn't resist patting myself on back just a little.
- Switch off lights as you leave the room. Check.
- Unplug your mobile phone charger; it uses electricity even when it's not charging. Check.
- Snub plastic bags. Check.
- Only run your washing machine when you have a full load. Double check. (And, I use cold water.)
Still, the fast gave me -- bad pun alert! -- plenty to chew on. Now that we're well into Lent, I decided to see how many changes I could fit into one week:
Day One: Turn your central heating thermostat down by one degree. Given this winter's tundra-like conditions, some might be more inclined to crank the heat up, not down. But this one was no sweat for me. I learned to layer during my years in Colorado, and I already lower the temp way down at night; our bedrooms are much warmer than our high-ceilinged, loft-style living area. Besides, what's better than snuggling under a couple of old comforters? I'll see your one degree and raise it two.
Day Two: Say au revoir to standby. Check that all electrical equipment is switched off when not in use. Since I began working from home three years ago, I find that I'm on and off the computer several times a day as I switch from work to laundry and so on and so on. I already knew the sins of standby and was trying to do better, but all the shutting down and booting up felt like such a hassle -- not to mention those precious minutes lost when I could be online searching away! But then I tried it and you know what? It's really no big deal. Now if I could just get my DH to remember to shut off the screen, too...
Day Three: Use local shops or farmers' markets instead of driving to out-of-town "shopping parks," as the Church puts it. How could I refuse a directive that uses the term "shopping parks?" But seriously, I know I'm lucky. I live in a neighborhood where I have two greengrocers, a fancy food market, two coffee bars, an amazing bakery, a wine shop, and a small pharmacy where everybody knows your name all within a three-block radius of our apartment. But much of my family still lives in car country, so I'm well aware of how tough it is to buy local, let alone walk there. And once in awhile, I do succumb to temptation and drive to one of the much-maligned but oh-so-convenient big-box malls that have sprung up across my borough over the last few years. But when I do, I take my cue from my Aunt Fran and Uncle Jerry back in St. Louis. They consolidate their shopping lists and buy in bulk to minimize treks to the store from their aptly named subdivision: Old Farm Estates.
Back in Brooklyn, we also have a sprawling year-round farmers' market, one of 50 thriving markets in New York City. Before we moved to the other side of the neighborhood, it was right around the corner and part of our Saturday morning couples ritual, right up there with coffee, fresh bagels, and the Times. Now that I have to add distance plus time plus impatient kid, I rarely go and when I do, it's by car. (In my defense, it's a 10-minute drive.) But I checked the city's Greenmarket site and learned that come May, my smaller but closer farmers' market will reopen with new vendors, including the fresh fish guy who brings in his catch from off the coast of eastern Long Island. I can't wait. (To find your local farmers' market, go here.)
Day Four: Tell politicians to take action on climate change today. In the wake of the disappointing Copenhagen climate summit meeting in December, it's clear that the rest of the world is looking to the United States, the largest carbon polluter in the developed world, to enact a cap-and-trade law. It's time to send a clear message to Washington: We want this pollution-control system, already adopted in Europe, which would cut greenhouse gas emissions by having companies buy and trade a shrinking number of permits to pollute.
Day Five: Tell the Mailing Preference Service that you want to stop junk mail. Every time I haul another pile of catalogs out of my box, I tell myself it's time to stop the madness. And it is truly madness: According to 41pounds.org, the average adult receives 41 pounds of junk mail each year. I switched to paperless bill paying long ago, so why hadn't I taken this step? All that paper just ends up in recycling, anyway. So I took the service up on its promise to stop up to 95 percent of the unwanted catalogs and junk mail I get by contacting dozens of companies. All I had to do was sign up at www.41pounds.org. (I provided a shockingly long list of 20 catalogs to nix, and that's just for starters. It's not like I'll be missing anything, except the temptation to shop. Besides, I can find anything online.) Yes, it costs $41 for five years, but that translates to a mere $8.20 a year, and more than a third of the fee goes to one of the environmental or community groups you choose to support. I can't wait to see what's not in my mailbox.
Day Six: Turn the taps off. In one day a hot, dripping tap could fill a bath. Confession: While I'm very conscientious about twisting both knobs tight, my bathroom sink has been dripping...for more than a little while. Don't even ask how many tubs I could have filled by now. Forgive me, 7Gen Nation, for I have sinned. But I truly thought I could fix the leak until I remembered one tiny hitch: I have no plumbing skills. But now the DH is on the case, ably assisted by Matthew, our little helper. Once he installs a new little rubber thingy, I'll be able to stop feeling like a drip.
Day Seven: Have an embrace-the-silence Sunday. Turn off everything. No TV, no radio, no ringtones, no cars. It'll be good for the soul. For my birthday last month, my dear friend Betsy inadvertently gave me something money can't buy: the gift of silence. She had invited me down to Florida for a long "just the girls" weekend, but I ended up arriving a day ahead of her and had the whole house to myself. Once I got e-mails and other online status updates -- "I'm in Florida!" -- out of my system, I realized I should bask in this rare, rejuvenating solitude. As I rested, read a good book, and walked a deserted beach, a calm washed over me and I had a revelation: This is why monks take a vow of silence. Now that I'm back home with the DH and chatterbox 6-year-old, I know I can't replicate such a divine hush. But I'm up to the challenge of seeing just how much I can get everyone, myself included, to unplug. I'm steeling myself for some extreme measures: locking the office door, hiding the remotes and stashing the car keys. Wish me godspeed.
Now it's your turn to tell us how you reduce your carbon footprint.