It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the complexity and enormity of the climate crisis (see Climate Change Emotions). You would not be alone in wanting to throw your hands up and look for a distraction (Hello, Netflix anyone?). However, there are strategies you can implement today, right now, to have a positive change. I have found in my life that every decision and action I make has an impact–positive, negative, sometimes both. What we buy, what we use, what we throw away, and how move through the world either reinforces or combats the climate crisis. It might not seem significant but as these decisions are made again and again by millions or billions of people the impact grow. Us as U.S. citizens have the most responsibility. As a nation the United States has the largest ecological footprint and per person is contributing more to the growing climate crisis than any other nation.
Some have argued that individual efforts do not actually help and may lull folks into a false sense of activism. “I recycle and so I am doing my part. I don’t need to do more.” Perhaps this is true for certain people. However, we all must start somewhere. Individual actions are empowering and provide a moral foundation to call upon government and corporations to do more. It would be hypocritical to ask Shell and Chevron to stop pumping oil if we are using their oil. Only after we are implementing change can we ask others to do the same.
This is the crux. Even if you and I implement all of these strategies, it is not enough. We must use our new found power to challenge those around us and the political and corporate elite to change. My hope is that we are never satisfied with our contribution; we must continue striving to make a significant positive difference. We begin with ourselves and our household. We move out to our friends, community, and institutions. We expand to our county, state, and nation. We then reach out to the world. In doing so, we will leave a much healthier earth than the one we found.
Each strategy below is quite simple to introduce into your life today. Personally, I have found that the more of these I implement into my life, the better aligned my actions are to my values–and the better I feel.
See the Table of Contents for this Page on your Right
Relationships with others and ourselves
We Cannot Do This Work Alone
As much as we hope to make a difference as an individual, it probably will not make an impact. We must work closely with others to learn, to grow, to fight, and to affect large scale social change.
We also must think about our relationships in a much broader way. In Jeffrey Sachs’ book, “The Price of Civilization,” (which I borrowed as an audiobook for free from the library) he argues that we cannot think about addressing the climate crisis without understanding our relationship to others and the planet. Similarly, Ehrenfeld & Hoffman “Flourishing: A frank conversation about sustainability” underscore that we must define sustainability not as infinite GDP growth or high mass consumption (impossible on a finite planet), but as promoting human and planetary flourishing forever.
Sharing is Caring
Broke your smartphone cord. Need to a sawzall for a small project. Just ask. You would be amazed at how many of us have spare items around or would be happy to share our tools with another.
Sharing resources also creates a different type of relationship between individuals. It takes humility to ask for help and also provides an opportunity for someone to be generous (and maybe pass on something they do not need). This interaction creates relationships of reciprocity (see Karl Polyani’s The Great Transformation).
Taking Care of Your Soul
Umm…what? Yes, we must take care of our soul! Living purposefully and conscientiously takes a toll, especially given the guilt many of us feel for the privileges we enjoy but did not ask for. Most of us are not saints and cannot live a monastic life for the planet.
And we may not be called to. As the Buddha so famously shared in his story of the lyre. A lyre (guitar-like instrument) when tighten too tight will break the string. A lyre with strings too loose will not play. One must find the middle path. Each of us must find our balance between consumption and preservation. The key is in being conscientious with what, when, and how we consume. Mindfulness has been found to help with this.
Accountability’s Consequences of Contagious Love
Do you love our planet? The last time you saw a plastic bag tumbling past you in the wind, did you rush to dispose of it? If someone you love had a spider on them, would you flick it off? Often, we don’t consider ourselves accountable for other people’s litter, but the earth belongs to all of us and trashing it is everyone’s problem. In Bell Hooks’ piece “Living by a Love Ethic” she talks about how love should be considered “care, commitment, trust, responsibility, and knowledge.” This is, not only how we should treat our family and loved ones, but also our planet. Holding yourself accountable for loving your planet extends to all areas of life in ways you haven’t yet considered. Some of you may have noticed students who stand by the recycling, compost, and trash bins and help people dispose of their waste correctly. These students are holding themselves accountable for the power they have over the actions of others. In your life, you have the power to bring a reusable fork in your backpack, and you also have the power to gift your best friend a reusable straw to conserve 365 plastic straws yearly from her daily Starbucks consumption.
