Reflections on Earth Day, 2011

I remember when I was very young Earth Day being something of a big thing at my school. We’d go plant trees, have talks about helping the environment, and a long list of other things along those lines. As I grow older, I consider that the things that really matter can’t be constrained to a single day, but it makes for a good day to sit back and reflect on what we can do to lessen our impact.

I would be the last to say we should drop it to zero, but many times there are things we can do within easy reach that will reduce our consumption and help the environment. Some of which take virtually no effort, others only a little, and some varying additional levels of effort depending on how far you are willing to go.

It is also not lost on me the significance of what Howling Hill points out about Pagans and the environmental movement, where she says:

Many a ritual and festival I see a total lack of regard for Mother Earth. SUVs, styrofoam food containers, processed food, and wares made in far off places of plastic, poisonous enamels, or unsustainable practices, hair dyes, makeup, and other personal care items.

One caution, however, that I’ve found worth mentioning is that it is extremely difficult to make a huge change in one’s routine, and that it is more likely in many cases for someone to continue doing bad behavior while berating themselves for it if they attempt to change too much at once or make too large of a change.

So, this Earth Day, take a moment and reflect on where we can improve things, if only by a little bit. That little bit still matters, as even those small changes can end up making a big difference. In other cases we aren’t going to be willing to give something up, but it is important to acknowledge this and try to understand the reasons we can’t give it up, maybe seeing if we can in the future.

Rather than getting caught up in changing the world, let’s try and change small things, and maybe only one of those at a time.

Some things to consider:

Cut down on single-use plastics
To quote Cat Chapin-Bishop’s essay on Environmental Mindfulness: I’m noticing more and more how much plastic actually (*ahem*) wraps my daily life. We are surrounded by this stuff. Plasticware (among other considerations) in fast food restaurants, styrofoam cups, plastic lids, the cup you get your coffee in, plastic bottles of water… even the handle on many cat litters. The list goes on and on. You probably aren’t going to get rid of all of it, but it isn’t hard to make a start here.

Mitigation Strategies for incremental improvements:

  • Use cloth bags (including produce bags) at the grocery store.
  • Get a reusable cup. Starbucks is planning to serve 25% of beverages in reusable cups by 2015, but you can get ahead of the curve and get a 10¢ discount to boot.
  • Carry your own reusable utensils. You can get them made out of bamboo or metal. You can even go further with glass, metal, or paper straws.
  • Instead of plastic ziplocs use glass containers, cloth bags, paper bags, Blue Q bags, aluminum foil, or even a rigid and reusable plastic container as appropriate.
Use LED-based or CF light bulbs.
This is an easy one. Current incandescent light technology is exceedingly inefficient. This inefficiency means that–even factoring in the mercury in the lightbulb–CFLs still place less mercury into the environment. They last a very long time as well, requiring fewer back-and-forth trips to replace them.

The picture here is not all rosy, however. Many times CFLs are packed in plastic, there are some concerns about mercury, and not all areas offer reasonable recycling programs. Still, these should not pose significant deterrents.

LED lamps, may address some of these problems, but are still very expensive and have some kinks to work out for indoor use.

Mitigation Strategies for incremental improvements:

  • Check if you have a way to recycle CFLs that you are willing to use.
  • Look for packaging with little-to-no plastic.
  • Replace bulbs as they burn out. Focusing on lights that stay on for long periods of time.
How much do you drive? What kind of car do you drive?
This is a hard one in part because it is something that a lot of people take for granted. Of course you own a car, that car needs to be large enough to fit your family+pets in, and you live well out in the superb and need that car to get to work.

Or do you?

If you are the only one in the vehicle, then cars are extremely inefficient. They also cost a great deal in gas, maintenance, etc. I structure my life in ways so that I don’t need a car, but this does limit my options when it comes to where I live and where I work, and I still find that I occasionally need to hitch rides with friends. This is also a pretty serious commitment, but just because you aren’t ready to give it up entirely doesn’t mean that that there aren’t steps you can take to reduce your impact:

Mitigation Strategies for incremental improvements:

  • Carpool with at least 2 other people. The more the merrier, but if you have at least 2 it starts to get more efficient than many other forms of transportation.
  • The next time you are in the market, purchase a smaller and/or more fuel-efficient car.
  • Take the bus or the train, especially if you can’t carpool. If you live close enough, consider walking or bicycling a few days a week.
  • When you are in the market, get a used car that still has good gas milage.
  • When in the market, consider where you live relative to where you work and common things like the grocery store. It is amazing what a difference even a few miles can make when you consider the amount of time you will be on that property.

These are just a few areas and ideas, but there are many more. From line drying your clothes to buying fresh instead of frozen. Carrying a water bottle instead of buying bottled water, and taking the extra step to recycle when we can. Keeping fewer lights on, or recognizing how much time we let the (hot) water run for when doing dishes, brushing teeth, or taking a shower.

The goal isn’t to get to reduce our impact to negligible levels overnight, but to do two very important things:

  1. Reflect on what we are choosing, so that we are choosing it mindfully and not because it is easy, expected, or convenient.
  2. Make small, incremental changes to reduce our impact on the environment and encourage others to do the same.

Is it enough? It won’t be for some people, but I believe there is a huge gap between making a small change and doing nothing. That the hard part is making those first, small, changes. Start there, and maybe making the next small change will be easier, while each of these small changes adds up to mean big change in our environment and our environmental consciousness.

Further Reading

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4 Responses to Reflections on Earth Day, 2011

  1. Howling Hill says:

    Thanks for linking to my post.

    I agree it can be difficult to change the big things. I will be posting on some of the more difficult changes I’ve made over the years at No Unsacred Place.

  2. Dver says:

    Good post, and good suggestions. I would add:

    – keep electronics on power strips and turn those off when not in use
    – buy ingredients and cook more rather than buying ready-made, packaged foods
    – carry one or two small reusable bags (like a Chico bag) everywhere you go, especially if you do have a car and can keep them there, so that you never need to take a bag at any store, not just grocery stores
    – buy everything you can in bulk using refillable containers, such as shampoo, liquid soap, detergent, etc.
    – eat local, in-season produce, rather than stuff that needs to be shipped in from far away (the food is better that way too!)

    I’m really glad to hear of someone else who is deliberately not using a car – people have a hard time with that one, but when you live in a city, it’s really not that hard.

  3. Hrafn says:

    @Howling Hill:

    Thank you for the reply. I’m really enjoying what I’ve been seeing so far at No Unsacred Place and look forward to seeing more ^_^


    All good additional suggestions. Do you have any recommendations on where to get refills on things like detergent?

  4. Dver says:

    I’m fortunate in that I live in a city where such things are highly valued by many people, and there are a number of natural foods stores around town that carry bulk, re-fillable cleaning and personal care supplies. (Though, it bears mentioning, I also choose to live here in part precisely because of these shared values.) I’m guessing, though, that most cities will have a Whole Foods or a local co-op that provide similar bulk items. I had access to them even in Bozeman, Montana, so I know they’re out there!

    Another option would be to look into more eco-friendly, simple cleaning solutions and toiletries that aren’t so over-packaged – vinegar, baking soda and lemons, for instance, will clean almost anything around the house, and none need to come in plastic.

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