Sunday, October 19, 2008

Living Green in Earnest

by Joanne Kaufman
The New York Times
October 17, 2008

Simon Woods, who is 6, would like to play on a baseball team. His mother, Sharon Astyk, is sympathetic, but is also heavily committed to shrinking her family’s carbon footprint. "We haven’t been able to find a league that doesn’t involve a long drive," she said. "I say that it isn’t good for the planet, so we play catch in the yard."

That is one way that Ms. Astyk, a mother of four, expresses her concern for the environment. She has unplugged the family refrigerator, using it as an icebox during warmer months by putting in frozen jugs of water as the coolant (in colder weather, she stores milk and butter outdoors). Her farmhouse in Knox, N.Y., has a homemade composting toilet and gets its heat from a wood stove; the average indoor winter temperature is 52 degrees.

Many people who can comfortably use "carbon footprint," "global warming" and "energy offset" in a sentence will toss a bottle or can into a blue recycling bin and call it a day. Those who are somewhat more committed may swap incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescents, rely on cloth shopping bags and turn to mass transit.

Then there are people like Ms. Astyk, 36, a writer and a farmer who is trying, with the aid of a specially designed calculator, to whittle her family’s energy use to 10 percent of the national average. She and her husband, Eric Woods, a college professor, grow virtually all their own produce, raise chickens and turkeys, and spend only $1,000 a year in consumer goods, most of which they buy used. They air-dry their clothes, and their four sons often sleep huddled together to pool body heat.

They began this regimen in 2002. "My husband and I started to talk about climate change, and oil prices were going up," Ms. Astyk said. "The other factor was a justice issue. There was a great disparity between the resources used by the third world and by us, so we decided we had to cut back." Some people may view Ms. Astyk and her family as role models, pioneers who will lead us to a cleaner earth.

Others may see them as colorful eccentrics, people with admirable intentions who have arrived at a way of life close to zealotry. To others they come across as "energy anorexics," obsessing over personal carbon emissions to an unhealthy degree, the way crash dieters watch the bathroom scale.

Ms. Astyk has heard such talk but says her neighbors’ attitudes have softened as energy prices have risen. "People have moved gradually from ‘Sharon is a fruitcake’ to ‘Sharon is a fruitcake who might make some sense,’" she said.

Read more here.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company


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