Al, Give Me Absolution

By Deane Barker tags: environment

There needs to be a certification process for eco-friendly families. Al Gore tells me the planet is dying, so he needs to follow that up with an objective standard of when I’m doing enough to save it.

The Barker clan is a family of five. I think we’re reasonably eco-friendly.

  • We recycle everything

  • All the bulbs in our house are CFLs

  • Both our vehicles get 22+ m.p.g.

  • We don’t over-consume (my wife lives by Oprah’s motto of “Wear it out, or do without”)

But how do we know if this is enough? How can I step back and say with confidence, “I am part of the solution, rather than part of the problem”? Frankly, I don’t know if what I’m doing is enough. I think we’re better than most of our peers, but would Al look at our household and approve? Would he say, “If only everyone did at least this…”

To this end, I want a certification process. I want a clear, objective standard with which I can compare my family and work toward if we don’t measure up.

I need all the tree-hugging groups to come together and work out a scale for a “Green Household”. Give me multiple levels. “Green Household, Level 1,” for example, might have the following requirements.

  • All bulbs in your house are replaced with CFLs

  • All vehicles in your house get more than 20 m.p.g. (which effectively rules out full-size SUVs)

  • You have a programmable thermostat

  • You have replaced your furnace filter in the last 12 months

  • You have wrapped your water heaters in insulating material

  • You recycle all disposable plastic

  • Your water heaters are set a maximum of X degrees

Consider if 80% of households in America became a Green Household at Level 1. The improvement would be massive.

The levels could scale up from there. For example, Level 5 might include things like:

  • You consume no meat (cows fart methane, it turns out)

  • You refrain from using your car three days out of the week

  • Your car gets 40+ m.p.g.

  • You have planted at least five trees in the last 12 months

This wouldn’t be for everyone, but I know some people who would find the prospect of measuring their sacrifice against that standard downright seductive.

This would have to be voluntary. There can be no independent authority that comes to your house and checks everything out. But when I feel like I’ve achieved Level 1, I go to some Web site, register and pay a $5 fee to cover expenses, then I get a couple bumper stickers and another sticker for the window of my house.

This has two benefits:

  1. It gives us something to work towards. I still think there’s a lot of confusion about exactly what we need to be doing to save the planet. Paper or plastic? I still don’t know, to be honest. Everyone has a different plan of action. Who’s right?

  2. It gives someone an easy way to show that they care enough about the planet to work towards something. If I’m sportin’ my “Green Level 1” bumper sticker, it says that I cared enough to find the standard, evaluate my behavior against that standard, and perhaps make a few changes to achieve that standard. Sadly, in a lot of social circles, worrying about the planet is considered a very “Democratic” or “Clintonian” thing to do. I’d like a nice, subtle way to show that my politics and caring about the planet are not mutually exclusive.

I could see this getting pushed in the school system a lot. If his teacher got my son all excited about earning this achievement, it would be a motivator for me to make the changes necessary to do it. Call it a merit badge for the entire house.

I’m not an eco-warrior. I’m a suburban dad who’s a little confused about what he should be doing and concerned enough about it to want to know that he’s doing enough.

Al Gore bums me out. He keeps telling me the planet is dying, and next time he does, I want to be able to relax and know that I’m doing enough to save it. To that end, give me a clear bar that I can jump over.

In the end, I just want absolution. Give me a way to achieve that.

This is item #107 in a sequence of 114 items.

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