If We Cut Out Long Showers, Where Will We Do Our Thinking?

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash.

I’ve seen two big reactions to last week’s United Nations climate change report:

  1. Stop lecturing us about tiny individual lifestyle changes when it’s the corporations and governments that need to be changing their lifestyles!
  2. I know that 100 corporations create 71 percent of all emissions, but if you can help by line-drying your clothes instead of running the dryer, why wouldn’t you? IT’S THE EARTH, WE ONLY GET ONE.

Vox’s Gaby Del Valle breaks down both arguments in an interview with Climate Accountability Institute co-founder Richard Heede, who confirms that yes, we should all try to do our part:

You can measure a person’s impact, but there would be a lot of digits behind the zero in terms of percent of global emissions attributable to or savable by an individual. We’re talking about 7 billion people on the planet.

But then again, we can reduce our household footprint from 24,000 pounds [of CO2] per year, on average, if you take the average household in the United States. We can easily cut that in half if we invest in energy efficiency. A lot of things are free to do: We don’t have to brush our teeth or shave with hot water running, or take very long showers. Turning off unneeded light, air-drying clothes in the summer — those kinds of things are free, and they save several hundred pounds [in CO2 emissions] per year.

And then you get into some things we can do to renovate and retrofit our houses to be more energy efficient. Replacing showerheads, insulating hot water heaters, buying more efficient lights, having automatic controls for thermostats. … We can certainly travel by air less often. We can seek to work at home, if possible. We can combine trips.

I haven’t brushed my teeth with the water running since second grade, when we learned an Earth Day song that included the lyric “turn it off when you brush, it’s a five-gallon rush.” I work from home, my thermostat is automatic, there is only one light on in my apartment, and I air-dry the majority of my clothes. (I do not air-dry towels or sheets, but I could give it a try. I’d need a bigger drying rack for the sheets, though.)

The sticking point, for me, is the shower.

I take ten-minute showers. Yes, I’ve timed them — and yes, about half the time I spend in the shower is spent not showering. It’s my thinking time, and I’d be a little embarrassed to admit it if it weren’t for the fact that a lot of people do this. I’ve solved so many work problems and writing problems and creative blocks in the shower that I stopped feeling guilty about spending so much time in there.

Except now I feel guilty again.

I want to do my part for the earth, but I also need, like, a naked noise hole. (I don’t know which part of the shower is most important — the naked, the noise, or the hole — or whether you need all three for it to work.) Going for a walk isn’t a great substitute because part of your brain has to watch for cars and puddles, and because you need a longer chunk of time; it takes five minutes just to get my shoes and coat and use the toilet and turn out the one light in my apartment, and I could have had ten amazing thoughts if I’d spent that time in the shower.

I have thought, in the shower, that someday I will remember this as a luxury. I’ve also thought that I could save a lot on my water bill if I did the thing where you wet yourself down, turn the shower off while you soap/shampoo/shave, and then give yourself a quick rinse. (Like brushing your teeth, but with your entire body.)

So. Maybe I could get my naked noise hole by listening to white noise through my earbuds while hiding under a blanket, or maybe I could ask my landlord about installing an even lower flower showerhead.

Or I could keep telling myself that 100 companies create 71 percent of all emissions.

This really is like the latte factor, in the whole “is it the little things that keep us from achieving our goals, or the big things that are out of our control?” sense. It’s also like the latte factor in that all these news sites are telling us to not use too much light when our government is pulling out of climate change agreements.

It’s even a little like the latte factor in the “we have to be productive at all times, so let’s max and hack ourselves through the use of caffeine and/or noise holes” sense.

(See, I brought it back to personal finance.)

I don’t have a conclusion or a solution, since this isn’t really a problem you can solve in an 850-word blog post. So I’ll stop here and, as I always do, ask you what you think.

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