Drops in the Bucket

We all feel that we should do our part in the fight against climate change, but some people argue that what we as individuals do doesn't matter. It's just drops in the bucket. I think they're wrong.

Two common themes that are sure to come up repeatedly in my posts will be: “Take action NOW,” and “Every action is worth taking.”  Some actions by sheer scale alone have larger immediate impacts than others (setting up a community scale wind turbine or solar panel array versus someone switching out the incandescent light bulbs in his or her house for more energy efficient CFL’s, for example) but it is my belief that both large scale projects and small steps taken by individuals are equally important in the fight to get climate change under control.

Last summer, I read the book No Impact Man by Colin Beavan and watched the documentary of the same name.  It was a very interesting tale of one New York City dweller’s personal adventure to discover just how much “consumption” could be comfortably cut out of his life. A point that Beavan made several times throughout his book was that each person has his or her own limit of what he or she can and can’t eliminate comfortably.  Beavan certainly doesn’t advocate that everyone do what he did (he went for an entire month without electricity in his apartment for goodness sake), but he does advocate that we all do something!

I strongly agree with that message, but Beavan got a LOT of flak from environmentalists for urging individuals to cut down on personal consumption in an attempt to reduce our individual ecological footprints. He even got some hate mail over it.  Why?  Environmentalists argued (and this is a quick summary of things) that by urging individual people to take responsibility for their ecological footprints and that by suggesting that individual behavior is partly to blame for current environmental pollution problems, rapid depletion of non-renewable resources, and global climate change that Beavan was actually doing more damage than good to the fight against all those problems.

Environmentalists point out, quite correctly, that for every pound of trash individual people set out on the curb in their garbage cans, the industry that made that pound of whatever it is generated approximately 70 pounds of garbage/pollution in the process.  That is true.  So, rather than place the focus on what individuals are doing in their homes, some environmentalists want the focus and the pressure to fall on changing large scale industrial practices.  

Yes, yes, yes!  I absolutely agree that cleaning up how we manufacture products and improving energy efficiency on the larger, industrial scale is incredibly important.  In fact, if that doesn’t happen soon, climate change might race away from us.  People should rally together to pressure manufacturers to get their collective acts together to cut down on waste and improve energy efficiency.  But, in the meantime, people should decide that it is important to clean up their own acts at home and in their daily lives.  It’s not a one or the other situation!  And, perhaps equally important is that people who make that personal decision need to openly share that with others.  If you’ve decided that environmental conservation and climate change are important to you and if you’ve taken steps in your own life to walk the walk, let as many other people in your life as you can know.  That’s how culture develops--with an idea that spreads from a few to many and becomes the norm.  That’s when the big, industrial scale changes so aptly called for by environmentalists start happening.  The culture will demand it.

Ghandi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”  I love that quote and believe in it.  The movies that we let our children watch are full of moral messages that are equally apt for this conversation.  “If you think you can, you will.  If you think you can’t, you won’t.”  “I’m just one ant, but there are more of us than you and if we work together there’s nothing we can’t do.”  You get the idea.  

The actions of a lone individual can feel pretty insignificant, I know.  Does it really make any difference if I make a point of turning off the night light in my children’s room during the day?  It’s just one tiny little incandescent light bulb after all.  That’s an incredibly tiny drop in the very big bucket.  But a lot of people I’ve talked with have expressed similar sentiments.  We see what we do, but we don’t always see anyone else doing anything (not that they aren’t; we just don’t necessarily see their actions with our own eyes.)  Instead, people see their tiny drop and they see the enormous bucket and they wonder if there are any other drops falling in other than theirs.

Well, there are definitely other drops and those drops add up pretty quickly.  For example, my family has a small vegetable garden.  Each time we harvest our own baby spinach, we have brought that veggie dish to our plate with a tiny carbon footprint.  If we’d gone to the grocery store and purchased it, most likely it would have been grown in California and trucked 2,000 miles across the country before reaching our plates.  According to the carbon calculator available at http://www.carbonify.com/carbon-calculator.htm, the average diesel tractor trailer releases 2.2 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile driven.  That means that the collective carbon footprint of let’s say 1,000 bags of spinach at the grocery store is 4,400 pounds!   

