Environmentalist’s Dilemma

As an environmental science student, it came as a shock when I learned that it is often more environmentally-friendly to live in a city. How can that be? Cities always seem so polluted. Air pollution, litter, noise, etc. How can it be that living in a city is better for the environment than living in the nice quiet suburbs surrounded by trees and flowers? Moving to Israel has given me the opportunity to explore this question. Interestingly, it didn’t take us long to realize that living in Jerusalem greatly reduced our family’s ecological footprint. First of all, neither of us drive a car here. Whenever we need to get somewhere fast, we take public transportation. If we can, however, we prefer to walk. We walk to the grocery store, to work, to the bank. We can and do walk almost everywhere. This is in contrast to when we lived in Connecticut. We drove to work, drove to the grocery store, drove to the bank. We had to and did drive almost everywhere. The density of the city makes it easier to get places without a car. In addition, the Israeli public transportation system is amazing so we often take buses to get to other parts of the city and the country.

Now that we have a baby, the initial happiness that came with a lower carbon footprint has worn off. Because of our baby, I feel myself wishing for the convenience of a car. Errands would take less time if we had a car. It would be less physically draining to go grocery shopping without having to walk 15 minutes home with a baby in the Bjorn on my front, a bag full of groceries on my back while pulling a cart with more groceries. Then I get home, and I have to get everything and everyone up four flights of stairs. Why don’t I leave her at home with Adam? I have done that before when doing errands, but there is never a guarantee that she won’t need me while I’m gone (I provide the meals at this point!). I hate that when I call on my way back to let Adam know that I should be home soon, I can hear her screaming because she is hungry. I can’t seem to get home fast enough! If only I could just hop in my car…

It shouldn’t surprise me that convenience makes a car so appealing. After all, the basis for our current throw-away society is convenience. Why else do we love our paper plates and plastic water bottles? Adam and I try very hard to avoid the more environmentally-unfriendly conveniences although we have our weak points (for example, paper napkins and disposable diapers). Becoming environmentally sustainable is a process which takes time. Little by little we try to do more, but whenever we make a decision, we have to consider our economic and social needs. Sustainability is all about balance.

Why don’t we just get a car then? In Israel, there are large economic incentives to use public transportation. First of all, gas is really expensive here. In our area it is around 7.7 shekel per liter, which is about $8.30 per gallon. In addition, when purchasing a car, there is 100% sales tax, which makes cars much more expensive. The intra-city buses cost 6.6 shekel ($1.87) per ride if you pay with cash, but we have a bus pass that we put 10 rides on at a time. When you do it this way, you pay 5.28 shekel ($1.50) per ride which makes a lot more sense. To get to Tel Aviv it is 18 shekels ($5.12) and to Ra’anana it is 24 shekels ($6.82). The public transportation works well here, so people don’t mind using it. I wish that we had bus systems like this in Connecticut, but there is little incentive for the government to improve public transportation since so many people just drive everywhere.

So city life does have its environmental perks even though it is a bit inconvenient. However, as I have written many times, the connection to the environment is not so easily formed when living in the city. Despite the fact that there are trees and flowers throughout Jerusalem, it still feels like an effort to have access to nature. Either we have to spend 45 minutes on the bus, we have to take a taxi, or rent a car to be in a more green area. As expected, the quicker choices are very expensive. The parts of Israel that have a more natural fee continue to be more appealing to us because the air is fresher, there is less noise, and there is less litter. Nature just feels more visible in these places, and an environmentally-friendly lifestyle is more easily built in a place where you have a positive connection with nature.

So as Adam works on applications for his next position, we have started considering where we will live next. Every time he finds a job opportunity that seems like a good fit, we look at the surrounding area to see if it fits our needs. We have two major considerations: being close to family and being in a Jewish community. Being in Jerusalem, it is easy to have a short commute since the whole area is pretty much a Jewish community. When we move back to the US, Adam may have a 45 minute+ commute since that is how long it takes to get from the closest Jewish community to some of the colleges or universities. We are willing to commit to that so that we can be as close to family as possible, to be in a community that meets our needs, and to have easy access to nature. I know that it means returning to a life with a large carbon footprint, but that is the dilemma we face. We will just have to counteract it with other environmentally-friendly lifestyle choices because at this point in our life, this seems to be our only option to raise our family in a place that feels comfortable for us emotionally, economically, and spiritually.

Until next time…

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2 Responses to Environmentalist’s Dilemma

  1. labbygail says:

    Jeff and I are having basically the same dilemma of where we would live in the areas surrounding various universities. He’s also applying to a lot of places in college towns. Our main concern with a commute is time rather than the environment (sorry World but you are more abstract than our daily routine). One of the downsides to academia is you can’t just pick a community you like and find a job there; you have to do it the other way around. I remember you said Adam commuted 1 hour and 45 minutes from Hartford.

  2. Troy says:

    Holly and I too look to find the balance between being environmentally-friendly and convenience. Like you said, it is all about finding the balance. We will never be perfect. We make sacrifices for the environment where we are willing to and take conveniences over the environment when either times become hectic or when we are want/need something. I was certainly relieved to read that other people face the same challenges that we face. Hopefully, we can all accept that we are doing the best we can right now and will continue to improve in the future.

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