Earlier this week I logged on to the Earth Day website to calculate just how many worlds it takes to maintain my lifestyle. Turns out, the answer is 1.9. My immediate thought: “Really? Don’t I do enough? What more do you want?”
You see, I like to think I live a reasonably eco-friendly life. About 95% of my fresh produce comes from farmers markets. I only ever buy earth friendly cleaning products and recycle just about everything known to man. We only ever need to put the rubbish out every two-three weeks. We barely use the air conditioner in summer, although in winter the gas heater is my vice. And ok, I do drive to work every day, and I don’t car pool. But I do have energy efficient lights all through the house… That counts for something, right?
It was quite intriguing overlooking my reaction through the following days. I found myself obsessing over every piece of paper and every container that needed recycling, growling at every light left on in the house. Not that I wouldn’t normally recycle or switch off the lights, it’s just that the voice in my head switched from caring to aggressive… Ugh.
Today I had a realisation. For some reason I remembered a passage from a fantastic book about managing personal finances. Or maybe it was a lesson someone taught me about time management. Let’s assume it was the finance one.
Imagine your budget is an empty jar and all your expenses are rocks that fill up your jar. The rocks are all different sizes depending on how much they are worth. When people have too many rocks for their jar, they often take the smaller ones out in a bid to make the big ones fit. Often those little rocks make very little difference and can feel like they are costing more than they actually are. This is because the little rocks are generally made up of our discretionary income. The little rocks (or discretionary income) are the things that remind people of their financial freedom. They might symbolise tickets to the movies, hair cuts, pedicures, nights at the pub or a gym membership. They may seem like extravagances but for most people the discretionary income is only a small portion of their overall income. To have a real impact on your budget, it is much wiser to deal with the big rocks, such as changing loan structures, selling your second car etc. In the long term, this means being able to keep many more of the little rocks in your jar. And really, who would really miss a mortgage?
Lets think about this in the context our carbon footprint. According to the site, if I were to stop eating fish or travel by bus one day a week, the earth savings are not even worth noting. These are my little rocks. By increasing renewable energy sources at my home, I could save 0.3 of a planet. By using energy efficient appliances or by purchasing products with less packaging I could save 0.1 of a planet. These are my big rocks.
I’m not at all suggesting that we should justify all our comforts because they may fall into the ‘little rocks’. We really should assess them. However, there are bigger rocks to throw. If you are thinking about making a change in your life to improve your carbon footprint, consider getting loan for solar panels or downgrading your car (or replacing it with a bike). Consider purchasing an energy efficient fridge when yours breaks down. Install skylights or have your home insulation checked out. There are plenty of government rebates for doing these things, which can make the cost a little easier to bear. Some local council’s also offer interest-free loans for residents who install eco-friendly structures and appliances.
Kym and I have been talking about going solar since we moved in but have never felt we could justify the financial cost. We currently have few debts that can’t be put off, however our next big goal is to purchase a solar system to cover our electricity use.
So, how many worlds does it take to sustain your lifestyle? What are you willing to change? What will you never give up? (for me it's having my eyebrows waxed and owning a car)