So, if my family is able to harvest even five meals worth from our garden, we can boast that we reduced our carbon footprint by 22 pounds.  Of course, not everyone has the time nor the inclination to grow their own food.  However, there certainly are a lot of folks who shop at the local farmer’s market in Salem every Thursday during the summers—reducing their carbon footprint.  Assuming that thirty families bring a meal to their plate from a local farm versus from California just five times in a single summer, already those thirty families dropped their collective carbon footprint by 660 pounds.

Here’s another great example of how the drops in the bucket can add up remarkably fast.  At the high school where I teach, all the classrooms were re-fitted with energy efficient light bulbs, each bulb using just 25 watts of electricity.  In the classrooms of the science wing where I teach, each room has 25 bulbs.  My students researched various sources to determine that even with the energy efficient light bulbs installed, for every hour that the lights were on in our classrooms, about 1.3 pounds of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.  They posted signs outside each classroom that said keeping the lights off for one hour every day for every school day that year (approximately 180) would keep 234 pounds of carbon dioxide per classroom out of the atmosphere.  Since there are six classrooms in the science wing that would save a total of 1404 pounds of carbon dioxide, just by keeping the lights off for a total of one hour each day in just six classrooms.  Little drops, but they add up so quickly.  It’s nice to imagine and then see us working together.  It gets me excited.  I can see the bucket starting to fill up!

Do you carpool?  Do you walk or ride a bike if your destination is less than a mile away?  Did you choose a high efficiency appliance at the store?  Did you buy local or grow it yourself?  Do you shop at consignment stores?  Do you use cloth napkins?  Do you use a re-usable travel mug when you hit Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts?  Do you drive a hybrid vehicle?  Do you make a point of turning the lights off when you leave a room?  Drip, drip, drip go the drops in the bucket.  Lots and lots of them, and those drops add up to a really big pour!  We must absolutely be lobbying industrial manufacturers to modernize their systems and reduce their own, gigantic carbon footprints.  It is a critical component in our multi-tiered fight to get climate change under control.  But as we do that--a task that is cumbersome and time consuming even when it is does end with success--individuals must embrace their own ability to effect a significant change and then make those personal changes NOW.  Let’s rally together, all us little ants, because together we can do anything.  Even fill a bucket one drop at a time.

