06 January 2013

My Ten of Tens

Over the last several years, I've been trying to deepen my ecological commitments by making small changes that, over time, add up to fairly significant impact.

One success has been using public transit to get to work.  The Mate bought me a Brompton folding bike for Mother's Day (!) nearly five years ago, when we still lived in Washington Heights. 

Once every few weeks, I schlepped it onto the A Train and then New Jersey Transit, and rode it two miles to campus at the other end.

A year later, we moved back downtown, and I was close enough to bike to public transit at the New York end.  In the fall of 2010, I decided to try to take public transit to work once a week instead of driving.  It was a huge success, and I happily got through the whole semester.  There were hitches in the spring, as I started feeling the aftershocks of five hours a day in transit. But by that fall, I was taking the train and the bike to work almost all the time, instead of driving.

These days, I sometimes think about driving to work, but then I remember wasted time sitting behind the wheel and getting enraged by the antics of the other drivers, when I could be sitting on the train getting work done or even (gasp!) resting.  Or I remember the billboard at the entrance to the outbound tunnel that for a couple of months read, "People call commuting a nightmare.  Nightmares are shorter."

Commuting to work on public transit, and using my bike to get around town, has become my normal. When I started the experiment, I had no idea that was going to be the outcome.

Another experiment I'll call successful is this blog, whose fifth anniversary came and went unheralded last November.  I started it as a way to think through environmental issues in a way I couldn't do in my academic writing or in the classroom.  I diverged into writing about chronic illness when I came down with "the itis" a couple of years later. Since then, I've developed two classes on the environment and, to my on-going amazement, published an article that grew out of the blog.

So in the coming year, I want to pick ten new things to try to turn into habit, one for each of the next ten months.  (The light fades in November and December.  Just getting through is enough of a goal: it's too hard to do anything new.)  I'll see where these things take me -- if just one brings about a transformation comparable to the changes in my teaching and scholarship or my commute, it will be a big thing.
  • Pack lunch to avoid the packaging that comes with take-out.  Bring a cloth napkin.
  • Limit water use: three-minute showers; go to the car wash instead of washing my car with the hose; use a pan to rinse dishes instead of running the tap.
  • Recommit to not shopping and/or buying used.
  • Research the environmental impact of web storage.  Write some letters to push for change.
  • Finish reading Ecological Economics and find the next thing to read.
  • Create a change.org petition on an environmental issue.
  • Research the water and energy costs of the foods I eat most.
  • Research the environmental costs of medical care.
  • Write a proposal for a humanities-based environmental studies minor at MU.
  • Eat more local. (Out of season, when it's not so easy.)

My problem with ideas in general in my life is wanting to implement them all at once.  I'm always reading ten books at once, writing five articles, working on bunches of different things simultaneously.  I could probably get more done with better focus and less enthusiasm, but then I wouldn't be me.  So the first challenge will be to decide where to start.

If you want to try something like this, I posted some more ideas over the last couple of days.