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Coping Daily with Green Ethics

In a world where Chevron Oil and the utility companies tell me to use less of their product, classic marketing has gone mad, and some challenges to my earth-first consciousness are inevitable.

My gardeners want me to water the yard in the morning to promote plant nourishment during the heat of the day, but the water department insists that we use their resource only in the evening, when soaking will last longer. Who’s right? Must I choose between living things, which improve the carbon feedback loop, and water conservation?

The only time I really use our green (“compostable”) trash barrel is after working in the yard. Our mayor in San Francisco wants us to put everything possible in that barrel, but maintaining a week’s worth of table scraps invites very unpleasant, if not highly toxic, fumes in the garage. So I still use my garbage disposal for much of the potential compost, and since the disposal runs on electricity, I’m knowingly committing a double transgression—but in the privacy of my own home and among consenting adults, thank God.

Three trash bins go out to the curb every week: the green one, a blue one for most papers and plastics (but not in combination with each other, as in milk cartons), and a black one for everything else. Well, not quite. Foam rubber and Styrofoam are technically not permitted in any of the above, but the collection people usually overlook their presence in the black bin. So I’m occasionally complicit in a hideous landfill infraction.

My polyurethane foam roof is excellent for insulation, thus reducing my oil-and-gas consumption, but it has a half-life somewhere between here and eternity. How will future generations cope with it when my little house is listed as a teardown?

I love to eat locally grown produce, and I’m fortunate to have so many good things year-round here in California, but: (a) some healthy things just aren’t available locally, and (b) our farmers are said to use more than their fair share of the water supply.

Water again: the city-owned utility tells us to wash only large loads of dishes or laundry (to use less water for more cleaning), but the repair people say the appliances will last longer with more frequent smaller loads. Which do I want most to save, the water or the appliances themselves?

My CFL bulbs are great despite their incessant humming noises, and I’m told that newer models don’t hum. I won’t replace the current models however, because their long life is one of the reasons I installed them.

I prefer public transportation to driving whenever possible, but the municipal transportation department, facing budget deficits like everyone else, keeps raising the fare. It is possible driving will become cheaper, thus more attractive, in the future.

I rarely use a paper towel any more, but that practice increases the number of fabric towels in the laundry. More water, more detergent, more fabric softener—where is the net gain?

Is there a solution to all these dilemmas? Yes, but it’s quite huge. The current situation exists because I, and the society I’m a part of, am plugging in a myriad of small fixes to specific problems without an overall plan that finds out how each part sustains the whole. It’s not unlike a corporate website where every corporate department designs its own page or subsite, producing major incongruities for a web surfing visitor to the corporate site.

And, just as we’re beginning to meet the challenges of good design for the whole user experience, the current conundrums of living sustainably will only be resolved when wiser professionals step back and look at the big picture.UX