How I Seduced My Neighbors Into Going Green - By James Glave
I didn't want to be an eco-jerk. So I consulted a "global warming negotiator." That's when the fun began.
James Glave is a good writer. Lives in British Colombia. He's a good photographer (here's his Flickr photostream). But he apparently developed an obsession with the CO2 emissions required to power his neighbor's yard lighting.
Five of them (floodlights) were mounted across the front of his house. I had not inspected them up close but each likely contained a 65-watt incandescent bulb. As far as I could discern, they illuminated his front yard for no particular reason..... But those five beacons across the way were still doing atmospheric damage. I had already done the math on what we might delicately call my neighbor's nocturnal emissions, and as best as I could calculate, the lamps were kicking up something in the range of 95 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
In the grand scheme of things, that's atmospheric chump change. It is the equivalent of about three return trips to Grandma's house in my father-in-law's hand-me-down Lexus SUV, and I easily find ways to justify those excursions. Hell, I probably endanger more polar bears just by vacuuming the house and doing my laundry, which amasses around my house in great fuzzy piles like Tribbles on the Starship Enterprise.
It was unfair of me to pick on my neighbor, whom I shall call David. But there was something about his all-night Light Show for Nobody that I couldn't quite keep my mouth shut about. In my head, his lamps had come to symbolize all the little things we all could be doing to save ourselves from extinction if we only knew better. If each of us took all the baby steps to overcome unconscious bad habits we didn't even know we had, we could dial back the planetary thermostat. We could unleash staggeringly good changes.
James, to his eternal credit, doesn't want to be an eco-jerk. He admits that he can't bring too much righteous indignation to bear on the outrage in his neighbor's yard, since JAMES IS RUNNING AROUND TOWN IN A LEXUS SUV. (I'm betting that the neighbor has a bigger house, bigger yard, and makes the most money. The people of my acquaintance who want "Change" generally want The Change to apply mostly to those who are one or two notches up the food chain.... I could be wrong.)
But how does one bring neighbors into a state of SUV-driving, yet floodlight extinguishing grace without being offensive and causing them to rebel against The One True Faith?
You bring in a consultant. Yes, a consultant, from Futerra Sustainability Communications. You can read that middle part yourself. The idea of bringing in a damn consultant to get yer damn neighbor to turn off his damn floodlights is too much for me to damn copy. Sorry. Anyway, the consultant, after charging him God Knows What for her services, suggests that James have a neighborhood "green" party. Plus, she says, "Food Helps".
"Food helps," said (the consultant). "Having food and alcohol at a meeting really helps. If you offer a really nice evening, maybe trying a whole load of local foods, and they have eaten your food and drunk your wine, then -- and only then -- do you introduce the idea of changing habits as a group. You could approach it as a challenge to the next town over. But however you approach it, wait until they have eaten your food and drunk your wine. Then they'll feel beholden to you."
If you've read this far, I hate to tell you this, but this is just the introduction. All of that was merely my preliminary throat-clearing, for which I apologize. Now I can get to the point. James lives in British Colombia, and is determined to serve nothing but food produced in British Colombia.
JAMES GOES SHOPPING
I wanted to serve a local dinner. Of course, winter is about the worst time to try such a stunt. But Townsend had told me to make my neighbors comfortable, show them a good time. So I trucked down to my local Whole Foods and asked the butcher for some organic beef that was as regional as possible, within reason.
"All of our beef comes from an open-range ranch in British Columbia," she said, offering me a pamphlet with a picture of what looked like an honest-to-God cowboy on the front. The steer pictured inside looked happy enough; a few dozen of them browsed in a grassy field.
"I'd like to do a roast for about eight people. What are my options?"
"The prime rib is our best cut, lots of marble in the meat," she replied. "That would be very tender, really nice."
"Eight people?" She did the math. "You're looking at about $85."
I like my neighbors, but not that much. "What are my other options?"
"Chuck roast is a leaner cut," she explained. "But it'll be very nice if you cook it for a long time at a low heat."
Sounds easy enough. And at $26, I could afford to buy it, with enough left over for hundred-mile-compliant carrots.
