Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Case Against Conservation

As a child, I was very conservation-minded; forever agonizing about water and electricity wastage. But as I hustled to switch off lights and shut faucets, I began to notice a logic problem.

I became increasingly aware that there was no end to how finely you could slice it. We know to turn off the faucet while brushing our teeth, but do I really need the short burst of water to pre-moisten my toothbrush? Sure, a dry brush makes for icky brushing, but that could be tolerated in the name of conservation. And do I really need to triple rinse my mouth? A double rinse might leave some toothpaste, but would waste less water. And each time I use the sink, if I could turn the faucet just a wee bit less, that would, over my lifetime, save considerable water. I could train myself by twisting a millimeter less each time...perhaps even mark the faucets to track progress.

You get the idea.

Fortunately, I also worried about going overboard. There's no need to grimly sacrifice; the point is to make do with somewhat less, rather than to vigilantly stamp out all trace of waste. After all, the water saved by rinsing just twice, or by declining to moisten my toothbrush, or by micro-adjusting flow rates would be infinitesimal in the scheme of things.

But there's the rub. Really, just about any conservation you do is infinitesimal in the scheme of things. The margin between caution and carelessness, viewed within the context of a city, a neighborhood, even just your block, is virtually nill. One person's habits make scant difference.

On the other hand, my mental argument went, it's not about any one person; it's about the aggregate. Small adjustments made by a great many people yield huge results. And good people do their part. But, that case, again, why waste the least little bit? Why rinse thrice, why moisten my toothbrush, etc.? Sure, it seems petty, but if it's all about doing my little part, then how can the term "petty" even apply? By being hypervigilant, I'd balance, in the aggregate, someone who's a hyperwaster.

I finally decided that a comfortable middle ground made as much sense as either extreme. Rather than be an extreme hog or extreme conservationist, I'd remain squarely in the middle: conscientious but not obsessive. And that's where I remain. I leave lights on when I'm home because I like the cheeriness. I use incandescent bulbs because I dislike the light from fluorescents (update: LEDs are great). I let the shower run until hot, sometimes overshooting by a minute or two. I never conserve past my comfort zone, because there's no end to all that...and precious little real benefit. I'm conscious of the waste at all times, and there's no unconscious waste. I deem this the very definition of "conscientiousness".

Whenever I'm reminded of our environmental predicament, I feel a strong urge to do more. But then I remember the logical sinkholes involved in the voluntary creation of scarcity. So long as my water and electricity service remain unlimited, a line must arbitrarily be drawn, and non-crazies draw their lines well beyond anything like true conservation (i.e., the lifestyle we'd be forced to live if compelled by actual scarcity). And I can't see a persuasive reason to be more conservationist than most moderately conservationist Americans - in other words: hardly conserving at all.

....though I'm ready to go back to dry brushing and cold showering whenever need be.

Just one request: before flaming me, please answer the following questions:

1. How often do you shower (and why would you let your vanity trump your conservationism? What's more important, smelling good or saving the planet?)

2. Blind people are able to navigate their apartments without any light at all. It requires training, yes, but it's viable, and if they can do it, so can you (alternatively, you can go to bed at sunset to avoid darkness entirely). Why have you not undergone that training? Is the convenience of illumination truly more important than saving the planet?

3. We easily survive outdoors far below room temperature. It's simply a matter of proper clothing. So what sort of clothing do you wear at home? And do you turn on the heat when the temperature's above 45?

4. Salad is delicious and nutritious. Do you use electrical cooking appliances? If so, how can you justify this?

1 comment:

Joe said...

Man, I thought I was the only one who felt this way.

It's the logic that drives me insane. Someone who is hyper conservative about water, will watch TV all night long (or do something else similarly excessive). SURELY, surely you don't need to watch TV all night (or do xyz).

It's the logic of it all that kills me! Maybe I'm an extremist. If you're going to be hyper conservative then do it at 100 percent.

What's even better is a TV network promoting conservatism. The shear irony is amazing. The amount of energy it must take to "put on" a show / program is appalling. Not to mention the owner of a network like that is flying around in his personal jet and living in a mansion.

AND guess what's going to happen if we all band together and save energy. You got it, energy companies are going drastically raise their you'll be paying a lot more for a lot less.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but the mainline "conservation propaganda" smells fishy. Or at the very least "mainline conservation" is grossly under thought out, especially by the minions promoting it.

The irony of it all kills me.

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