How do you know when someone has a Prius?
Don't worry; they'll tell you.
We got a Prius about four years ago, and immediately we bought into the hype about milking every gallon of gas for another tenth of a mile. We read the hyper-miler blogs about how to employ the gas and brake pedals most efficiently. We competed against each other for the best MPG. It was nerdy but fun, and we felt like we were doing something at least a little bit socially redeeming.
I haven't seen the research, but I'm convinced that a significant chunk of the Prius' reputation as a gas miser stems from the way its users are trained to drive it. There are screens in the dashboard, constantly showing you how many miles to the gallon you're getting in real time, and you get rewarded with happy little green leaves whenever you generate another 50 kilowatt hours of energy. This, combined with the hyper-miler blog culture, do a lot for fuel savings, I expect.
But what I noticed was that, when we got into our other car, I neglected to apply even the simplest techniques I used.
This got me wondering how often we learn socially redeeming practices in church, yet fail to apply them in the rest of the world once we get outside the doors. Maybe we need some kind of virtue-meter to keep us mindful of what we claim to believe on Sunday mornings throughout the rest of the week. After all, our entire daily environment is set up in a way that makes us virtually blind to the impact we have on the world. The trash is emptied and taken "away"; water comes to us in an endless stream, and once we're done with it, it too goes "away"; even those people who we find troublesome or unpleasant can be taken, well, somewhere else. The simple change of context helped divorce me from the good habits I had developed elsewhere.
It's no wonder we've found ourselves in the midst of an environmental crisis.
My wife, Amy, and I spent the week at Wild Goose in North Carolina, camping out in an RV. Some people compare Wild Goose to Burning Man, but I think it's more like a combination of Woodstock and a good old-fashioned tent revival. There are speakers, authors, artists, musicians, poets, teachers and everyday radicals all around you, all with a common passion for justice, for seeking truth, God and community. Though I found the sessions I went to enriching, the small, spontaneous conversations that blossomed unexpectedly were even more rewarding.
What I didn't expect was for one of the most indelible lessons of the week to come from the RV itself.
The amenities in an RV are remarkable, from a shower, stove and microwave to a refrigerator, freezer and air conditioning. But everything you consume or produce -- propane, gas, water, sewage -- has to be carried on-board. When you run through your supply of anything, you have to drive somewhere to get more. when your "black" or "gray" water tanks fill up, you have to find somewhere to dump them. Funny, but it doesn't all just go "away."
There are little light meters on all of the tanks to help you know where you stand, and generally there was enough for the four of us sharing the RV to get through a couple of days at a time. But the simple act of watching the meters rise and fall, combined with the labor-intensive process of filling and emptying the tanks, made us painfully aware of just how much we were using. It was sobering, even though we took much quicker showers than normal and were careful to turn on faucets as little as necessary when cleaning.
We got much more creative about washing dishes, running the air compressor and even waiting until we really, really had to go before using the toilet to reduce the number of flushes. All around the campgrounds, they had makeshift wash basins made out of water cooler bottles and PVC pipe that offered both clean and soapy water, but which used only a tiny fraction of what I know I use at home.
So if I know I can do this here, and I can get by just fine with a few minor modifications, why don't I keep doing them once I get home? In Pauline terms, why do I do the things that I hate?
Location, location, location.
I'm thinking of starting my own "green" company, but instead of coming out with the newest low-water faucets or compostable toilets, I want to install little meters on our sinks, showers and toilets to show me just how much I'm consuming and producing minute by minute. I want to have to look at the number of gallons tick by at an alarming rate as I spray water on my grass. I want to think more about what I'm doing, especially since I know better.
To say I "want" these things is an overstatement, I guess, but I feel like I need these constant reminders to keep from slipping back into old patterns. such awareness isn't necessarily pleasant (think about how Adam and Eve felt when their eyes were opened in the garden), but it's important.
I know there were plenty of talks and lots of literature on environmental stewardship throughout the festival, but my most profound lesson came from a handful of green, yellow and red LED lights on the panel inside our rented RV. Funny how revelations come from the most unexpected places sometimes.