On the occasions I’ve watched The Biggest Loser, I couldn’t help but think it was a terrible example for showing people how to lose weight. Sure the candidates had amazing, dramatic results, but the methods were extreme and not exactly something the everyday Joe or Jane could do. In fact, instead of inspiring people, I bet the show has made a number of people think losing weight would be so hard — and frankly so painful — that they couldn’t possibly be successful. As I become more involved in the world of green living, I am coming across a number of examples of extreme green living that remind me of The Biggest Loser — both inspiring and deflating at the same time.
First up, No Impact Man. No Impact Man became a media figure when he embarked on this year-long journey, explained in his own words: “For one year, my wife, my 2-year-old daughter, my dog and I, while living in the middle of New York City, are attempting to live without making any net impact on the environment. In other words, no trash, no carbon emissions, no toxins in the water, no elevators, no subway, no products in packaging, no plastics, no air conditioning, no TV, no toilets….” This was a hugely noble undertaking and he certainly raised awareness and helped many people, myself included, become inspired to reduce environmental impact. But at this extreme level, it wasn’t sustainable. Even No Impact Man had to do it for only a finite period of time. While his current impact certainly remains far below what it was prior to his experiment, he’s backed off a bit, following a plan that for him and his family is sustainable for the long-term.
Next up, hypermilers. The key objective of hypermilers is to increase their miles per gallon by changing how they drive their car. There are six main steps to hypermiling:
- Closely tracking your mileage by recording miles driven and gallons purchased each time you fill your tank. This is something I’ve committed to doing starting in September.
- Avoiding driving aggressively because fast starts and stops have a negative impact on MPG.
- Avoiding long stops at red lights.
- Keeping your car moving in traffic congestion.
- Slowly accelerate after stops.
- Using your cruise control.
Many of these steps sound simply like safe prudent driving advice. Others (avoiding long stops and traffic congestion) can be merely impractical. So why do I say hypermiling can be problematic? Because there is a segment of hypermilers that take these practices to extremes, extremes that become dangerous. So I’m willing to follow the basic idea of moderate driving (I’ve been experimenting with keeping my RPMs under 2000), but I won’t practice any of the dangerous techniques like drafting behind semi-trucks or turning off the engine and coasting downhill. And neither should you!
And finally for this post, off-the-grid-ers. Off-the-grid-ers strive for complete independence for their home energy needs. Again, on the face of it this sounds like a great idea. Who wouldn’t want to be completely independent energy-wise? The challenges here are a fewfold: 1. Doing this is typically pretty expensive, cost prohibitive for the vast majority of people, 2. For most of us living in an urban or suburban setting, it probably isn’t fully possible to achieve off-the-grid independence, and 3. Off-the-grid-ers don’t feed back into an energy grid, which means some of their surplus energy could go to waste. As Derek and I think about our goals for a future solar installation, we are hoping to become largely independent, but will do a grid-tied system so that we can feed any surplus energy back into the collective energy grid. For others, the solution will require that local utility companies become greener, and that green energy programs become the standard for everyone.
As Derek and I shed the weight of heavy carbon usage, we want to do so incrementally, one step at a time, becoming our long-term way of living. We are striving for sustainable sustainability. We plan to avoid becoming one of those inevitable biggest losers who make a valient, heroic effort to get to their goal only to end up gaining back all the weight.
The comparison to The Biggest Loser is especially apt in this case. If you show only the extremes, it looks so unattainable that people give up before even starting. I’ve known lots of “greenies” who religiously recycle everything, sell their cars, wear hemp, skip showers, etc. etc. More power to them! I think it’s the collective effort of millions and billions of people doing small things that can help make the difference. For those willing to go to extremes for the good of the earth, great. But for many of us, many cutbacks just aren’t practical.
As someone with a horrible carbon footprint due to lots of international business travel, yes, I feel guilty. I recycle, turn off extra lights, take shorter showers, etc., but even if i went “off the grid” in my personal life, the work travel trumps all of it, often ten-fold. The only thing that assuages my guilt is that I know that the BA flight to London is going to leave at 6:45 every night and impact the environment whether or not I’m actually on it.
Good food for thought.
Air travel is one of those areas I don’t know how we solve. I can easily see the fossil-fuel-reducing advancements of other types of transportation, but I don’t know how you get a big old jumbo airplane up in the sky without fossil fuels. As you know from using the carbon footprint tools, air travel has a huge impact on carbon output. Maybe someday we will be able to truly get the benefit of better teleconferences to reduce the need to fly so much, but this would need to become more of a standard business practice to reduce the number of flights overall. I think we are a few years away, still, from the transporter technology from Star Trek . . . 🙂