Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Real Tips for the Enviro-brats

The Wall Street Journal ran an article this past Saturday on kids who nag their wealthy parents to go green and do environmental stuff like buy a Prius or install solar panels on the roof. The kids are egged on in the pursuit of noxiousness by their teachers who feel that they're combating global warming one whine at a time.
Jim and Robyn Dahlin knew replacing the roof of their home in Greenbrae, Calif., would be expensive. But they hadn't planned to spend an extra $15,000 on solar panels. For that, they have their 8-year-old son, Luke, to thank.

After Luke acted in a school play about global warming, he went on a campaign to get his parents to install the panels. He routinely lectured his dad from the backseat of the minivan about how reducing their energy consumption could help save the planet....

This year's global-warming documentary "Arctic Tale," for instance, closes with a child actor telling kids, "If your mom and dad buy a hybrid car, you'll make it easier for polar bears to get around." Kids on field trips to the Garbage Museum in Stratford, Conn., are sent home with instructions to recycle cans, bottles, newspaper and junk mail. The museum hosted 388 schools visits last year, 42 more than the year before. At one California elementary school, kids are given environmental activities to do with their families -- including one where parents have to yank out the refrigerator and clean the coils to make it more energy efficient....

Nicole Thomas thought her 4-year-old son's interest in the environment was cute -- until he told her she needed to quit drinking coffee. Ailer said he's worried that coffee growers in Central America are cutting down forests to grow their crops. "Going to a coffee shop with a kid who's saying, 'Mommy, you can't have a cup of coffee' isn't very pleasurable," says the 35-year-old mom from Boulder, Colo.

Ailer's obsession with the rain forest started when a neighbor gave him a copy of the book "The Umbrella" about a boy who walks into the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica and discovers exotic animals like the kinkajou and toucan. His mother was soon raiding the library to find more books, like Jane Goodall's "The Chimpanzees I Love: Saving Their World and Ours."

Ailer often tells his mom about the wonders of composting and runs around the supermarket parking lot picking up trash. He has pestered her, his grandmother and a Safeway cashier to get rid of plastic bags and use reusable cloth ones instead. In response to his complaint, the cashier fired back that eating fast-food hamburgers is worse than using plastic, referring to the environmental impact of beef production. Now Ailer is bugging his mom to stop buying hamburgers.

In honor of the "Spoonful of Sugar" principle, I offer some suggestions for kids who are truly interested in conserving energy. And since they involve the kid actually taking responsibility and feeling the consequences of his actions instead of trying to ram change down Mom or Dad's throat, they should serve to impress the parent instead of making him want to tell Junior to shut up.

  • Offer to wash the dishes by hand. If you rinse the dishes beforehand, use cold water (most of the energy consumed by a dishwasher is used to heat the water). Make sure you leave the water off while you're washing, then rinse in hot water.
  • Do the laundry and wash in cold water. (Your clothes will also fade less, allowing for longer wearing without replacement.) Take the clothes out of the dryer the first time it buzzes. You only get points for this if you then fold the clothes and put them away.
  • Take a cold shower. (Hey, heating water takes a lot of energy.) You'll not only save energy, but time, because the temptation to linger in the shower will be gone.
  • Turn off the TV. Turn off the computer. Turn off the video games. The website for An Inconvenient Truth tells us to "Turn off electronic devices you’re not using.
    Simply turning off your television, DVD player, stereo, and computer when you’re not using them will save you thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide a year." Imagine how much more carbon dioxide you'd save if you didn't turn these things on in the first place! And that same site also reminds us to:
  • "Use a clothesline instead of a dryer whenever possible. You can save 700 pounds of carbon dioxide when you air dry your clothes for 6 months out of the year." Check with your parents first on this one, kids: some home owners' associations don't really care about the environment and will give your parents crap about having a clothesline:
    The clothesline was once a ubiquitous part of the residential landscape. But as postwar Americans embraced labor-saving appliances, clotheslines came to be associated with people who couldn't afford a dryer. Now they are a rarity, purged from the suburban landscape by legally enforceable development restrictions.

    Nationwide, about 60 million people now live in about 300,000 "association governed" communities, most of which restrict outdoor laundry hanging, says Frank Rathbun, spokesman for the Community Associations Institute, an Alexandria, Va., group that lobbies on behalf of homeowners associations.

    But the rules are costly to the environment -- and to consumers -- clothesline advocates argue. Clothes dryers account for 6% of total electricity consumed by U.S. households, third behind refrigerators and lighting, according to the Residential Energy Consumption Survey by the federal Energy Information Administration. It costs the typical household $80 a year to run a standard electric dryer, according to a calculation by E Source Cos., in Boulder, Colo., which advises businesses on reducing energy consumption.
  • Take up a musical instrument. Turn off your iPod and your CD player.
  • Quit sports, theater, and other activities to which your parents must chauffeur you. Your family will save money on gas, and your parents will probably be grateful for the time you've saved them, and perhaps even increase your allowance. You can build a clubhouse in the back yard or join a local yuppie gang instead.
  • Pay for recycling out of your increased allowance, and sort it yourself. (In some states, you can even get money for turning bottles and cans in.)
  • Plant a garden. You'll have fresh organic produce, and it won't have the carbon footprint of produce grown elsewhere and shipped to the grocery store. Plus when you were ignoring science class, they mentioned that plants consume CO2 and produce oxygen -- this almost turned the Earth into an iceball a billion years ago, but that's not much of a danger at the moment. We'll let you know when that changes.
  • Eat the hamburger. The methane produced by cows "generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation", according to the U.N. That's right: eat a cow, save the earth.
  • You don't want to drive your parents nuts, but your teachers are all gung-ho for decreasing global warming. Why don't you suggest that the school turn off the air conditioner? Think of the money they'll save on energy bills (maybe you won't have to do that stupid candy drive this year) and that way your teacher can practice what he or she preaches! Of course you'll be uncomfortable, but you'll be combating global warming in a major way! This will also allow you to find out if your teacher uses enough deodorant -- a product of highly polluting manufacturing industries.
And remember, boys and girls: you will be more likely to get your parents to take up the energy-conservation cause if you leave them their coffee. Parents like that stuff.


