Since moving back to Brussels earlier this year, I've been intrigued by local attitudes toward climate change, and our responsibilities as human beings to change our behaviors where we can. The Belgian government does a lot to make it possible for everyone to play a role. Belgians love their luxuries, however, and many ordinary folk I've talked to feel content to let the government be the only one who makes an effort.
Some friends have even told me they believe that "going green" is just another excuse to get people to consume more industrial goods - ie, that we are now told to replace every appliance we have with greener versions is just another push for increased consumerism. But there are also many, like me, who take their own responsibility to fight climate change pretty seriously. In fact, moving to a new country and creating a new life has provided opportunities for my family to develop some new habits (and continue some old ones) that I feel pretty good about.
In honor of Blog Action Day, I counted them up and found 10 worth sharing.
- No car - Living without a car is something I really wanted to try to do, and so far, so good. Our house is really well connected to Brussels by public transport, which we all really enjoy using: it's way cheaper than operating a car, there are no parking hassles, and it's always fun and interesting to watch people on the bus and metro. We live within walking distance of a supermarket that has a delivery service, so our weekly shopping is easy too. I said when we arrived that I wanted to try living without a car for a year. In the past 6 months, there have only been about 4 times when I really wished I had one, so I think we're doing pretty well without.
- No dryer - Did you know that a clothes dryer is one of the highest energy consuming appliances? Instead of buying one, we've been hanging our clothes to dry in the basement just next to the boiler where it's relatively warm. I'm hopeful that solution will work during the winter months as well. The big disadvantage is that I have to iron a bit more than I otherwise would, and irons also use a lot of energy.
- Recycling - Belgium is huge on recycling, and has been for the last decade plus. We regularly sort paper, metal, plastics and glass, and there's different pickup days for each.
- Composting - I was too late this year to plant a vegetable garden, but we will have some lovely compost to use next year. All of our veggie waste goes into a simple compost bin in back of our garden shed.
- Organic foods - I love being able to choose to buy organic foods, and I am definitely willing to pay more for them. Not only do organically grown foods cause less damage to the environment, but they are also healthier for our bodies. I don't buy everything organic, but on a regular basis I do buy organic eggs, pasta, vegetables and sometimes meat.
- Green energy use - when I signed up for electricity service, the Belgian national provider gave me an option to use all renewable energy at a fixed price for 2 years. That's a no brainer, as far as I'm concerned.
- Energy efficient lights - yes, it's more expensive upfront to buy energy efficient lightbulbs, but it really does make a difference in my energy bill. So as the bulbs in the house burn out, I replace them with more energy efficient ones.
- Sweep instead of vacuum - That's one less appliance, and I actually prefer sweeping to pushing around a vacuum cleaner. Most of our floors are tile or wood, so sweeping makes sense on those anyway. We also sweep our carpets with a stiff brush.
- One meat free meal per week - we are not vegetarians but are aware that meat production is actually more harmful to the environment than driving a car. The Belgian city of Ghent has recently adopted a meat-free Wednesday policy in all public hospitals and schools, and they say that if the entire country would go meat free for one day a week, it would have an equivalent impact to taking 500,000 cars off the road permanently. So the boys and I have decided to do our part, with at least one meat free meal per week.
- Use the short cycle on appliances - Our washing machine and our dishwasher both have quick-wash cycles that I use about 75% of the time. Unless the things we're washing are really dirty, we don't notice a difference. We also use eco-friendly detergents.
I've no doubt there are more things we could do to fight climate change in our modest way, and many would argue that the actions of 4 small people don't actually make a difference in the big picture of things. But it makes me feel less powerless over the issue to do what I can, and to teach my boys that it's worth doing for reasons that are bigger than we are.
And what about you? Are there things your family does differently now than you did before you knew about climate change? I'm always on the lookout for more ideas.