Shopping Golightly at The Thrifty Chicks encourages us to count carbon, just as we count calories. I wish I could take a literal approach to her idea. In particular, I wish there was a really good carbon footprint calculator out there that would let us track our monthly or yearly progress. Sure, carbon footprint calculators are easily found on the internet, but most of them are too simplistic to give an accurate, complete picture. A good many of them are only accessible to United States citizens, but even those that are applicable to Canadians are limited to calculating factors like transportation, gas, electricity and so on. I have yet to find one that takes a variety of lifestyle choices into consideration. Tracking progress and seeing results is such an important component to success; whether we’re talking about dieting, saving money, or putting extra hours in at work, we need to know that what we are doing is making a difference. It helps us to stay motivated.
I’m starting to wonder about what kind of inadvertent (positive) effect my frugal choices have had on the environment. For example, I thrift instead of buying retail – in fact, during the last 6 months, I’ve only purchased three items of clothing from retail stores – the rest of my purchases have been made at thrift stores. I eat vegetarian about 80% of the time. I usually drink coffee at home instead of buying out. I use the Garden Fresh Box program and frequently shop directly from market vendors or farms, which means that the bulk of my produce is local, and I rarely require plastic bags. After learning a few tricks from my readers, I have reduced my electricity consumption and now air dry most of my laundry and dishes, avoiding the drying cycle in the dishwasher altogether. After my old clunker of a car kicked the bucket, I bought a new, more efficient vehicle. These are more obvious choices that help to reduce environmental impact – but what about waste reduction in the kitchen? My efforts to create a DIY-kitchen, with homemade foods of all kinds – including snacks, cereals, sauces, and junk food – means that I am less prone to buy ready-made food products that come a box, can, or plastic wrapping. In fact, I used to rely on a lot of pre-packaged, often individually-wrapped, wasteful products, which I now make from scratch. What kind of impact is this having? Although it might be small, I wouldn’t doubt that the accumulation of this kind of living has got to make some kind of an impact over time.
Included in the carbon footprint calculator should be a question related to how many pets you have and what type. I recently read in The Star that feeding a medium sized dog for one year has twice the environmental impact of driving a luxury SUV for 10,000 kilometres. I must say that I question the research behind this finding – according to the article, the researchers “based their calculations on the amount of acreage needed to sustain the dog’s diet of 164 kilograms of meat and 95 kilograms of cereals in a year.” But most dog food, if I’m not mistaken, does not use “meat”, it uses animal by-products. By-products include the leftover feet, necks, intestines and other “nasty bits” that are not considered usable meat. So although it obviously takes energy to grind and process the by-products, we should not count the total amount of energy required to raise livestock. The livestock would be raised for other purposes anyway – if we didn’t use the by-products for dog food, it would probably be thrown away. This, I’m guessing, significantly reduces our pets’ carbon pawprints, so don’t feel too guilty about having your pet just yet. Nevertheless, it is still another mouth to feed, and if we want to be realistic, we would want to include our pets as part of our households. So far I’ve yet to see a calculator that takes a dog or cat into account.
Which brings me to a final rant, ahem, point. Pets are worth having. Children are worth having. I hate it when we get into these debates about whether or not we should just kill each other or off ourselves in order to save the planet. The point, I think, is that we need to rethink our values. My frugal philosophy is to reduce waste and focus my financial resources on lifestyle choices that are consistent with my values. Likewise, animals and families are worth fighting for – we don’t want or need to eliminate them altogether; quite the contrary. The whole point of environmental sustainability is to keep on living, and living joyfully. We need to sacrifice the things that matter less in order to keep the things that matter.
A frugal household, it seems, is a greener, less wasteful household. I’d like to find a way to track just how much less wasteful it is.