Friday, January 23, 2015

Privilege in the Eco-World

EcoYogini considers balancing the financial cost of living green...

After years of reading posts from green bloggers trying to dispel the "myth" of costly green living, I am very aware that the great majority of green bloggers out there believe that eco=frugal.

And I agree, to some extent.

The "R" of "Reduce" really brings this point home- the less we consume for the most part the more we save in money.

But what I find unendingly frustrating is the lack of discussion around what the other "cost" may be, and how some of us (many of us) are unable to meet that cost. Oh I know many of you will read this and get defensive super quick, I know how annoying it is to work hard to get people to make tough changes and have someone say "yeah but...", at the same time if we never acknowledge some real challenges we'll never find solutions.

Each area of living has some green components where we can make changes to better the environment. And each area of change comes with a financial or non-financial "cost" associated. Not sure what I'm talking about?

My husband and I are a one car family. My car is 8 years old and little (yaris hatchback) which equals pretty fuel efficient. That said- now that we live a 45min commute to the city (and work) and we carpool, we've noticed some definite challenges financially. Its costing us in our time and fuel- if I have an evening community meeting, want to meet up with friends, go to a yoga class, it's either force my husband to stay in the city waiting for me or an extra trip and back just for that meeting. The result- I miss community board meetings that I participate in, don't take yoga classes and our friend time is restricted to the weekends. On top of this, several times a year I need to travel to rural communities around the province for my work... so we've been forced to rent a car so my husband can actually get to and from work (the city link bus would be a 45min walk from our house where we live AND the carshare option is more costly than renting).

Add the fact that I need a reliable car to safely drive all over the province and mine is getting old...truly we need a second car. Eight years ago we were hoping that by this time electric cars would be available. Oh and they are. But only if you are rich.

Currently in Canada the Nissan Leaf costs over 60,000$... Yeah not even CLOSE to being in our budget. The hybrids, which are a sad copout honestly, still cost 23-25K... which we would have considered if my husband hadn't just lost his job.

The answer to "move to the city" is not a reasonable fix. (and a whole other post). For a variety of ecologically minded, philosophical and mental health reasons we decided to move to a more rural setting. It was the right choice for us and we're "stuck" there for another four years, mortgage wise.

Even if you did live in the city- bus passes are effing EXPENSIVE, the Halifax bus system is terribly unreliable and impractical and restrictive. If you need groceries, to get anywhere outside of the downtown core or even just get someone ON TIME, the public transit system is not your best bet. I say this because I have lived in cities where the public transit is amazing (Montreal). Even bicycling in Halifax can be a scary thing- lack of bike lanes, ginormous hills and narrow streets and you have a bunch of people who *would* bike but don't in fear of their safety.

I always get frustrated when I hear people talk about how shopping at the farmer's market is cheaper. I have no idea where they are shopping, but the Halifax markets are NOT cheaper than shopping in the grocery store. Overall we always spend at least 20%-30% more on produce and meat when shopping at the farmer's market. For a while we bought local milk and yogurt, which was almost twice the price as in the grocery stores and lasted half as long. Same applies to certified organic options- they are more expensive. Now- if we can afford it, I say this is money well spent. That said- we can't always afford it. Right now we're just trying to make ends meet until hubby can get another job.

This year we'll be trying to grow some of our own food. But you know- the start up for that costs money. We need to purchase the right kind of soil (too late to compost) and my husband had to build raised planter beds (which wood costs more money here than in the US). On top of that, gardening takes TIME. When we both work full time, only get home at 5-6pm Monday-Friday, eat supper and then have to spend a few hours gardening? Sure I figure we'll grow to supplement some of our food, but no way do we have time for a garden big enough for ALL our food needs.

Time. Here is the kicker to all our food woes really. Making foods from scratch takes time. We could bake our own bread- but it's hours of time... Which we only have two of the seven days of the week. Making soups and preprepared meals, all of that takes time. It's not say we don't try, but there is only so much we can accomplish when we work full time and have realistically a few hours each evening to get anything done.

Nova Scotia is an oil based heating province. I had all these dreams of having an eco-friendly home for our first home. Hah. There was NO way we could afford a house that already had eco-friendly heating options. We have an oil tank. It's gross. We've discovered that the windows in our house are crap quality and I can FEEL the cold air leak through. We've adjusted to living in 18 degree temperature (celsius), wearing sweaters and blankets, closing doors and blinds each night. Our house stays at 13 degrees overnight. But we still use oil.

I had hopes for solar panels... but we'd have to cover our entire roof and STILL we wouldn't get enough sun to power much in our house. Geothermal isn't an option since we live on bedrock. Add to that all the costs of actually installing these retrofits and since we're struggling just to make ends meet as it is, well.

I'm hoping that having Efficiency Nova Scotia come in and do an assessment (and replace all our bulbs to CFLs for free) will help- but I'm unsure if, beyond replacing all the windows which we cannot afford, anything extra than what we already do will come out of it.


