Thursday, March 22, 2007

"The Year Without Toilet Paper"

That's the title of an article just published online at the New York Times. It's about a family of three who live in a normal apartment near Union Square in Manhattan who have chosen to go a year consuming as little and as lightly as they can. The lights are few and dim. The TV and refrigerator are turned off. The food is local only. The transportation is hoofing it. And as things they used to use run out, there are homemade substitutes, or they go without. Hence, the toilet paper.

Treading lightly is a game, of course, but then so are most attempts at living unconventional lifestyles, whether as a yuppie for a year or as a monk for the duration. And let's keep this in context: billions tread lightly in other parts of the world, and hundreds of millions go without toilet paper.

New York is, in some ways, the nation's most efficient city, but again, in context, this family's experiment (we could call it trial) is an extreme attempt at leaving only tiny footprints, a blog and a book deal (so American!). So it's a game. At least it's an insightful and instructive game. It gets you thinking. I recommend the article, which you can see here, for a while, until it's archived in Times Select.

There is a growing stream of readers' comments associated with the "Year Without TP" article, which asks the question, "What would you sacrifice for a more environmentally sound life?"

Here, slightly revised, is the comment I just contributed:

How about choosing, as a teenager (at 17, I think, after reading Walden), to... never cause a pregnancy, much less have children; to never own a television; to never own a new car (used, at least 5 years old, is ok, high mpg, of course); to own only a few electrical appliances; and significantly, I think, I chose to never own stock. I shop, I consume, but I don't invest.

I am 49 now and have held well and proudly to all of these choices.

I am typing on one of those electrical appliances, but now this laptop is my only computer. I own a stereo, which is 10 years old, and have two speakers, not five. I own a clock radio that was a gift. I own a 1950s vintage blender I got at a garage sale for a dollar. And I am using a microwave that my grandmother used back when Nixon was president. Oh, and I have a cell phone I charge from time to time. But no home phone.

I live with a hot water heater, which is always set on "vacation low" and which I turn off anytime I'm leaving the house for more than a few days. And I just received another gift, a new refrigerator. Several times, for more than a year at a time, I have gone without a working refrigerator, and one of those times was some of 2005 and all of 2006. My new fridge is very much me. It's capacity is a mere 4.4 cubic feet, and it's Energy Star rated. If left on, it might use about $24 of electricity a year, but I clean it out and turn it off as well when I'm going away for more than a few days.

Several times, I have gone a year or so without a car, though I traveled with friends. Carpooling is cool. And I have mostly lived in places which had no or minimal air conditioning, even in Texas. I went almost 15 years straight without a/c in Austin, and I now live in a house with one old window unit in the living room that I use as little as I can.

And, as it turns out, I've made so little money that I've kept my contributions to the burgeoning military-industrial complex to a minimum. It would be not only ironic but painful to tread lightly at home but to in any way encourage carrying a big and destructive stick anywhere else.

I write a blog called "A Better Nation" in which I sometimes talk about the "treading lightly" lifestyle, along with other 'state of the world and how's life' stuff, near and far, thinking globally and close to home. I'd welcome your visit.


At 3/22/2007 9:35 AM, Blogger Lawrence said...

So much to say! So much to SAY! I LOVE this topic! Of course, in my taking stock above, I didn't dwell on what I DO consume. That's got to be part of the story (and the game) to get the bigger picture.

I do like to shop. I am addicted to owning books and outdoor travel gear. And I have bought too many clothes, too many pairs of shoes, too many bicycles, too many restaurant meals, too much beer and too much gasoline. If treading lightly, relatively speaking, is a good game, then full disclosure/encompassing honesty is, as always, really, the greatest game.

The question really is here: are your lifestyle choices conventional or intriguing?

Being dutiful is what's expected and, by most, what's dearly hoped for. Being aberrant, especially aberrant AND clamoring for attention, catches lots of flak and FAST. (See Tuesday's post.)

I'm living my choices, not insisting -- much less expecting -- others will do much of it my way. As an angry young man, I was strident. But a lot of middle age is about coming to terms with convention. Convention rules, boy, don't I know.

At it's best, as with monks, treading lightly is a move toward humility, not high or heavy handedness.

I can get preachy, but I don't mean to proselytize. I espouse my deeds, but perhaps coyly, I am still not quite sure what doctrine to make of it. And by now, doctrine seems so old-fashioned a tool to use.

Your move. Offer your life. What's your story? What kind of example is it? Feed us doctrine. Reveal your deeds.

Many thanks and MUCH love to all who've read this much and this far!

At 3/25/2007 3:26 PM, Blogger Christian said...

Sorry, but it seems to me that your choices may be as ill-thought-out as those of that silly (definitely not "No") "Impact Man". For starters: How much extra energy does your refrigerator use to get down to normal operating tempreature again, after you've emptied it out and turned it off to go away for a few days? Especially since it is such a low-energy model (in normal operation), it seems very possible -- I would say, quite probable -- that your way uses more energy than just leaving it on.

Second, one wonders, since you're apparently not going to create any offspring, why haven't you removed your dead-end genome from the gene pool -- and your oh-so-horrible "impact" from our oh-so-suffering Mother Earth -- decades ago? I mean, don't you think life is for something, is about creating some form of positive "impact" on the world -- as opposed to just leading an existence of as-near-as-possible to no "impact"?

At 3/25/2007 10:10 PM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Hi Christian, and thanks for your lovely response.

Life is about what each of us makes of it, no more, no less. Having children is a common choice, but there are millions of choices, as you know. We're lucky if we can remain proud of our choices for many years or even decades.