Rick Lugari said...

$15,000 to appease their brat? I'd be embarrassed. The kid needs to be taught a number of lessons starting with the Fourth Commandment and just whose home he's living in, and how that home can serve as his school.

Anonymous said...

I have a blog containing good information on global warming. Ozone has doubled since the mid-19th century due to chemical emissions from vehicles, industrial processes and the burning of forests, the British climate researchers wrote. Carbon dioxide has also risen over that period. History of global warming is very deep since 1850.

Histor said...

Gosh, that was a good one!

I like the "cold shower" idea... *evil snigger*

Anonymous said...

Eat the hamburger. The methane produced by cows "generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation", according to the U.N. That's right: eat a cow, save the earth.

I know your not being serious, but I'll say it anyway: eating cows will increase bovine emissions (unless you go and hunt down a wild one and kill it yourself). Greater demand for beef == more cows bred.

CMinor said...

Well, that made me snicker, even notwithstanding the cow demand effect. (Wild cattle? Where does anon live??)

Personally, I'd like to rig a timer to our water heater so that at ten minutes of use or so, the hot water shuts off completely. My kids spend far too long in the shower for my taste and it would save me nagging.

CMinor said...

BTW, it may just be my own recent viral infestation making me suspicious, but is there something a little funny about those links 4 comments up?

mrsdarwin said...


You're probably right; I didn't even pay enough attention to them to mouse over them until you mentioned it.

I think we can call this new movement "Conscientiously Green". Save the earth and save your parents from nagging!

eredux said...

Check out this US Carbon Footprint Map, an interactive United States Carbon Footprint Map, illustrating Greenest States to Cities. This site has all sorts of stats on individual State & City energy consumptions, demographics and much more down to your local US City level...

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

This is one of the best posts I've read in a while. Awesome.

Unknown said...

Well, we will be adopting some of these tips in honor of St. Francis' feast day today.

Rosebud said...

Actually Mrs. Darwin, I think you underestimate many young environmentalists. Though it is certainly true that there are those who only whine and nag their parents for the big things and pat themselves on the back for their sanctity, there are also many many children who did do nearly all those things in order to take care of the world God created.

As for the 8 year old "nagging" his parents into getting a solar panel, not being a fly on the wall, I don't know. But the article didn't say "The child screamed until his parents gave in" The parents did the research on energy savings and chose to install solar panels on their own. In fact, most of the families they interviewed displayed that the children did more than just nag their parents. Just like a young child who thinks they should have a light saber duel with everyone they meet, these children's enthusiasm should be encouraged but tempered. Because children don't have the ability to do that -- that's what parents are for.

As a 12 year old conservative Catholic homeschooling environmentalist, I handwashed the dishes (wash hot, rinse cold, to save water), washed my own clothes, walked to my various extracurricular activities rather than have my parents drive, arranged for group carpooling when walking wasn't an option, unplugged unused appliances, timed my lukewarm showers, collected bottles and cans, helped at the parish recycling drive, planted a garden, and helped hang dark sheets over the windows to cool the house in the summer so as not to use the a/c.

Would I have suggested my parents get solar panels if I knew they had the money and were re-roofing? If both of those were the case, sure! Would it have been hypocritical? No.

As a 28 year old conservative Catholic homeschooling environmentalist, I still do many of the things I did as a teenager and happily train my kids to do the same. God gave Adam the world to care for, tend, and cultivate. That means -- gasp -- being good stewards of the earth. While being fruitful and multiplying.

Why is that so mockable?

mrsdarwin said...

The idea of stewardship, in itself, is laudable. The issue is with largely symbolic and showy posturing that passes for environmentalism among those with more money than good sense. Given the cost of buying and installing solar panels (not to mention the resources consumed in producing them), are they really any more than a "green" status symbol? Is buying a Prius, which is a car that practically defines "planned obsolescence", actually a net environmental gain? As for more practical measures, only the rich have the luxury for giving themselves an environmental pat on the back for doing what the rest of us do out of economy and good sense. And that's mockable.

What's also mockable is the idea that routinely lecturing one's parents or ordering them to change their lifestyle is acceptable behavior on the part of an eight-year-old or a four-year-old. Doubtless the parents are much to blame for fostering an atmosphere in which their children would even see these as viable options, and yet that that doesn't make the child's behavior cute or admirable. Hypocrisy doesn't enter into it -- a sincere belief in environmentalism doesn't confer a free pass on the fourth commandment.