Additionally, “Monkey See, Monkey Do.” This phrase means that when your friend sees you chase a plastic bag in the wind like a superstar wide receiver, mirror neurons in their brain are being activated as if they’re the ones diving for the catch. As a result, they will feel “moral elevation”which, according to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, is the high we get when witnessing acts of human goodness.This positive elation is contagious to observers which elicits a higher likelihood that they will commit acts of kindness towards our earth in the future.
Reimagine the power you have when you assume accountability. Cast aside your fears of looking like a dork, and chase after that plastic bag as if your life depends on it. The harm we are causing our planet is an urgent matter, so treat it how you would treat a sick loved one right now, or else we will all be sick. Spread your love for the planet we share and start a chain reaction of kindness. (Georgia Hake)
Social Media to Educate Others
Especially for millenials, social media plays a key role in their daily life and interests. Once you have learned about these issues, it is critically important to share. Different activists and organizations draw on blogs, twitter (see how to here), websites, and facebook (see how to here).
The first step is your own education and action. The second and equally important step is to share your knowledge and work with others to create a broader impact.
Tool Lending Library
Lawn mowers. Tools. The bendable little thing that cleans the lint from your dryer. These items can be found in many homes among neighbors, but used only occasionally. The question then is, “Why don’t we just share the items?” Thinking about ways to reduce consumption, we may want to start talking to one another and sharing our more expensive items. This will save money, reduce what is produced, and build a relationship between households.
Tool Libraries are an excellent example of this. There are many tool lending libraries around the country (see here) or you may be able to create your own among neighbors.
What would it be like to switch the current paradigm from profit before people and the earth to people and the earth before profit? In this ten-minute RSA talk, Jeremy Rifkin describes how it is in our very nature to empathize with other beings. He argues that we have the capacity to move beyond tribal identities to a view of the world that is deeply interconnected. He challenges us to think about our behavior, including consumerism, and how it impacts the earth writ large.
The Next Step
This week go out and meet a new neighbor. One nice way to introduce yourself is by dropping off a homemade gift such as cookies or something you made (a card). The next time you run into the person, you will have given them a reason to stop and talk to you.
The World Economic Forum came out with five ways you can personally address the climate crisis. I think each of these five can also be applied to consumerism.
The next step is to affect change around you. Talk to friends and family. Let them know how they can take simple steps.
Discuss what is possible with university administration (e.g. waterbottle refill stations or banning plastic water bottles from campus, or plastic bags and straws). You would not be the first. If you need help, reach out to other campuses who have successfully implemented such strategies.
“What consumerism really is, at its worst, is getting people to buy things that don’t actually improve their lives.” Jeff Bezos–Founder, Amazon.com
“The more we know, the less we need.” –Australian First People’s saying
Coffee mugs and sports bottles
Yep, this is one you are probably already doing. Sadly, we are now throwing away more than a million plastic bottles a minute, 60 billion cups in the United States alone. So rather than buy another $3 bottle of water, you bring your own and fill it up at the tap. Easy enough. This is also applicable to going out to grabbing take out or anywhere there are fountain drinks. Leave a cup in your backpack or car.
Then encourage your local fast food joint to purchase only biodegradable or recyclable materials. Due to pressure from consumers, Starbucks introduced biodegradable straws and new lids that are recyclable. Our city of San Luis Obispo (and neighbor San Francisco) also passed a law restricting plastic straws and utensils. With enough encouragement other cafes or communities can follow suit.
One way to save the earth and your pocketbook is by buying in bulk and bringing your own container, such as an old cloth sack or tupperware.
This may also be useful at some restaurants. Hitting the salad bar? Bring your own tupperware and silverware. The coffee shack drawing you in like a tractor-beam? Be sure to grab your reusable mug!
Grocery Waste-Reusable bags and bringing meal planning
Grocery shopping can generate a lot of waste. But being just a little more thoughtful about the way we shop can make a significant impact on the amount of waste grocery shopping generates in our homes. There are two simple steps you can take to reduce your grocery waste.
The first, perhaps the more intuitive of the two, is to bring your own, reusable bags with you. This has the obvious benefit of cutting down on your plastic waste; it’s the very first thing NBC lists on an article detailing simple ways to cut your everyday plastic waste. What’s even better is that reusable bags are not hard to come by. A simple search on Amazon yields dozens of options; many grocery stores sell reusable bags; or you can repurpose any tote already lying around your home. What may be more difficult is remembering those bags. My parents set reminders on their phones to go off just before they leave the house to shop; I’ve heard of people stashing their coupons inside their totes, since they’re more likely to remember their coupons.