(For the uninitiated, for something to be 100 mile compliant, it has to be grown within 100 miles of the store.)
"Keep a lid on it, keep it moist," she instructed, as she handed it (the roast) over. "You'll do well with that."
Everything in the Whole Foods vegetable section was from California, so I dialed Capers, a natural-foods market a couple miles down the street that I knew specialized in local produce. "We've got Jerusalem artichokes and celery root," the produce manager offered. "Not too much else from around here at this time of year. Everything is sort of finished."
I had no idea what to do with either. "I'll be right over," I said.
Saturday rolled around. I couldn't quite remember, but I think the butcher instructed me to cook the beef for four or five hours at 275 degrees. Dinner was at 7 p.m. I carefully installed my precious planet-friendly roast on the oven's middle rack early in the afternoon. I placed it under a tent of foil with some water in the pan. A couple of hours later, as delicious aromas filled the kitchen, it was time to check on the meat's progress toward perfection. I extracted the evening's piece de resistance, pulled back the foil, and stuck my friend chuck with a meat thermometer.
Hope turned to dread as the red needle instantly zoomed past "beef-rare," "beef-medium," and "beef-well." Like a runaway boxcar, the thermometer's pointer only picked up speed from there. It moved onto other animals, rocketing right through "lamb" and barely pausing at "poultry." Finally, the gauge ran out of livestock options altogether and, after pulling a double-jointed full rotation, came to rest off the scale, in an unmarked zone that should properly be labeled tanned goods.
In panic, I reached for my mobile and dialed Beef 911. My wife, Elle, answered, and after listening to me describe the symptoms, pronounced the roast dead over the phone. "It's lunch meat," she said, clearly disgusted with me. "Go get something else and start over."
I hopped in the SUV and drove to my island's gourmet butcher shop. There I shelled out $60 for a prime rib roast from Alberta, for eight people, proving once again that when it comes to sustainable consumption, you can always do it almost right the second time -- for more than what it would've cost you from the beginning.
The meal was a success. Everyone had a great time. The neighbor voluntarily turned off his prison-yard floodlights.
But at what cost? In parts of this essay, James is poking fun at his own inefficiency. In other parts, I think he's unknowningly "showing" more than he's "telling".
For instance, what are the environmental implications of cooking a roast for a long, long, long time over low heat, as compared to yard floodlights? Especially when you could've served something pre-cooked, like Spam?
Second, James was at the O So Politically Correct Whole Foods Market, but their produce was from shipped in from Politically Incorrect California. The fact that the California produce was grown, harvested, shipped, and unloaded in one of the most efficient processes devised by humans doesn't matter. It's not "local". So James admits in an essay read by millions of people on Salon.com, he admits, without a gun pointed at his head, he declares that he hopped in an SUV that weighs somewhere between 2,000 and 8,00 pounds and uses that thing to drive his righteous butt A COUPLE OF MILES DOWN THE STREET, and I assume A COUPLE OF MILES BACK so he can do the right thing and buy local produce. The freight costs on shipping an identical amount of produce in bulk shipping containers from Taiwan to British Columbia would be lower than that.
Jesus Christ Almighty.
Then you get into the multiple trips for the meat, which are merely funny.
So here's my question: I don't know how much of this is James poking fun at his environmentalist pretensions, and how much of this is cluelessness. I honestly don't.
Because every conversation that I have with a locavore makes me think that they don't have any idea how to look at true freight and shipping costs.
There's little or no difference between the James Glave comedy of errors and the locavore behavior that I see every day. They insist on locally grown food, and don't care how far they have to drive to get it.
On a slightly related note, here's something from "Environmental Science And Technology"
The researchers looked at the total life cycle of greenhouse gases emitted to produce the food consumed by an average American household. It turns out that transportation as a whole is not the main offender. It accounts for about 11 percent of those food-related emissions, with only 4 percent in the final delivery stage from producer to retailer. Agricultural and production practices are responsible for almost all the rest.
Here's a chart of how "all the rest" breaks out:
Enjoy the guilt. Or eat whatever you want to eat at the lowest price possible. You're probably wasting less resources that way.