As for the fridge, you are right to consider the energy used to re-cool the interior. I, too, have considered that and factored it into my deciding when to clean out and unplug. As a general rule, if you have a fridge as small as that and don't have much food to deal with, I say unplug if you will be gone for a solid week or more.

It is fun to consider all the nuances and consequences of these little decisions. Hence the attention being paid to those of us going public with our attempts.

As for the kill yourself argument, it's been made, but it turns out that life is a pretty nifty deal, and some of the living are utterly and acutely aware of that. At this moment, life is about expressing one's (my) affection for life, just as it is, no more, no less.

At 3/26/2007 5:38 AM, Blogger CRConrad said...

Hangonasec there Larry, isn't that... Why yes, I think it is -- that's *sarcasm*! Just so you know, I can recognize sarcasm when I see it, so thanks for *your* "lovely response"! (That is, well, can't go around being frigging "lovely" all the time; gotta be grumpy sometimes.)

And I'm sorry, but I can't help it if I find you naive, when you're gushing like you did over that cynical hypocritical "No Impact" scam. I mean, sheesh... Did you *read* the frigging article?

At 3/26/2007 10:01 AM, Blogger Lawrence said...

I love good sarcasm. Wish I'd spotted it. But it read small and snide to me.

And BOY, have I tried grumpy! I tried the "angry young man" thing until I wasn't exactly "young" anymore. I can still be a grump of Menckensian range, at least in writing, but I've turned it toward a sort of a wistful grumpy now, now that how hard it is to be Mencken himself -- or Mark Twain. And now that I see th

Gushing is not necessarily naive. It too can be a sly game. Altruism is not naive. Encouragement is not naive. Being positive is not naive. Love is not naive. These are just very difficult things to do. So they're ambitious, especially if one is not willing to give up one's staunchly reasonable, fact-based world view.

Part of fact is that people try all sorts of goofy charades. This one's got us talking about interesting and important topics, so that's good. The naive are those who expect rules and leadership and solutions and conclusions. I'm worldly enough to know that the rest of our lives will be spent dealing with the only issue there really is for each of us: how to live our lives.

I agree that "NoImpactMan" has got a passle of blind spots and hypocricies and of course that he is not really "no impact". But I see that in this world, that sort of presumptuousness ("No Impact") is getting him an audience, for better or worse.

But has he EARNED his moniker? Far from it, dog and child and (so far) housekeeper in tow. He's asking for some serious ridicule and plenty of grumps, along with those happy to see so many people talking even a bit more about these issues and lifestyle choices.

I really have thought through a LOT of the Treading Lightly Game, that's TLG for short. I'll be getting to more of those thoughts in the days ahead. Thanks for reading.

At 3/27/2007 2:56 AM, Blogger CRConrad said...

OK, posting now mostly to see what screen name the site will assign me this time... (In case it wasn't obvious, for some peculiar reason I'm both "christian" and "crconrad" above, although I thought I logged in the same way both times.)

No no no, I meant I could recognize *your* sarcasm. As in, "thanks for your lovely response".

Sorry, I can't see what's "sly" about gushing, at least in this particular case; 'FAICS, Impact Guy deserves only unalloyed grump. Dunno if you saw my original ("hate mail"?) post over on his hypocriblog; it's still unanswered. Given how totally obviously this proves that what matters to him is *being seen* "protecting the environment", as opposed to *actually doing so*, I'm STILL pretty pissed off at ALL the vacuous illiterates who couldn't see that but posted their fawning little "Attaboy!" replies. Yours just happened to be among the more articulate ones (not to mention, equipped with a direct link to your own blog), so it happened to become the only one (IIRC) that I followed back to the source, so to speak.

Then he promised to "answer the critics" -- no reply to my point there either. Why, was it so fucking impossible to actually *answer* the criticism, after he'd said that was what he was going to do? Yes, of course it was -- impossible, actually, *without acknowledging how much of an empty-gesture media stunt the whole thing is*. For that, he deserves nothing but the most serious scorn and excoriation.

(BTW, I must say I was a bit surprised, as I only just noticed in the first reply to that non-responsive "answering" post, at having my first post here above characterized as "hate mail". Hey, where's the "hate"? Just a friendly suggestion from/to a fellow semi-anonymous Internet denizen, is all! :-)

At 3/27/2007 10:37 AM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Yes, CRC, I kind of figured you might be one in the same. What I meant to do by gushing about 'love stuff' over at Definite Impact Man's blog is to tweak his thinking, to see where his convictions really lie. He may not actually feel too comfortable with the "loving everything" motive attached to his "project," and that might get him to think, well, what is it really for? The book deal? The 15 mintues of fame?

He's saying he's not calling himself an environmentalist, but someone else who commented there said 'that we are all environmentalists -- it's just that most of us are not ever good at it.' Well, I like that out-of-the-box sort of comment. It gets Impact Man and those of us reading to consider things from a slightly different angle.

The point there is: if you make a project public and find an audience, then the audience tends to get involved and, to some extent, insists on redefining what you thought was yours and yours alone. I say Impact Man needs all the philosophizing he can get. That's because if he doesn't deal more explicitly with the convictions behind it or the lack thereof, his project, no matter how attention-getting and seemingly extreme is really small, not grand. Putting the 'love' on him is a way of asking how grand he wants his convictions to be. Or, I think slyly, it helps bring a short-sighted, possibly hypocritical and perhaps even cynical stunt to light.


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