The second, less obvious strategy you can utilize is making a meal plan – or even just a grocery list. Cutting down on impulse purchases cuts down on food you won’t eat and will throw away. A meal plan cuts down on that wasted food even more. The EPA, along with listing tips on how to go about buying only the food you need, points out that this strategy saves you money while cutting down your carbon footprint. If you only buy the food you need, you aren’t throwing away unused food and with it the perfectly good money that you spent on it. This article from CNBC has some great tips on how to get started with a meal plan if you’ve never made your own before. Planning what you need makes it easier to buy just that, and nothing more.
We generate more waste than we realize from grocery shopping, but the good news is that it’s easy to take steps to reduce that waste. (Abigail Wilkins)
Locavorism is a movement in which stakeholders attempt to buy food from within a certain radius of their own home (such as fifty or one hundred miles). While still hotly debated, this strategy (in which some include Community Sponsored Agriculture, the Slow Food Movement, among others) may be one worth looking into especially for those who live in year-long agricultural areas like much of the west and southeast United States.
Food deserts are a major challenges among low-income folks in urban environments. According to the Center for Disease Control, “Food deserts are areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.” Ron Finley shares his experience as a guerilla gardener trying to address the food desert in urban Los Angeles in this TED talk. You can also watch this five-minute documentary about “Dog Island Farm,” in urban Vallejo, CA. This family is attempting to live “grocery store free” in the city.
Buying locally or growing your own food has numerous benefits. First, food does not have to be shipped nationally or internationally to arrive on our plates lowering the carbon footprint of the food. Second, growing fresh food in urban areas provides access to many who do not have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables addressing the issue of food deserts. This will also benefit the health of those living nearby as they eat fresh produce rather than processed foods. Third, building a garden takes resources, which can be bought from local mom and pop hardware stores, keeping the money within the community. Fourth, buying or producing locally also creates new friendships with the local farmer or other gardeners. These new relationships build resilience. As we broadening one’s social network provides more resources and support if there is a natural disaster, an economic downturn, or to engage in political advocacy. Finally, it may even help you live to 100 years old.
In sum, grab a book from the library or used book store or take a class on gardening. Start small (strawberries are easy and can be grown most places) and enjoy the process. Then share the fruits of your labor.
Eat less meat
Yes, it is true. U.S. citizens eat more meat (about 214 pounds [97kgs] per person per year) than any other OECD nation. Yet, meat consumption has significant negative environmental consequences, including water usage, deforestation and land use, pollution (methane), among others. In fact, one of the premier academic journals came out with an article noting how the most impactful personal strategy to address the climate crisis is becoming vegetarian.
Eat Ugly Food
Did you know that 40% of the food produced in the United States is never eaten? Much of this waste is on the farm as it never arrives to market because of imperfections. There are many organizations who are trying to address this waste. Imperfect Produce is an example.
Fact: 20 billion pounds of fruits and veggies go to waste on farms every year, oftentimes because they don’t live up to the cosmetic standards of grocery stores. We’re here to change that.
Gleaning (USDA webpage)
Gleaning is simply the act of collecting excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers markets, grocers, restaurants, state/county fairs, or any other sources in order to provide it to those in need.
Gleaning provides food to those in need while also reducing waste. Win-Win!
Glean San Luis Obispo
This is the local San Luis Obispo Facebook group that supports gleaning in the county.
The idea of Meatless Mondays began during World War I to reduce meat consumption. This helped conserve food during wartime and aided the war overall. The term and practice of Meatless Monday have stuck with many American families as an effort to reduce food waste and reduce meat consumption. Meat products are a major contributor to greenhouse gasses. The Earth Day Network estimates that to “Skip meat and cheese one day a week with your family, it would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for five weeks – or reducing everyone’s daily showers by 3 minutes.” Refusing or reducing meat consumption one day a week can significantly lower your carbon footprint. Meatless Monday is a great movement to join if you want to help reduce food waste weekly. If you want to eat meat on Mondays, any other day of the week will do to refuse or reduce meat consumption. The most important part to Meatless Mondays is to practice consciously avoiding meat one day a week. (Evie Schwartz)
The Climate Friendly Cook-Out
Which is better for the environment–charcoal or gas? Turns out that propane gas is. This brief New York Times article provides different strategies to have you next barbecue as climate friendly as possible.
