Look how far we’ve come

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Consumption, Entertainment, Film, Robbie White, Television | Posted on 09-06-2009

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by Robbie White

From paper to plastic to paper again, from tape to disc to digital files, Robbie takes a thoughtful look at how technology is changing the way we consume, hopefully for the better.

The other day I picked up a paper straw at the OKC Zoo to drink a coke-flavored Icee and was transported back to my childhood when paper straws were the norm. At first the paper straw was kind of annoying because I crushed the end, and unlike the plastic version, the paper straw did not return to its original shape. I turned the straw over and was careful not to crush the drinking end again — firmly resisting the urge to get a new straw — and this led to pondering differences in consumption since my childhood.

Consider for a moment television and movies: I was recently telling my kids about elementary school days in the late 1970s, when we watched movies and film strips sparingly at school. We filed into the old gymnasium at Neil Armstrong Elementary School in Bettendorf, Iowa, and watched nature films projected onto a huge screen using 16mm projectors. These films were carefully cared for by our teachers who shared them with the whole district. I can’t remember being told this specifically, but I always knew the films were valuable and had to be checked out in advance.

The early ‘80s saw the advent of Laserdisc, VHS and Betamax consumer video recording and viewing formats. As a young married couple, we started accumulating VHS tapes purchased or received as gifts. We were so excited to finally own a player! I recorded my favorite shows and even catalogued a few seasons of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

Our collection of VHS cassettes was impressive by the time DVDs became readily available in the late ‘90s. We still have a collection of favorites on VHS we can’t bring ourselves to part with, but we’ve slowly replaced many titles on DVD as they become available. Admittedly, we’ve created a small nostalgic but wasteful set of movies on both formats. The ten years that passed between the purchases does not excuse the waste.

In 2008, we discovered Apple TV which allows us to build a library digitally stored and accessible from any of our authorized devices. Apple TV is not perfect but it is getting better. We can rent a movie without using any resources at all (except money and electricity) for store visits or delivery by mail. We can purchase other media this way as well. There are no discs to scratch, no magnetic tapes to deteriorate, but there are some limitations with regard to licensing agreements, sharing media with others, and decades from now when we pass away, we wonder whether our digital media will become nothing but virtual debris.

The movies we love (and hate) create a story of their own about us. My unique set of movies is a way of describing myself. For example, I liked “The Departed,” but not “The Godfather;” the Keira Knightly version of “Pride and Prejudice,” but not the ‘80s version; and I love “iCarly” and “M*A*S*H,” but not one other TV sitcom in the intervening decades has engaged my attention. Much as the books we keep and reread over years say much about us, I wish to preserve our film and video collection for our children and grandchildren, or at least the essence of it.

The same questions apply to e-books. My husband and I both have Kindle readers. We love the experience of reading on this elegant device, and appreciate the fact this digital tool allows us to control our consumption so we can again enjoy reading daily newspapers without waste or mess. I am discovering periodicals again because of Kindle. I cannot, however, loan you a magazine, but I can send an email with an article or selected text, or if really necessary, print it in the old-fashioned way.

I see new media delivery and storage devices as a
n improvement over the consumption of paper, but I don’t know what is involved in the production of a Kindle device. Will we discover some toxic secret (such as mercury in compact fluorescent light bulbs)? Will new technology in a few years cause us to recycle outmoded Kindles for something more cutting edge?

While none of us knows what the future holds, what each of us can do in the present is consume less of this planet’s resources by making decisions based on the best knowledge available in the present, and by doing so, contribute to a better future.

Sustaining Sustainability

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chelsey Simpson, Food and Drink, Television | Posted on 06-03-2009

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by Chelsey Simpson

When I say I was born a conservationist,
I’m not bragging. Conserving things–all kinds of things–has been a
lifelong obsession of mine, and not always a healthy one. Guilt and
anxiety are often the cause or result of my efforts.

As a child I was prone to hoarding and saving, always afraid
of wasting anything. Stickers sat untouched in my sticker book, candy
wrappers were squirreled away for their decorative potential as
wallpaper and Easy-Bake oven cake mixes were rationed. On the other
hand, dolls I didn’t play with seemed to cry out to me, making me feel
bad for owning something I didn’t use.

At the age of four I remember carefully separating my meals
into two portions: one for me and one for the African child my parents
“adopted” through a charity program. Luckily, they soon explained that
we were only sending money, not half of all our cornbread and potato
soup.

I have no explanation for my habits other than the fact
that I was very impressionable. I still remember a Sesame Street skit
about water conservation in which a boy’s wasteful habits threaten to
leave a fish on dry land. I still think about that fish when I brush my
teeth at night.

I
have also considered the fact that I might be the reincarnated soul of
someone who lived through the Great Depression, but that is neither
here nor there.

I remember making one misguided attempt to throw caution to
the wind and use (perhaps even waste!) all of something in one sitting.
Unfortunately, the thing I chose was green food coloring. As a prank in
honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, I offered to cook dinner, then added
green dye to everything: the hot dogs, the chili, the buns, the spinach
and even the glasses of water. My heart told me I shouldn’t use the
whole bottle on one dinner because that would be wasteful, but I
pressed on, gleefully ignoring all the voices in my head for one
triumphant moment!

These days I wouldn’t add margarine to my food, much less
green dye, but I can’t say I’ve mastered the balancing act between the
guilt of consumption and living a satisfying life. There are so many
aspects to living sustainably and responsibly that it is easy to become
overwhelmed. Some days I am at peace with the fact that sustainable
food is the main direction I focus my energy, but other days I feel
guilty that half of my clothes are from Old Navy, and I haven’t
properly winterized my house. I probably think too much about small
things, like whether I could have fit two more plates into the
dishwasher before I ran it and how many times I have to open my fridge
in the coarse of fixing dinner.

I am still searching for a
sustainable approach to sustainability, a peaceful lulling of my 1930s
soul. I want to respect the Sesame Street fish and the African baby
without letting them take over. At least these days my food is green in
an entirely different way.