Nobody's Perfect, and You Don't Have to Be

Screen capture. "Nobody's perfect!" – the last line in Some like it hot

We all have to change the way we live or we are in big trouble. But let's be real about it.

One of the first things they tell you when you start writing stuff that goes on the Internet is DON'T READ THE COMMENTS. Many websites have given up on comments because it's so hard to manage the trolls. I personally love comments and always read them, and have learned a lot from them; we have commenters who know so much about the subjects we write about, they correct our mistakes, they add a valuable component of discussion and exchange.

Promo image. Dutch Boy paint ad, from when lead was wonderful!

Dutch Boy paint ad, from when lead was wonderful!/Promo image

But negative comments do get to me, and there are a few commenters that drive me nuts. In my recent post, "Sprinklers save lives, and should be in every home," I got my usual libertarian who as always comes up with his "Why, once again, Lloyd, are you advocating taking away choice away from adults?" I don't know where you go with that, unless you also want the freedom to use fast and easy lead paint; there is a reason for having regulations. But then there was another regular who asks "So Lloyd do you practice what you preach does your home have sprinklers?"

sprinkler comment

comment on TreeHugger/Screen capture

When I first read that, I rolled my eyes; it was just a rote response. If I had been writing about anything he could have asked the same question. Then I ruined my Sunday thinking about this, because it is in fact a critically important issue. It's the same right-wing approach that was used to attack Al Gore 15 years ago– HE FLIES EVERYWHERE, HE HAS 5 HOUSES! But instead of ignoring it as a tired, worn-out trolling trope, it got me wondering as we all do, are we hypocrites, writing about all this stuff but not personally doing it all?

I am going to address a number of personal issues, some of which trouble me and some of which do not anymore. The fact is, I have changed my life over the last 12 years of being a TreeHugger, but it's hard to practice everything that we preach.

1. My house does not have sprinklers.


Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It is a hundred years old. In a new house, sprinklers might add $5,000 to $15,000 to the cost of the house, a big number (which is why the real estate industry fights it) but not much more than granite counters and fancy tiles. In my old house, it means a complete gut of all the plaster, and might cost ten times as much. My old home also has 8" brick walls and thick plaster and very little combustible plastic furniture, and 5 interconnected hard-wired photoelectric smoke and CO detectors. Retrofits can be really difficult and expensive, but that doesn't mean sprinklers shouldn't be in all new houses.

But I am now inspired to add some emergency ladders so that my daughter's family upstairs has an alternate exit. I am doing what I can.

2. We own a gasoline-powered car.

our last car

Our last car, a 2000 Toyota Echo/CC BY 2.0

I know, we should have an electric car or no car. (I do have an electric bike.) But in fact, we barely drive. They laugh when I come into the Subaru dealer for service because we only clock 4,000 miles per year. I bike in the city, my wife takes transit, the car is really only used in summer to get to our cabin (I know I shouldn't own that either) and there is no power to charge an electric car where I park it. So I looked at a Bolt and a Tesla Model 3 but couldn't justify it for so few miles.

I used to drive everywhere, but hardly ever do, primarily because of what I learned since writing for TreeHugger. I get in our little Subaru with my wife driving, but that doesn't mean I can't call for banning SUVs and getting rid of cars in cities.

3. I eat meat. Not much. Not all the time.

meat portions

Blue Cross/Blue Shield/CC BY 2.0

My wife, Kelly Rossiter, used to write for TreeHugger about eliminating food miles and eating a local 19th century diet, and we would go all winter eating turnips and parsnips and potatoes and meat and turnips, because that was what was local.

We still eat mostly like this, following the seasons. Just today she yelled at me "Peaches! You didn't buy peaches?" during their three-day window here. And we still eat meat, not every night, and in very small portions. Last night we had steak for the first time in weeks: a 7 ounce steak split between us with enough left over for lunch today.

Kelly used to say that your meat portion should be no bigger than a deck of cards. If everyone did that, it would be as effective as half the population just giving up meat altogether.

4. We have a gas boiler (furnace).


My super-duper two year old high efficiency gas boiler/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

See hundred year old house, above. Gas costs a fraction of what electricity costs right now, and in a barely insulated house I simply cannot afford to live better electrically. I can't insulate the house without gutting it.

That's why I am so fanatical about the Passivhaus standard; if you only need a tiny bit of energy to heat your home than what the energy costs matters a whole lot less. Should I not write about Passivhaus because I don't live in one? Of course not.

5. I still fly.

©. Lloyd Alter

© Lloyd Alter

This is my least defensible eco-sin. Almost all of my flying is related to work, and I have written about how much I learned from a trip to Portugal compared to the previous year where I did a video presentation. I learned tons and saw so many things on my last trip to New York City for a Passivhaus conference.

But I suspect that I will be doing a whole lot less of this. I blow all the carbon savings from riding my e-bike out the window with one trip to Europe. I love flying and I love traveling, but this is one thing I am going to have to be a lot smarter about.

6. I still read comments.

I realize I just fell for an AlGorerithm, an almost automated construction designed to attack environmentalists, to get a rise and to elicit a response, and it did. I should not have wasted a beautiful Sunday responding to it.

But it is something we all have to face, that we have to do the best we can. In the 12 years I have been writing for TreeHugger my life has changed, and I do almost everything differently than I used to. I know I should do more, but we should remember that timeless lesson from Osgood Fielding III in "Some Like it Hot: Nobody's perfect."