Forming Food Collectives at Universities
Cal Poly as an example
Here on Cal Poly’s campus, 27% of students experience food insecurity (Cal Poly Basic Needs Task Force, 2018). Here on campus there are some initiatives working to attack this issue of food insecurity including the: CalFresh Outreach team, The Real Food Collaborative, and programs put on by The Basic Needs Initiative.
The Calfresh Outreach team works to connect students to these on-campus food resources, while also screening students for the federally-funded SNAP program, CalFresh. However, there are currently no on-campus locations that accept CalFresh as payment, making students go off campus to utilize their benefits. The Basic Needs Initiative hosts the Cal Poly Food Pantry that is located in PCV and Campus Health and Wellbeing, in the food pantry there is access to packaged foods and fresh vegetables/fruits. While these fruits and vegetables are grown on Cal Poly’s campus, they are received from The Food Bank Coalition of SLO. Cal Poly has also welcomed a Farmer’s Market and a Cal Poly Food Pantry Garden, that will work to bring students locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. However, I would like to see a collective formed among students and campus programs, that works with students in The College of Agriculture to grow and produce food by CP students for CP students. (Fionna Fahey)
The Next Step
Choose one of the strategies above to implement for the next week. Look into it and make a commitment to try it. Some efforts are seasonal (gleaning), while others can be done all year long. Have fun with it! Perhaps make it a household event with a celebratory local potluck as the reward.
How much do we really need? How does our consumption increase the climate crisis?
Here is a website that provides tips to thinking about buying less, buying well, and being content.
Convenience Items-Buying in bulk, Talking to companies
Ever notice how three bites of cheese that looks like a stick is encased in plastic. Plastic that is not recyclable and will never decompose. Hmmm…
So much of our food is packaged for convenience with seemingly little concern about where it ends up. We can lower our consumption of plastic simply by buying in bulk, bringing our own bags and containers to the store, and not going to fast food as much. We can then demand companies we patronize to invest in innovative ways to minimize their unrecyclable plastic usage.
Conscious Consumerism-Does it help?
Conscious consumerism refers to being aware of how our buying habits impact others and the world. Seems legit. We, of course, should be aware of the consumer thumbprint. However, the critique is that this might not be enough. Additionally, there is a broad concern that American consumers can overcome their guilt of feeling privileged by buying more consciously. Slavoj Zizek describes this as “Cultural Capitalism”–how we try to justify our overconsumption through the purchasing of green or fair trade items.
Yes, even Makeup
Common face foundations contain harmful chemicals. This chemical pollutants contribute to species extinction and environmental destruction. National Geographic reports that the chemical Paraben, which is found in most foundation products, are partially at fault for killing coral, damaging our oceans and threatening marine wildlife. Another common face foundation chemical, Triclosan, has been found in alarming quantities in the Great Lakes and reduces the lifespan of freshwater organisms (Canadian Environmental Law Association).
A good solution is to use an organic mineral sunscreen instead of a chemical-filled face foundation. Mineral sunscreen gives you coverage, without harmful toxins, and also protects your skin from the UV rays of the sun. Products like Bare Republic and Sun Bum are coral reef safe, and Paraben and Triclosan free, making them viable options for reducing overconsumption of chemical face foundations. (Sophie Hospodar)
Addressing Packaging Waste
The majority of packaging is made up of plastic, non-compostable materials and it’s most likely not recycled properly. According to Supply Chains Solutions Center, only nine percent of packaging is actually, properly recycled. Our society is so used to having packaging that is made up of plastic and other harmful materials that is cheap and easily disposable that we don’t think about the effects it has on our environment. The majority of plastic pollution comes from the unsustainable packaging, and the United States is big contributor to plastic pollution.