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windpower December 15, 2011 at 02:57 PM
Kathy Well written, again . But looking at the comments you got from the last post ,you are not reaching the public. May I suggest you read $20 a gallon ,forgot the author . But he states at $20 a gallon gas , everything becomes local and accounted for . Sounds radical ,but how else are you to get the attention of the SUV soccer moms. We do most of what you said above .May I add solar air dry your clothes . We save $40 /month and who knows how much co2 .
Nancy Gilberg December 15, 2011 at 03:11 PM
Another concisely-written and inspiring read. Since Patch facebook has over 2500 followers, you are reaching a large audience within our community. I'm glad we have an outspoken environmental advocate in our midst.
windpower December 16, 2011 at 03:31 PM
2500 followers but few comments .They would rather comment on traffic or cell phones .What does that tell you about the state of awareness or caring about climate change . UN walks away this week with an agreement to agree in a few years ,and Canada walks away from the last agreement !
pk December 20, 2011 at 11:00 AM
Very good, Kathy! A recent article in the Salem News on this topic generated a lot of negative comments from their lunatic fringe readership (the global warming denialists and other flat-earther types).It's very encouraging that your article did not. Maybe Patch readers are just smarter!
Michael McNeil December 21, 2011 at 12:13 AM
The Salem Alliance for the Environment is a cult.
Kathy Clarkson December 21, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Tell us, Michael, is your ridiculous opinion based on the notion that climate change is not a real problem, does it have something to do with Salem's population of black-clad non-Christians, or perhaps it stems from something I couldn't possibly guess? You see, you've already established that you're a moron; I'm just trying to determine how much of one. ;) Very helpful and informative article, by the by. I sensed nothing cultish about it, but then I don't have an agenda other than a desire to not pollute the water I drink and the air I breathe.
Michael McNeil December 21, 2011 at 06:18 PM
The Climategate scandal which showed in emails out of University of East Anglia that data was being manipulated to show climate change-when the real data showed otherwise. The " Dear Leaders" of the Green Energy Cult, Al Gore and Robert Kennedy Jr. are becoming very wealthy while saving the earth. And why do you people become enraged when someone disagrees with your point of view? You come across like the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, ready to send wayward Americans off to re-education camps. You folks are scary sounding.
Michael McNeil December 21, 2011 at 06:43 PM
I calls em' as I see's em. Why do you have to use swear words? The only folks saying "move along, folks. Nothing to see here" about the ClimateGate scandal are the Climate change pimps. In the American Court system once you catch the defendent in a lie ( University of East Anglia emails) you can assume that everything else they claim is also a lie.
Aubry Bracco (Editor) December 21, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Per our terms of use, profanity is not permitted on our site.
Kathy Clarkson December 21, 2011 at 07:19 PM
Well congratulations, Michael. Your ignorance remains safe because I spelled out BS. Not that you would have bothered to take anything factual out of my post in the first place. Doesn't mean that you aren't still full of it. Keep that ol' head in the sand.
Michael McNeil December 21, 2011 at 07:35 PM
Kathy...I do enjoy the back and forth. I admit I question the motives of the Green Industry leaders. Do you consider the possibility that the Climate Change Mongers are frauds? That they prey on the pure of heart, such as yourself, to make themselves wealthy? You may be the type of person P.T. Barnum had in mind when he said "There's a sucker born every minute." I think Haliburton and Dick Cheney control the weather and they are making the earth colder so we'll have to buy more oil to stay warm.
windpower December 21, 2011 at 07:36 PM
Michael and Kathy : Please do not confuse the issues here , climate change real or not ,it will be in our best interest to change the way we consume energy . Forcing green power without understanding it's drawbacks is just as bad as being in favor of the oil pipeline from Canada . As for the term "cult," it is uncalled for, as are other terms as unpatriotic, or wealthy NIMBY'S when citizens voice opposition to green energy . Bottom line is as I stated before. Who is reading your well written article ? You really have to get to the SUV soccer moms . Kathy you do not have to look to far to see opposing views for what to do about our energy use . Look at wind news to get daily updates about wind power ,local and world wide . Mike you need to read more on the subject .As recently as this week the "Climate gate " scandal was debuncked . Sorry . Mike go to weather underground ,a respected source and read the climate blogs . So you see, I can be "Green" but I will never fall for scams or swindles . As a avid watcher of the weather I think we are in for the ride of our lives .And we will only watch the film at 11.
john December 21, 2011 at 07:44 PM
This is another example were it seems to be the USA against the rest of the world. As we take on the climate issues and try to make a difference the rest of the world wipes out any and all gains we may achieve.I am not saying don't bother but I don't think we alone can have a real impact. We have lost so much industry over this issue yet the enviromental impact remains the same. We can't build walls to protect the air we breath. If the US wants to be the world wide poster child for climate change the impact will be devestating to our future. We are, in fact,alone.
Michael McNeil December 21, 2011 at 07:44 PM
