How many planets do you think would be required if everyone lived like you or me? Have you ever asked yourself this question? My youngest sister recently performed an exercise at her high school that allowed students to estimate how many planets would be needed depending on each person’s lifestyle. I’m sure many of them were surprised to find that they would need several per person! What we often forget is that not everyone on this earth lives the consumptive lifestyle that we North Americans do. We are taking and using more than our fair share of natural resources, plain and simple. We may often forget this fact since it is natural to think of ourselves as tiny specks on an enormous planet, not fathoming that the ecological impact of just one individual is astronomical. What is often referred to as our “carbon footprint” should perhaps instead be called our “carbon crater.”
The emergence of the American Dream and the rise of our capitalist society as a “superpower” in the global economy have cultivated deep in our psyches a certain standard for what we think we deserve and have a right to as citizens of the earth. Recycling is not required (as it is in some countries), nor is a certain fuel economy for our vehicles. Thus, trash cans and landfills overflow and Hummers run at large on our highways. Why would our government ever take away our “freedom” to consume as much as we want? That would be un-American! Though I see many examples of this trend slowly changing for the better, it is ultimately up to us as citizens to make our own choices to decrease our global carbon crater back to a footprint.
In my recent Creature Comforts series on this blog, I discussed the idea that comfort is a default for many people in our society. Likewise, reducing our carbon footprints can involve initially going out of our comfort zones, making more of an effort, and potentially spending a little extra money. But if we can make spending and consuming a priority, there is no reason why we cannot tweak the ways in which we do so in order to give back a little of what we take. Small changes create large effects in the long run, and it doesn’t have to be as hard as one might think. Unfortunately, the resources and messages to conserve are not nearly as accessible as those encouraging rampant consumption and materialism. The media is greatly at fault for this as messages of “bling” and flashy cars are touted as the ultimate status symbols. But there is hope in that the media and technology can also be used to spread new, grass-roots messages. Blog Action Day is a terrific example of this.
Of course, we must be proactive in any way we can to start the process of shrinking our global footprint to a smaller shoe size. We have to constantly be mindful of the possibilities available in every day, as well as the hypocrisy and irony involved in being a conservationist in a materialist society. After all, I am sitting at my desk as I write this, using an Apple computer whose construction involved toxic materials and waste, and whose usage requires me to suck energy from the grid hour after hour. Indeed, I feel guilty about this, but perhaps a little guilt and humility is what we as a society need to shift the pervasive message of take-whatever-you-want that has seeped into our psyches over the decades.
Here is a list of simple things you can put into action every day to keep your footprint as small as possible. All it takes is common sense and creativity. This list is in no way comprehensive, so please share ways in which you reduce your impact.
- If you are able, walk. Why do you think we were given two feet?
- Go shopping! That’s right, go buy several canvas bags and keep them in your car for your trips to buy groceries. You can even put plastic or paper grocery bags that you already have in the canvas bags to take with you and reuse as well. Do it now, there is absolutely no excuse not to.
- Shop locally as often as possible. Check out Local Harvest for more resources.
- Eat at home as often as possible. Restaurants often serve too much and give you leftovers in Styrofoam containers to take home and throw away. To-go meals often result in a ton of waste in your garbage can that end up sitting in the landfill for decades. Eating in and packing your lunch are also healthier since you can control what ingredients you use and how much you consume (this also goes for children's school lunches).
- When shopping ask yourself, “Do I really NEED this?”, even if it is on sale. Material items give us our identities and ground us to the realities we create for ourselves. But they also take energy to make and many end up in the landfill so just pause and think before you buy. Keep a list of things you really need (groceries, clothes, etc.) to have on hand if you ever need a reminder.
- Be aware of marketing schemes. Now that fuel economy in vehicles is the selling trend, companies are touting new “low” mileage numbers on their advertisements. This is a standard they are setting to make you think these numbers are impressive. Always demand better fuel economy when purchasing or leasing a car, or buy a used car that has a good reputation for gas mileage. Compare mileage through reliable sources that give you the facts. If you really want to make a difference, get rid of your car altogether. This is easiest in urban areas, but it can be done anywhere you live with a little resourcefulness.
- For heaven’s sake, don’t flush every time you pee! Shut the lid when you are done to avoid seeing or smelling anything unsightly and clean often with vinegar to deodorize and sanitize the toilet. Number 2 is another story. Go ahead and flush that down. Let guests know of the house rules and spread the word about this simple, money-saving tip. You can also invest in a low-flow toilet that uses less water when flushing.
- Carbon Offsetting: donate money to organizations that fund projects such as reforestation and energy conservation to offset our vehicle emissions and other polluting habits. Carbonfund.org is just one of the many organizations that provide such a great service.
- Be aggressive and unapologetic about being a conservationist. I am not suggesting you go out and get arrested for it. But if a cashier says he has already bagged your item but you don’t want the bag, don’t let him force you to take it. Just say no thanks and give it back. If someone is helping you bag your groceries, make sure they don’t double bag or put too few items into each bag. I can fit a week’s worth of groceries in no more than 3 deep canvas bags. Always ask if someone has recycling in his or her home or building.
- Rewash plastic baggies and hang them to dry for future use (this also includes produce bags from the grocery store). I am proud to say that my husband and I have had the same box of baggies for the past 4 years! Also, check out this wonderful product!
- This may be a sensitive topic, but you are responsible for how many children you bring to this earth and how much they consume while they are here. If you must have a large brood, please teach them to be good stewards of the earth and how to keep their impact low. Everyone deserves a happy life on this great planet! That means we have to leave it the way it was when we entered it for future generations to enjoy.