Happy Earth Day, everyone!
For those of you who are not familiar with the history of Earth Day, it is a day that Senator Gaylord Nelson founded in 1970 to raise awareness about ways to better appreciate and protect the earth. Companies and non-profit organizations use this day to raise awareness about the environment and often give practical suggestions for conserving energy and natural resources and for using only sustainable and earth-friendly products and services.
A common idea for energy conservation is for people to agree collectively to turn off the lights for a specified period of time (also referred to as “Earth Hour” in some parts of the world). This is a good starting point; however, I think that it is vital to encourage people to turn off unnecessary and unused lights everyday, not just on Earth Day for an hour from year to year. Although many steps to “go green” have been taken in recent years, we still have a lot of room for improvement! In order to make an impact on a worldwide scale, we need to start making changes in our individual lives first. Otherwise, we would be facing an inevitable tragedy of the commons.
Since I strongly believe that we have an obligation as residents of this planet to protect our environment, our bodies, and our resources, I have put together a short, practical list of ways we can put this into practice on a daily basis:
1. Reuse everything that can be reused, and recycle everything that you no longer need. In our consumerist and privileged society, we have a tendency to trash anything that we get bored of using (or not using!). This is wasteful behavior that wreaks havoc on our environment. It is also inconsiderate of those who are less fortunate and who would not mind using a recycled article of clothing or a refurbished electronic product. You can donate these items to a charity of your choice. When items are completely unusable, recycle them! This includes little crumpled receipts, unused napkins from your last visit to Chipotle or old toothbrushes. If you wish to improve recycling rates in the U.S, I mentioned a widget, in my review of the environmentalist film Garbage Dreams, which allows you to send a letter to President Obama urging our government to adopt a plan for raising recycling levels to 75% by the year 2015 (Click on the tab in the widget “Act Now!”, then click on “Sign Now!”)
2. Adopt the minimalist mentality when it comes to shopping. Recently, I came across a number of blogs that promote the idea of being “minimalist,” i.e. living with less stuff. One such blog is Far Beyond the Stars written by Everett Bogue (also the author of The Art of Being Minimalist). The idea is that the stuff we purchase with the intention of satisfy our needs or cravings often ends up bogging us down in the long run. In addition to saving money and space, buying less stuff forces us to “make do” and find creative uses for the things we currently own.
3. When shopping for things you need, be conscientious of how the products were manufactured. This goes for everything you buy – groceries, personal hygiene items, household products, and other items. For groceries and other food items, make it a point to buy organic seasonal produce grown locally. As I discuss on the Why Organic? page, local food found in your local farmer’s market doesn’t need to be transported from far; therefore, it is more fresh, in season, and minimizes pollution due to long-distance transportation. Secondly, local farming is most likely done on a smaller scale, which encourages a more holistic approach to farming practices (most notably, crop and seed diversity – which are great for the earth!). When not buying from a farmer’s market, it can be tricky to figure out how far a food item has traveled to get to your fridge. Still, Liam O’Malley, author of My So-Called Knife food blog, does a great job of posting “food miles” along with every recipe, in an effort to be mindful of the distance his food has had to travel to get his table. For all other purchases, make it a habit to do some research before you buy. Consult a website that offers reliable advice and ratings of products based on how “green” they are. One such website (my favorite) is the Green Guide which has “buying guides” for all kinds of products!
4. Spend more time outdoors and less time in front of a screen. This way, you don’t have to endure “Earth Hour” in the dark! Instead of thinking of conserving energy as a chore, think of it as a license to enjoy more of nature and get some sunlight. This is really much better for your health anyway: More and more research is finding that a lack of exposure to nature is closely tied to epidemic diseases like obesity and depression. Also, a study in 2006 from Cornell University found that “environmentalism is born in children who are exposed to nature before the age of 11″ (Mongabay). I retweeted this tweet today: “As you celebrate Earth Day, remember that it makes little sense to be kind to the Earth if you are not kind to yourself and your body.” Very true! So, make it a point to get out of the house/office for a good amount of time every day to appreciate the earth’s beauty. And don’t leave the lights on while you’re out!
5. Don’t waste water. I never really paid attention to water until I heard this statistic: “More than a billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water, and several million die each year as a result” (National Geographic). Think about that next time you leave the water running while you brush your teeth, or when throw away yet another unfinished bottle of water. Remember that water is a finite resource that is coveted by countless humans beings and creatures on our planet. Sharing is caring. Did you know that if you leave the water on while brushing your teeth, you waste about two gallons per day? If every American did this, we would be wasting 600 million gallons of water per day … So, make it a point to shut that faucet off while shaving or brushing teeth and turn it on only as needed.