I think "cult" is an apt description. It is amusing when a person disagrees with a "progressive" said person only needs to be educated, as in re-education camps. By going after the soccer moms are you going after a segment of society that you consider gullable or stupid? Sounds elitist.
Kathy Clarkson December 21, 2011 at 07:46 PM
I am getting my information from scientific studies, not from Al Gore or some naysaying politician sucking up to Big Oil. Al Gore making money off climate change while he leaves all the lights on in his mansion does not change the fact that we are doing overwhelming damage to our environment. And I'm interested to hear about how they're "preying" on me, since I don't have to pay Al Gore any money when I choose to recycle, or walk/bike rather than drive, or the countless other things that can be done as mentioned in this article and elsewhere. If there is anyone here who embodies the P.T. Barnum quote, it's the guy who would rather cry "cult" and "conspiracy". (Pssst! That's YOU!)
Kathy Clarkson December 21, 2011 at 07:59 PM
cult noun, often attributive \ˈkəlt\ Definition of CULT 1: formal religious veneration : worship 2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents 3: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents 4: a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults> 5a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b : the object of such devotion c : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion Well, yes; I suppose by the time you get down to the 5th possible definition of the word it could technically apply. Would you like a cookie? What is even more amusing is your jump from "education" to "re-education camps." Paranoid much? If you are told to educate yourself, it is not because someone wants to put you in a camp. It is because someone wishes you would read some actual facts before saying ignorant things on a message board. Like that a group of people in Salem trying to do good for the environment are a cult. And let me point out that YOU are the one insinuating that soccer moms are gullible or stupid, because to accept otherwise would challenge your fragile worldview.
Michael McNeil December 21, 2011 at 08:05 PM
I'm glad you looked up the meanings of cult. I was worried you might have thought it was a compliment.
john December 21, 2011 at 08:08 PM
Get a room.
Kathy Clarkson December 21, 2011 at 08:09 PM
Looking up stuff. You should try it sometime. ;)
Michael McNeil December 21, 2011 at 08:11 PM
It does have that Bickersons feel to it, doesn't it?
Michael McNeil December 21, 2011 at 08:15 PM
Let us call it a day. I've got to pickup my Hummer from the shop and head up North to go snowmobiling. Thanks for the discussion.
Christopher Granniss December 21, 2011 at 11:00 PM
No idea where you get the impression that its a cult. I suppose having no opinions or beliefs in anything, and no aspirations for making things better is the way to go? Any group who bands together and attempts to educate themselves, and those around them on a subject is obviously a disreputable action that can only be met with derision and name calling. I was also unawayre that Robert Kennedy Jr. and Al Gore were members of the Salem Alliance for the Environment. Odd, you'd think it would get more press in that case. And wow, people who say that there is an economic advantage as well as a positive environmental impact leaving our planet better for our children are... oh my god! finding themselves doing well economically!!! That s flies in the face of the talking points that environmentalism harms the bottom line, we need to figure out how to make that sound negative too! Me, I'm glad for the Salem Alliance for the Environment. I haven't seen any calls for secret meetings or initiations, nor have I heard of any black clad sacrifices done under a full moon in its name, nor have there been any need to rescue a member from having severed all ties to family and friends and deprogrammed from a brainwashing. Seems to me its an open group, dedicated to figuring out ways to live lighter on the earth so that its a nice place to live in the future.
Kathy Karch December 21, 2011 at 11:01 PM
Just to be clear, b/c you sound like your mistaking identities: Kathy Clarkson isn't the author of this blog post.
pk December 22, 2011 at 12:28 PM
For those who wish to explore the broader topic of denialism and the unwillingness of many people to accept scientifically established facts, a few good readings are: On Global Warming: http://summitcountyvoice.com/2011/11/26/global-warming-propaganda-creates-myth-of-disagreement/ On Denialism and Anti-Science Hysteria: The Debunking Handbook, a guide to debunking misinformation: http://www.skepticalscience.com/Debunking-Handbook-now-freely-available-download.html
windpower December 22, 2011 at 01:43 PM
Swampscott rejects wind turbine .Lynn Item . Wake up Salem .
Ellen Rittgers December 22, 2011 at 10:29 PM
Well written, and well researched. Thank you so much for your energy, passion and stamina - you make ( I think, anyway ) being energy aware a very easy and good way to honor and love our children and their children... by not plundering their future and resources. Keep on!
Ellen Rittgers July 15, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Micheal, there is a lot of information available online as to what constitutes a cult. The criteria are specific, and none of them include "those with whom I disagree" To hurl names and invective at those with whom you have issues with... well, don't you think it would be time better spent to have instructive discourse, rather than resorting to Kindergarten tactics of just name-calling? To just call others bad names with whom you disagree is, well.... ignorant , and shows a lack of education.
Michael McNeil July 15, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Ellen SAFE is a cult.


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