Baby Steps

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the State of the Planet, and the environmental impact of my actions.  Maybe it’s all the terrible news coming from the Gulf of Mexico.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve taken up a hobby — birdwatching, to be precise — that involves watching wildlife and being in nature.  Whatever the reason(s), it’s been on my mind, and I’ve been trying to be a little more conscious of what I am doing and eating and buying, among other things.

Sometimes it has seemed to me that environmentalists have urged concerned people to make changes in their lives that seem at best drastic and at worst, impossible.  Sell your car!  Live a carbon-neutral lifestyle!  Turn your whole family (including the dog) to veganism!  Get off the grid!

Well, gosh, I’d LOVE to, but where do I start?  And, if I do something short of that, am I still making a difference?

One day last summer, I picked up a flyer at my local coffee shop exhorting people to adopt a vegetarian diet.  It provided amazing statistics about the environmental impact of eating meat.  And it suggested that even modest changes in one’s diet would help.  Meatless Monday is an international campaign that educates individuals about the beneficial impact of eating meatless just one day a week on both personal health and the well-being of the planet.

That got me thinking.  Maybe little changes would make a difference.   The idea of permanently swearing off bacon made me nervous, but if I could help by just reducing my meat consumption, I could definitely get behind that.

So I did, and as a result, I’ve become a most-of-the-time vegetarian.  I eat meat now and again, but I try to save it for special occasions or something really worthwhile.  From there, I started thinking about other little changes that I could make.  Instead of “living carbon-neutral” or “saving the planet,” I made this my motto and my goal:

While I am here, I want to tread more lightly upon the Earth.

Note that any change at all, however small, will advance this goal.  That allows you to feel good about every positive action you take.  And, of course, as I know from years of raising an autistic child, nothing effects positive change like creating opportunities for success.  Here are some of the small things that I am doing to tread more lightly upon the Earth

I am growing vegetables at home. There are many reasons I decided to do this. You can’t eat more locally than your own backyard.  I love the taste of real, homegrown tomatoes.  But mostly, I’d like to teach John and Sam that food does not come from grocery stores.

I quit buying paper towels. This may seem silly, but I realized that it was pretty crazy for me to be recycling junk mail and cardboard packaging, but to use and throw away so many paper towels.  I bought some microfiber cleaning cloths, and I also use handknitted dishcloths for many things.  If I’m cooking bacon or something else that needs to be drained (which doesn’t happen all that often), I use some of the million paper bags or napkins that I’m given at restaurants and stores.  At home and when packing lunches, we use cloth napkins, which adds a little graciousness to even a peanut butter sandwich!

I hang my clothes up to dry. For this change, I have Erika, my boss at the yarn store, to thank.  After the refrigerator, the clothes dryer is the second-most energy-consuming appliance in the home.  I have clothesline hung in the laundry room, and I’ve found that hanging wet clothes takes only a few extra minutes.  There is nothing like the smell of sheets that have dried in the sunshine!

I don’t buy bottled water. In fact, I’m trying to buy fewer things packaged in plastic in general, but bottled water was the very first thing to go.  Did you know that nearly eight out of ten plastic water bottles will end up in a landfill?  And most bottled water is not pristine liquid from an Alpine source or a tropical island, but rather plain old tap water?

These are just a few things I am doing — I generally don’t use air conditioning at home, and I am also trying to use public transportation when I can.  But the thing I like about these steps is that they are completely doable, practically painless ones.

Have you made any changes in your lifestyle as a result of your concern for the environment?  I want to know what they are!

***************

Books I’m reading now that are, more or less, on this topic: Diet for a Hot Planet by Anna Lappe (the daughter of Frances Moore Lappe, who wrote the groundbreaking Diet for a Small Planet) and The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone, which I picked up despite its being a celebrity diet book based on the enthusiastic endorsement of a very trusted friend.

And check out my friend Gretchen’s blog, (Sort of) Sustainable Summer, in which she documents her family’s efforts to eat locally in the Cleveland area this summer!

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5 Responses to Baby Steps

  1. Audrey says:

    Get Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Incredibly well written, and a true homage to home-grown. It will make you rethink your entire diet in a local way. Though be advised, it will make you want a farm of your own and all the time in the world. 🙂

  2. jane says:

    Ooh – lots of food for thought here (no pun intended!). I’ve been thinking about this more and more and more recently too – I don’t own a car and don’t eat any meat or fish (or eggs, really) but I don’t have the capacity to grow my own food – sadly!! I’d love to, but even though I can’t I do want to try and consume more locally produced food, as much as possible. You’re so right that little things can make a difference. There was a great feature in the Observer (Sunday version of the Guardian newspaper here in the UK) yesterday on vegetarianism and they had some great articles on sustainability and all that jazz. I found it really encouraging and interesting… here’s a link:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jul/18/vegetarianism-save-planet-environment
    and there are links to some great veggie recipes here if you’re after any inspiration, it makes me feel hungry again just looking at them!!
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/ofm-vegetarian-recipe-special
    I love the idea of taking a cloth napkin with your packed lunch – civilised AND eco-friendly, win win!

  3. sulafaye says:

    Ooo, thanks as always for the inspiration. I’ve gone sans paper towels and napkins too, and so far the family is amazed that we’ve survived. 😉 You have a wonderful writing style, do you know that? I admire your ability to write about Serious Things in such a delightful manner. Oh, and “create opportunities for success” is going on my words to live by wall.

  4. Margaret says:

    Oh how I wish we could cut out the paper towels! I never used to buy them, but now living with a truly geriatric cat, it’s kind of a necessity. I have to drive to get there, but my father has an amazing garden that is going gangbusters this year. Broccoli is reportedly sprouting with 8″ crowns! And the raspberries!!!!!!

    I know I can’t save the world, and I’m not giving up toilet paper, but I try to do the small things that I can.

  5. Susan says:

    We’re thinking similarly! I too stopped buying water in plastic bottles… tap water in my city (San Francisco) is good, so we use refillable water bottles – they are metal and so they also stay cold. When I replaced my car, I got a hybrid. I try to buy locally grown organic food whenever possible, to reduce resources used for transit and to support local organic farmers (not to mention getting tastier, healthier food!). We grow lettuce, herb and berries in our small garden. And we try to reuse, including thrifting clothes, which we also find is fun. We compost our food waste, which is mandatory now in SF, and recycle almost all plastics. But I still use the dryer…and don’t bring re-usable bags to the store often enough…and buy paper towels. More work to do on my imprint! Thanks for raising the issue.

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