I know this is a negative nancy post- but I honestly believe that our challenges aren't unique. I cannot be the only one who just looks at all the "green" superhero posts out there and just wants to be like "seriously??". I'd love it if we could all be realistic and open about the changes that we recommend and recognizing that some of these changes or green choices, are only available to those who are privileged enough to be able to afford (either with the time or money) them.

That and I guess the reality of my husband losing his job RIGHT after the holidays is getting to me...


Green Bean said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I was thinking I should start a blog by "Marie Antoinette" and say something like "let them eat organic cake from locally farmed wheat." Ha ha.

You have some very valid points. There are tons of ways to be green without money - but many of those do involve time. If you have time AND money, you are golden. If you are short on both, it is a challenge.

Of course, it would not have to be that way if our governments had more environmentally friendly policies. Better public transit. Subsidies for local farms or no agricultural subsidies at all. Better tax credits or subsidies for renewable energy options or EVs. (Btw, how much a Leaf costs in Canada blows my mind! They are pretty cheap here in California - see what I mean about government policies?)

For now, eat some organic cake from locally grown wheat and keep those sweaters on! ;-)

Christy said...

I understand what you are saying very clearly. I have been in a privileged position that I can job share and work 50%, which has given me the time to begin backyard gardening and making many of my own personal care products, gifts, etc. But the cosy has been high trying to live in one of the most expensive cities. When we made the decision to have kids we knew we would have to get a second vehicle. Now we have 3 kids (how u environmental of us) and there are no Eco vehicle options for larger families. It's like they think because we had more than the usual 2 kids we don't care about the environment at all. When we had to replace our furnace we looked at an excellent Eco option but it would have cost us $11 000 which we did not (nor do we now) have.

Jenny B said...

I have found many of those same restrictions living here in Dallas, TX. Our Farmer's Market is a joke - it's huge but all the produce comes from massive farms in Mexico and it is FAR from organic. The trucks that drop off produce at the Farmer's Market go directly to the local chain grocery stores next. The people selling the produce at the Farmer's Market know nothing about where it comes from or how it was farmed, they are middle men just like the grocery store. They are hired to sell and are paid for that by the Farmer's Market. It is a complete joke. There is a more realistic market that is 45 minutes away and is only open 2 days out of every month. There is no way I can get up there and back on the 2 random days they are open. This is my 3rd year of gardening and I have sunk easily $500 into the garden over that time and yielded very few usable crops. It's fun and it teaches my kids and helps me learn so I enjoy doing it, but it is NOT a money saving effort.

Totally agree with what Christy said about the eco options for people with more than 2 kids. Right now I'm unable to pick up my kids' friends and assist with carpooling because our car can only hold the 2 car seats. We can't even carry one passenger when my stepdaughter or mother are visiting. We will have to purchase a larger vehicle next. I hate it, but it's just necessary in this area.

Anonymous said...

My approach to this is that you do the best as you can in your situation. You make the best choice of the affordable and available options and sometimes make trade offs. We have wonderful thrift stores, estate sales, and consignment sales. We buy almost all our clothing and housewares from these sources which allows us to purchase locally grown mostly organic food. Our energy efficient windows are vinyl sash because that was what was available here when we needed new windows. I drive an aged minivan to haul children, dogs, and chickens, but try to run my errands in batches.


Brenna said...

Definitely some valid points. There are many "trendy" environmental causes that are completely out of reach for those without time and/or resources.

I think it is a huge problem as it proves those proponents are completely out of touch of a large section of society locally (US/Canada) let alone globally. I probably fall into this category myself on occasion as it can be easy to become myopic when righteous. ;)

I think the best thing people can do for the environmental movement as a whole is to keep talking about this. We need solutions for all, not for the privileged.

Mindful Momma said...

I understand the need to vent. We looked into a used Prius but it was over our budget and didn't really meet all our needs. There are so many things to balance. "Do what you can" has always been my motto - but like others have said, it would certainly help if the government gave priority to energy efficient products, food etc... Keep your chin up!

Anna (Green Talk) said...

When I built green, it cost about 15% more to build my house. It use to drive me crazy when newspaper article would cite builder saying it doesn't cost extra or just a very little more.

I do think it is more expensive but simply making better choices with what you can is simply a start.

Green Girls Don't Get Fat said...

This is what I call 'green fatigue'. Get rid of the car and save the money for the farmers market which will ensure food security.

Betsy Escandon said...

I am sorry to hear your husband is out of work. That is very stressful. I have many friends who are already living frugally (don't eat out much, don't buy much or shop second-hand, etc.), and for them, green changes almost always cost money.

As for those windows, we did energy upgrades before moving into our current home and windows are about the WORST bang for your buck. Maybe that energy org can tell you how much for wall/ attic insulation. Or duct insulation. Cheaper and makes a bigger difference than windows. Everyone told us that price-wise, windows do not make sense as an energy upgrade. We chose to do windows for reasons of security (lots of property crime in our area) and appearance, not energy efficiency.

I am very sorry that your farmers markets do not save you money. My sister in Portland says the same thing - not cheaper. Here in CA it is most certainly the cheapest way to get organic produce and most of the time, any produce at all. Of course we pay through the nose for our housing and everything else : )


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