Wednesday, April 23, 2008

how do you "go green" in the ghetto?

i don't live in a house that i can trick out with the latest energy saving ideas. stuff like, if you lower the temperature of your water heater from 140 to 120 degrees, you can save 6 to 10% on your heating costs annually. none of that applies to me. my super regulates that stuff and the water is included in the rent bill anyway, so whatever. the refrigerator and the stove came with this apartment; i don't know how efficient they are. as far as i'm concerned, i'm lucky that they were relatively new when i moved in. i don't have a dishwasher or a washer/dryer. when it's time to get my clothes clean, i drop them off at the 24 hour laundromat up the street. stop driving that SUV? i don't even know how to drive.

i want to find the supergenius who's shoving all this green goodness down our collective throats and stick my carbon footprint where the sun don't shine. don't they know that they aren't talking to me? i live in the ghetto! what about us?

in this neck of the woods, everyone is just trying to make it from one day to the next. nobody is thinking about changing their light bulbs. they're thinking about what to do to keep the lights on. and you know what? organic fruits and vegetables are extremely expensive. when you're broke or just plain ol' poor, organic is not an option. they don't call whole foods "whole paycheck" for nothing. i think i'm batting a thousand by choosing healthy options but the ghetto doesn't make it easy for me.

when it's time to eat around here in west harlem, there's that smart black contingent that insists on vegetarianism/veganism and healthy life choices, with delicious hot spots popping up all over harlem, like Raw Soul. and then on the other hand, there are three McDonald's restaurants within a 10 block radius of my apartment in either direction. one of them is two blocks away. they're all bilingual, they're all open 24 hours a day and they all do a brisk business. somewhere inbetween those choices are all the "soul food" options that everyone loves to complain about: fried, greasy chicken or fried greasy fish, overcooked vegetables and nary a salad in sight. lifestyle choices abound.

not only does this stuff not apply to me, but i can't really afford to make the switch because everything that's green -- from the houses to the organic food and everything inbetween -- is so expensive.

you know what? ed begley jr. should come to the ghetto and give a tutorial to explain why we should all embrace his green way of life, so some single black mother with two kids and three jobs that's barely making ends meet can kick his wealthy, privileged pasty rump all the way back to mali-boo-boo. she lives in the projects. what does she need a vertical axis wind turbine for?

the question persists: how do you go green in the ghetto? here are my top ten suggestions.
  1. take a tote bag to the grocery store. yeah, i know. this is an easy one. that's why hardly anyone does it.
  2. ride your bike to work. actually, ride it everywhere. that's kind of a big deal in the city because the roads aren't as bike friendly as they should be. but they are more bike friendly than they used to be, nonetheless -- many avenues have bike lanes and zipping up the west side highway in a straight shot is dreamy, especially at night. the problem is, employers don't always accommodate the bikes. fortunately there are lots of parking lots in the city that do -- for free.
  3. stop taking cabs everywhere. the subway is way cheaper and usually it's faster. and yes, it's clean. usually the people who complain about how filthy the subway is are the ones who are turning it into a sty.
  4. change those filters in your AC units. i've actually got AC now! go figure.
  5. change the lightbulbs. until they figure out how enviornmentally sound those mercury-encrusted lightbulbs are (hint: they're not!) make do with a lower wattage.
  6. use rechargeable batteries.
  7. recycle everything. when i say everything, i mean anything that isn't biodegradable. sort through your garbage and stack/bind newspapers/magazines. sort through your clothes and donate them to the salvation army. toss out your old computer and other electronic goods in a properly designated area -- like your hallway. (that's how i got rid of my old tv/vcr.) here's a great idea: donate your old cell phone so a soldier in iraq can call home.
  8. shop at the new york city farmer's markets. that's right: you don't have to go all the way to union square for organic greengrocers' fare -- thanks to an initiative by the new york city health department that wants to get all urban dwellers eating healthier, you can shop in harlem, the bronx and brooklyn for fresh fruits and vegetables. and they take food stamps.
  9. get oxygen friendly houseplants. this is a big one, because it can detox your home enviorns and add a lot of life to them. who knows? i may make a pit stop to the plant district at the end of the month, to see if i can find a little tree of some sort.
  10. and last but not least...go organic -- or at least all natural -- if you can afford it. when it's time to eat, my motto is this: check the list of ingredients and don't eat anything you can't pronounce. there's lots of other everyday things to do, too. clean your hardwood floors with white vinegar. (my grandmother taught me that one years ago.) brush your teeth with baking soda -- because most of the toothpaste out there has a ton of sugar in it, anyway. (hey! she taught me that one, too.) leave off with the polyester and wear natural fibers like silk, cotton, wool. wear vintage clothing -- now that's recycling!
one thing is very clear: this go green movement isn't about using less gas or starting your own compost heap, per se. it's about changing your lifestyle -- because it's way too expensive to implement most of this stuff, anyway. it's comprised of very personal moment to moment choices that we make every day that can enhance our lives and hopefully change the world.

