Gimme the answers quick!
If you've been to a sustainable stuff meeting, that's kind of the underlying mood. Man, we've gotta do something NOW, or we're all going to die!
I understand the urge, and I even think it's mostly a positive thing. But it can far too easily lead us into New! Improved! disasters. This is true both for society, and for all of our own small personal choices. Sell the car! Sounds brave, bold, and fierce- but I'd think a long time, and maybe just park it for 2 months without selling, before actually doing it. It could be catastrophic for you, personally. We still have to live in this world. This one.
A sad, and disastrous, example we're struggling with right now: Ethanol - made from - food.
From the BBC, for a sort of outside opinion:
Biofuels Make Food Expensive
I realize I may immediately antagonize a lot of green folk here- but making fuel from food was always a bad idea. A few of us actually said so, right out loud. Nobody wanted to hear it.
At this point, even the people running huge distilleries and cranking out the subsidized ethanol profits admit, as quietly as possible, that ethanol from corn will not ever make any significant difference in our fuel supply.
Why do they admit it? Somebody finally did the math. How complicated was the math? No calculus required- if you ever got a B on a math exam in the 6th grade, you could have done these calculations. X amount of corn can be made into Y amount of ethanol; with Z amount of land available. If all the corn was used for fuel ethanol, it might supply a small fraction of US automotive fuel use. Leaving nothing for the chickens, pigs, etc - and the farmers who raise them. (Basic practice in this blog- I do not have time to dig out all the references for you- if you doubt something I say here, google it immediately- and don't bug me if I'm off by a couple of degrees.)
For years the few people doing arithmetic on corn were focused on "can you get more energy out of ethanol than you put in?" I'm not getting into that here- they're still fighting about it, and clearly the answer is "not much, if any".
The point here: that was not the only question we should have been asking, if we wanted to make sensible choices.
Now, the "push" for ethanol has gotten so far ahead of common sense that the folks in Iowa may have to IMPORT corn - NEXT YEAR- if they want to feed any pigs and chickens. (Not going to get into meat questions right now.)
The real farmers, as usual, are caught in a trap. They've been losing money growing corn for decades. Really. Little by little, the loans with the bank for production have gotten bigger and bigger. They can look prosperous- but usually, the bank owns most of the farm by now. The scoffers among you are saying "oh bosh, if it were that bad, there would be bankrupt farmers all over the place." There are. And suicides, and broken families. Look it up.
So the survivors are quietly desperate to make a few pennies, some day, so they can actually dream about getting out of debt. Ethanol looks like salvation. So they tend to get quite huffy if you say "well, but... wait a minute here..." Then you get painted as a farmer hater. And they quit listening. Or thinking. Very human.
But in reality, we're now spending a lot of resources and effort to develop what we know is ultimately a dead end. The apologists now say "Yes, but it's a useful bridge to better sustainability!"
Yes, but. Wouldn't it have been better to pick a non-dead end technology, and put all those resources into that direction? I think so. And the argument "we've got to take action now!" is one that often shuts down discussion.
Greenies are human too- and quite capable of hearing only what we want to. "Hey, I've got this figured out, quit bugging me about it!"
I am a scientist by training. One of the basic tenets is - never quit doubting; never quit thinking; never quit looking; even when you're 95% sure you know an answer.
Are you struggling with questions about how to live green? Should I give up my toilet paper? Should I sell my car?
My very first advice - take a deep breath, and slow down. You don't have to make these decisions instantly - in fact it will probably be far better if you don't.
Think about it. Close your eyes, and see yourself 5 years from now- doing or not doing. If you think, "maybe I could..." then- give it a try. Often you can get family members to go along if you do set a time limit on the experiment, like the Yw/oTP folks are doing. "Look, we'll try this for 2 months and then talk about it, ok?"
All the pieces have to fit together. And it just takes time to get there.