Baby Steps

I'm no Greenzo, but I try to be eco-friendly. I bring home groceries in reusable bags, clutter an already cramped kitchen with my recyclables and I save gallons of water by not washing my car. Six-pack rings never go into the garbage without being thoroughly cut apart and when I see the effects of reckless carbon stepping (most recently in Nova's fantastic Extreme Ice), I shake my head disapprovingly at how shortsighted we all are as I tsk tsk no one in particular.

However, I do plenty of things to counteract the noble efforts of Green Kai. Some of this is by choice. Even though Sonic uses Styrofoam cups, I hit up happy hour for an excessively large cherry limeade any time an assignment places me nearby. When I make long trips out of town to visit friends or family in Eugene, Portland or Seattle, I opt for the convenience of driving instead of the efficiency of bus or train. I also leave my computer on because it just takes too long to start up and boredom will kill me faster than greenhouse gasses.

My job accounts for a good portion of my footprint, however. Despite living three blocks from the office, I have to drive so that I have quick access to a car for breaking news if all the company Outbacks aren't out back. When tomorrow's paper is short on local art (photos), we cruise the Tri-Cities looking for feature photos. On slow days, this can result in more than 100 miles of inefficient city driving. If I decide to save my money and my gut by eating lunch at home instead of grabbing fast food, I still have to drive that three blocks home in case something happens. Plus, our system of printing low-quality proofs of photos means we go through a surprising amount of paper for our digital photography.

Despite all this, I still have the nerve to shake my head judgmentally at the people I see throwing paper into the trash bin when a recycling bin is a few steps away. Does this make me a hypocrite?


Does knowing I'm a hypocrite make it any better?

I'd like to think so.

Guilt from the amount of paper I was using caused me to start hoarding used sheets that I chop and staple into notepads for my desk. Awareness of the amount I must drive for work has made me plan my off-duty errands for maximum efficiency — even passing up on the savings of Winco for the inferior produce and deli fried chicken of Safeway, which is much closer, if groceries are my only errand.

Small steps, to be sure, but completely eliminating one's carbon footprint would be an impossible task for most. Even Colin Beavan, who spent a year living with as close to an invisible footprint as possible, wasn't hoping to inspire the masses to do the same.

I'll keep chipping away at my problems and if everybody does the same, we may one day reminisce about our youthful polluting indiscretions like they're old drinking stories.

Baby steps.

-- Kai-Huei Yau is a Herald staff photographer and blames Kermit the Frog for climate change.