When we awaken to a vision of living in harmony with the earth and other beings, we enter an in-between place, a place of increasing awareness of the brokenness of our world today. Our social and economic system was built upon exploitation of the earth for resources, and the options we have as individuals are limited because of that.
During one spring, Margy and I noticed that our hot water wouldn’t get hot anymore. We put up with lukewarm showers while we were trying to sort out what to do. We are always trying to make our home more easy on the environment, so we took time to research a lot of options.
Our hot water came from a coil in our boiler, and we were told that it would be quite expensive to clean out the coil, using lots of nasty chemicals. Did we need a new boiler? At that time, a very state-of-the art efficient new boiler would cost $11,000 to install. A boiler that used wood pellets instead of oil—even better—would cost $22,000, including an automatic pellet feeder. Well, we didn’t have enough money for either of those options, and our current boiler had some years left in it. Solar hot water is also expensive, and we don’t have a south facing roof, and we have a lot of trees. One company recommended heat exchange water heaters—they were about $3000 to install.
I also researched more traditional hot water heaters—we don’t have natural gas where we live, so that wasn’t an option. I lined up all the brands and all their energy efficiency. But I found that the ones that were the most energy efficient cost a whole more, for the tiniest fraction of greater efficiency. I did a whole lot of work on it, but eventually, we chose a standard electric hot water heater installed for about $1000. The good news is that we can shut off our boiler during the summer months, since it won’t be needed to heat water. And we have hot showers again. The bad news is that our electric bill will go up about $50 a month. So all in all, we might be using more energy than before.
I share this story because I felt so sad after our experience, so disappointed and angry that there weren’t good ecological solutions. Despite our values and idealism about how we want to live on the earth, despite how much time we put into research, it wasn’t possible to find workable and affordable choices. The options we have as families depend on what our society chooses do with its resources.
Unfortunately because we don’t value protecting and caring for the earth, this is reflected in the people we elect to lead us. We need to get better about organizing ourselves to create solutions at the level and scale that’s needed. As you say, individual actions can only go so far in the context of a broken society. It’s very disheartening.
Your feeling of overwhelm/despair is very familiar. You’ve tried so hard to do the right thing. It is deflating to come up against the chasm between what is and what should be.
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