Michelle Gillett: Life-changing, energy-saving



If my editors let me write my own heads for my columns, I would call this one, "How I Broke my Arm and Saved the Planet." That's not entirely accurate, but breaking my arm has introduced me to new ways of doing things -- things that I usually do with both arms and less consideration.

Consider, for example, the difficulty of taking a shower with an arm encased in a brace from shoulder to elbow, the lower arm in a compression sleeve. Before my mishap, I showered daily, sometimes I took a shower in the morning and a bath in the evening. On those double dipping days, I used approximately five gallons of water per minute (gpm) for a seven minute shower -- that adds up to 35 gallons of water. An average bath requires 30-50 gallons of water. Now, I shower once ever other day. No one has indicated by word or action that I offend. (I have a good wash on the non- shower days.) I don't even try to take a bath anymore, it's just too complicated,. (Believe me, I tried it.)


I can't drive my car with one arm, at least not legally. When I can drive, I go about 30 miles a day and get about 27 miles to the gallon. That means I use about a gallon and a bit of gasoline a day. One gallon of gasoline produces 19 pounds of CO2. When I looked up all these facts and figures, I learned that the average American produces 20 tons of CO2 a year. I also learned that the United States uses about half the world's gasoline. China and the U.S. produce almost half of the world's carbon dioxide -- much of that from cars. SUVs pollute a lot more than cars do.

Since I work at home, I don't need to leave for an office elsewhere so that makes my inability to drive a little easier. I get a ride when I have to go shopping or to an appointment. My injury has made me realize I often did not need to go hither and yon, and I did not always consolidate my outings so I could get the most done with the least amount of driving,

My accident and the subsequent healing have made me more tired than usual, so I am going to bed earlier. I used to stay up until 11 or 12 working at my computer. If I use about 60 watts for the computer and I have five 60 watt lights on in the house, I am using about 360 watts per hour. The energy I am saving may be just drop in the bucket, I realize, but these days, we need to save all the energy we can.

I produce less waste now that I cannot open anything sealed, cellophane or plastic wrapped. Of course, I have been known to use my teeth when the craving for a potato chip or Snickers bar becomes overwhelming, but I know that's not good for my teeth. Nor can I twist off the cap on a bottle of water which is just as well since bottled water has a big carbon footprint. I read that In 2007, the last year for which global statistics were available, more than 200 billion liters of bottled water were sold around the world, mostly in North America and Europe. The total amount sold in the United States alone that year (33 billion liters) averages out to about 110 liters (almost 30 gallons) of water per person, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation. Bottled water is 500 times more expensive than tap water -- the United States spent more than $11 billion on bottled water in 2006.

I am buying less, partly, because I can't drive to places where I might be easily seduced into making a purchase. I can't buy new clothes because my wardrobe has been limited to clothes that will fit over an arm that I can't lift away from my body because it is braced and lashed to my side. My wearable wardrobe at present consists of two pairs of pants (ones with elastic waists I can pull on with one hand) and three pup-tent shaped sweaters. It's been kind of freeing not to think about what I am going to wear or whether I do or do not really need that new jacket even though it is on sale.


I am not suggesting that anyone should break a limb in order to diminish his or her carbon footprint, but I am suggesting making simple changes like taking a shower every other day unless you do manual labor, drinking tap water, and bundling errands so that you make fewer car trips.

Breaking my arm, has been something of a life-changing experience -- one of the positive changes has been learning to do less and do with less. My damaged arm will heal soon enough, but the world needs all of us to take notice of the damage being done to it, or it might never heal.

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.


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