We live in a consumerism based society, and our cycle of consumption is almost impossible to break out of (in this country). However, it is also true that that vast social changes can be made in a short time. In World War II, the government put up posters, billboards, and radio ads encouraging people to conserve , recycle, and completely change their patterns of consumption. We need a similar drive now, and we each need to work to reduce our consumption. I like to think about every purchase before I make it. "Do I really need this object, or is it just a fashion statement, an impulse buy, or just plain wasteful?"
2. Reduce your driving, use alternative transportation.
Driving is the number 1 contributor to global warming around the world. Unfortunately, our cities were planned before the environmental crisis, so cars are often the only reliable means of getting to our destinations. However, many cities have excellent bus or subway systems, and many have car sharing programs as well. Check out the Metro Trip Planner which allows you to plan your bus ride very easily. Also look into flexcar, a car sharing system. Its a good deal, you don't pay for insurance, gas, or repairs. Other alternatives include ridesharing, vanpooling, or riding your bike (the best option in my opinion). Many employers offer showers at work for those who choose to ride their bikes.
3. Recycle and Reuse.
So many items pass into our possession momentarily, are used once or twice, and are then thrown away. Good examples of this are paper and plastic bags, rubber bands, and glass jars. Put these things to work, and eliminate wasteful items. Use a few cloth shopping bags, for example, instead of getting plastic ones at the store. Up to 1 trillion plastic bags are thrown away every year.
4. Get Outside.
Outdoor activites are one of the best things a person can do to protect the environment. When a park ranger can testify before Congress that 4,000 people per month visit this National Park, that is a powerful incentive to leave those lands alone. On the other side, being in wild, protected land has an extremely powerful impact on those who visit it. The beauty of our planet is apparent anytime one steps outside of the bursting urban centers, and many people have seen the environemental issues hit home when their favorite park or campground was threatened.
5. Green your food.
The food that we choose to eat has a huge effect on the environment. The agriculture, livestock, and poultry industries generate an amount of greenhouse gases as all cars. In general, products farmed organically (without antibiotics, pesticides, artificial fertilizers, or genetic modification) are vastly better for the environment, not to mention your own health. Meat and poultry farming requires about 100 times the energy input for the same nutritional output as agriculture. One of the best ways to reduce your environmental impact is to reduce, or eliminate, the amount of meat you consume. In general, the lower on the food chain you eat, the lower the environmental impact will be.
6. Be a smart consumer.
This is a general principle that is difficult to begin, but that becomes second nature with time. Try to be an educated consumer. Find out where the things that you want come from, what is inside them, who made them, the working situation, and as many other factors as you can. Knowledge is power, and this is never truer than in a consumer society.
7. Go local.
Transporting goods all over the planet takes a lot of energy. Energy in the form of oil, coal, and other dirty fuels almost exclusively. Apples from New Zealand, a table from China, knives from Germany; it all must be shipped. Instead of spreading your pollution all over the globe, buy as much as you can from local businesses, markets, and co-ops.
8. Spread the word.
Tell your friends. Tell your enemies. Everyone who changes the patterns of consumption of others is adding to weight of the environmental movement, and beginning to tip the scale more and more towards equilibrium with the land.
9. Go Slow.
This is going to be a long process. Our society has consumed more in the past 40 years than in the rest of our existence. A good resource for guides to greening particular areas of your life is the site Treehugger. Don't try to change your whole life at once. That will just make you frustrated. Make one step at a time, and devote a little part of your brain to thinking about the impact on the environment whenever you do anything.
10. Get Involved.
This is our planet, and the legacy that we pass on to our children should not be a tainted, sickened earth. This is the only planet we have, the only world known to support life. It is worth a few hours of your time per month to protect that land, the air, and the water on which we depend. So check out some organizations like the Rainforest Action Network, The Sierra Club, and Greenpeace, and explore volunteer or job opportunities around you.
11. This last one is a little touchy topic, but it will be a mainstream concern soon. Overpopulation. I am convinced that the only reasonable solution has been put forward by Alan Weisman. In an interview with Powell's books, he said:
"What would happen if instead of procreating at the rate that we are, which has taken us from 1.6 billion people at the end of the nineteenth century to nearly 6.6 billion people at the end of the twentieth century (and now headed to 9 billion people by the middle of our twenty-first century if we keep going the way we're going, which seems to me to be fatal), what if, as an entire human race, we did what the Chinese did once and limit every family to one child?
...Eventually, I found a distinguished demographic institute in Austria. They got back to me with an interesting answer. Within a century we'd be down to 1.6 billion people again. That's not by killing anybody off or doing anything brutal. It's just by attrition.
...Every species in the history of the planet has crashed when it's run out of resources. We're beyond the limits now. We keep stretching the limits by clearing more land for agriculture, which is only undermining us. That means clearing away more habitat. You wonder what happened to all the birds? Well, they have fewer and fewer trees to land on in their migratory flyways. And those birds don't just sing pretty. They pollinate for us. They do all kinds of functional things. They're some of the nuts that hold the environmental web together."
The only way to finish a post on the environment seems to be to quote Carl Sagan. In his book pale blue dot, sagan finished with this:
I am posting this as part of blog action day, a worldwide mobilization of bloggers which is focused on environmental issues this year. About 15,000 blogs, which reach over 12 million regular readers have participated so far!