i wish i could live in a green house. the only ones who can afford them are rock stars and movie stars-turned enviornmentalists: people with millions to blow on bamboo flooring and proper insulation. anytime i hear these people going on about what i should be doing to save the enviornment, i start yawning because it's so obvious that they don't live in the real world, with real people's problems. believe me -- if i could, i'd live in one of buckminster fuller's dymaxion houses. oh, well. maybe i will get one someday, if i ever get loaded.

here's the question we should really be asking ourselves: who killed the electric car?

still and all, it would be nice to see the media address what the poor and lower middle class folk that can't afford to make this green move are supposed to do. that's what i want: more suggestions for the rest of us.


Lola said...

I, too, live in an apartment and don't have much choice over a lot of things that could easily save energy. I am lucky though. I have been a part of energy efficiency programs in the pacific Northwest for the past 4 years and know where to look to get my landlord help. I either email or stop in to talk to my landlord about these services. There is a program currently running in the greater Seattle Area that is directed at saving Multifamily buildings (apartments) money on their electricity bill. We do direct installation of CFLs and water saving measures into apartment complexes as well as help the owner work with the utilities and contractors in the area to provide lower cost insulation and windows. Washington just signed I-937 which requires all utilities that make a certain amount of revenue to do all cost-effective energy conservation programs or pay that money to the state government. Basically these programs are out there for the most part and the utilities are beginning to be required to help out. Sorry for the rant!

queenesther said...

what you've described is a really great idea. i wonder how many other states have such legislation in place?

obviously, when you live in an apartment building, it's the owner's responsibility to do the right thing and the government should offer incentives or something to encourage that because it's so costly. still and all, i wish i could stick a solar panel out my window, or a windmill, or something. if someone ever figures out how to make solar panels for individual apartment dwellers, they're going to make a huge fortune.

i could be wrong here but hasn't the pacific northwest always been ecofriendly? at least everyone is sort of geared towards doing the right thing. not necessarily so for this city. if the apartment buildings in the city could consistently sort/separate their garbage properly, we'd be batting a thousand.

i know that bloomberg has decided to add solar panels to city buildings in the near future and that's great but what's obvious is that this "going green" stuff is going to have to happen in phases and its going be really expensive -- as if NYC isn't pricey enough!

Lola said...

It's true that the Pacific NW has been pretty eco-friendly for several years. NY has NYSERDA that is doing a lot of research and development of similar programs.

This one sounds like the right place to start. It's aimed at apts that meet certain criteria. You may just want to call or email them.

If you landlord needs convincing they have a loan program. The landlords are usually asking what's in it for them and they list it out right there on the page: Improve the value of your building, provide tenants with a comfortable and affordable living environment, & save thousands on annual energy costs

One thing I wish is that I could become a super of a building. There are so many little decisions that they get to make on a daily basis that could make a difference to us as the tenant. Instead of buying that bath fixture with 6 100watt bulbs buy one that has a single T8 linear fluorescent that can put out just as much light for tons less energy.

One of things you could do it ask to see where they buy the appliances, fixtures and water heaters from. Then you can check in to see if there are similarly priced items that use less energy. Then propose they just start buying those products instead. They may even qualify for incentives if they start buying energy star vs what they currently purchase. The fact that they pay for the water bill is a great way to start getting them to think about using more efficient water heaters (that can be purchased through a loan from NYSERDA) and pipe wrap. It lowers their operating costs right off the top. The payback on these water heaters would be so quick for them too. It may be a bit more costly to purchase up front, but over the life of the water heater they are going to save a lot the money going into heating that water since it's better insulated and designed.

If you could let me know what utility serves you I could possibly find some good incentives.

queenesther said...

what cool suggestions you've got. i'm going to talk to my super about some of these things, the very next time i can find him.

in the meantime, i did a little research and found out that whether it's a newly renovated brownstone or the first smart and green building uptown, harlem really is going green. who knows? maybe the next building (or townhouse!) i move into will be a green one.

Lola said...

I went to a sustainability festival over the weekend and they handed out useful tips on which foods are high pesticide risk (If you can, buy these organic) and the low pesticide risk (less need to buy organic) produce.

High Pesticide Risk: Apples, (imported) grapes, potatoes, carrots, lettuce, spinach, celery, nectarines, strawberries, peaches, cherries, pears, & sweet bell peppers

Low Pesticide Risk: Asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, sweet corn (frozen), kiwis, mango, onions, papaya, sweet peas (frozen), & pineapples

For more info and the full list you can check out