What Would You Keep?

What Would You Keep?

The Tern
Published: 07/11/2008

By "Tern" Alexa Schirtzinger--Food metaphor: I adore ice cream. If I could eat it all day without getting indigestion or outgrowing my jeans, I probably would. But in college, morbidly afraid of the "Freshman 15,"
I knew I couldn't eat ice cream every night after dinner. I did, however, discover nonfat frozen yogurt, which I could eat with abandon.

Of course, it probably would've made more sense just to be reasonable and not eat creamy desserts every night. But I liked them!

Which brings me to a whole island of people kind of like me, as told by Elizabeth Kolbert, one of my favorite writers (she raised bees!), in last week's New Yorker. The story, titled "The Island in the Wind," is about Samsø, a Danish island whose residents, after realizing that importing oil to burn for power wasn't totally ideal, almost completely transitioned to renewable energy sources. 

It wasn't an act of environmental piousness, though; in fact, it was hard to get people motivated, Kolbert reports, and even then they considered themselves less as eco-pioneers than as normal folk. But the strangest thing, to me, was that Samsø's energy conversion may not have any great-minded environmental reform aspects at all--because despite getting it from wind or biomass, people there are using the exact same amount of power as they always have. Residents who installed better insulation in their homes, Kolbert reports, would also heat more rooms. "People are acting--what do you call it?--irresponsibly. They behave like monkeys," Samsø resident and renewable energy guru Søren Hermansen tells Kolbert.

I congratulate the Samsingers (as they call themselves), because what they've done--gone from a net energy user to producer, and in much cleaner ways--is momentous. Still, it makes me wonder...Are Samsingers--and the rest of us, too, lest I sound sanctimonious--really just a bunch of lazy monkeys? Are we switching to frozen yogurt, for whatever reasons, instead of just exercising a little self-control? Or is the beauty of renewable energy the fact that it allows us to keep living the way we like to--that we can be comfortable and responsible at once?

I happen to believe that the way Americans live now is unsustainable. I mean, really--disposable cameras; bottled water; to each his own...Hummer? Don't get me started. We can't do this forever--not all of us, anyway--consuming and disposing at will. That eventually we'll have to cut back is probably a good thing. But when we do, what aspects of our lives will we change--and by choice or by necessity?

I know that no one reads this blog besides my mother, my father, my dearest friends (thanks!), and maybe our president's Wonderful Warrantless Wiretapping Team. But I'd like to hear from you: What aspects of our lives do you think we'll actually end up changing? Will it be because we want to, or because we have to?

And if there were one thing you wouldn't change about the way you live now, what would it be? Best reply gets to ask me anything you want--truth or dare, enviro-style--and I'll blog about it next week. Enjoy the weekend!