Some methods in which you can help the reduction of harmful packaging can be very simple and easy. Some tips by Green Education Foundation, suggest bringing and using your own containers for take-out, buy in bulk since it’s less packaging, and avoid buying frozen foods since they are wrapped in plastic. Many of these tips can also add the benefit of eating cleaner and saving more money. Taking extra steps to properly recycle all the packaging you receive can make an impact, use this recycling guide to help you show how to recycle any packaging materials. Plastic takes generations to breakdown and if we reduce our use of plastic packaging we can create a demand for more sustainable options that can influence companies and corporations to look for ways create less packaging waste. (Diana Olivares)
Saving instead of Consuming
For the past couple of decades American consumption has increased while the livelihood of American citizens have decreased. Children are casing in more money than their parents and buying larger houses, yet they are less happy, less fulfilled than their parents or grandparents. The more Americans consume, there is less money going into their savings bank account. Since the late 1970’s Americans have stopped saving their money and budgeting, which goes hand in hand with their consumption of material goods.
Look at the your latest bank statement. Did that shopping spree cost you the money that you spent? Do you see yourself using the materials/items you bought in a year, two? According to Keynesian economics, consumption varies directly with income. Rising income leads to more consumption. Americans instead should put their earnings into savings accounts. With savings accounts, Americans will feel more secure for their future. (Kate Honig)
There is a plethora of waste in the textile industry. World fiber production now exceeds 64 million tons per year. According to the article “Fiber and Textile Waste Utilization” by Youjiang Wang, “In the USA alone about 11.9 million tons of textile waste was generated.” And the textile industry doesn’t only produce waste after the clothes, furniture, and industrial materials have been manufactured. According to the article “Cotton Textile Processing: Waste Generation and Effluent Treatment” by various authors, “production processes consume large amounts of energy and water [along with] substantial waste products.”
Thrifting your clothes provides a very economic and immediate environmental benefit. Kathleen Horton in her article “Just Use What You Have: Ethical Fashion Discourse and the Feminization of Responsibility,” states that the “rise of fast fashion has meant that young women are able to regularly consume and discard fashionable clothing.” But things have started to change. Lately what is starting to be cool again, is thrifting your clothes/furniture at Goodwill or local thrift stores, or using online shopping communities like DePop to recycle your clothes in a sustainable way that lets you buy, sell, and swap items within the community.
Clothes sometimes go under the radar as far as things we waste in our lives, but what is refreshing for you to know is that there are opportunities for you to profit off of recycling your clothes now! (Mira Talwalkar)
Fashion waste is a major problem in the world, yet not many people know about it. According to Planet Aid, the average American throws out 82 pounds of textiles each year, yet 95% of textiles can be recycled. Textile waste is different from other types of waste, such as plastic waste, because it actually has the potential to be recycled. A major factor that contributes to the massive amounts of clothing waste is the massive decline in clothing utilization. The World Economic Forum explains how from the years 2000-2015 we doubled our clothing production, while the time clothing is worn before throwing it away has fallen by about 40%. The mix of heightened production but also the trend that people should not wear the same outfit twice heightens clothing waste immensely.
According to the company Trash is for Tossers, clothing waste is a growing issue and it is incredibly easy to make a change. There are four easy ways you can dispose of your clothing sustainably. First, you can resell (1). If clothing is in good condition you can sell it at consignment stores or on websites such as Poshmark. Second, you can donate (2). Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other thrift stores accept most items that are in reasonable condition. If you have clothes that you do not want, take the extra 30 minutes to go to a donation center. Third, you can up-cycle (3). Instead of throwing a pile of t-shirts in the garbage, up-cycle them by cutting them into cleaning rags. This eliminates waste and saves you money in the future. Finally, you can recycle (4). Here in San Luis Obispo, H&M recently announced that they are accepting clothing and they will recycle it for you. If you want to use less effort, get a box, fill it with clothes you don’t want in any condition, and send them to Terracycle Fabrics to be repurposed.
We could almost completely eliminate the fashion waste problem with almost no effort, all it takes is more awareness. (Laney Johnson)
Re-imagining Fast-Fashion with Second Hand Clothing
The term fast fashion outlines the creation of inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. The average consumer bought “60 per cent more clothes in 2014 than in 2000” (Eco-Business). According to the Independent, textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally. Greenpeace’s recent detox campaign has been instrumental in pressuring fashion brands to take action to remove toxic chemicals from their supply chains (Independent). Even worse, discarded clothing made of “non-biodegradable fabrics can sit in landfills for up to 200 years” (Eco-Business).
Instead of producing clothing fast and for profit, what if we established a section of second hand clothing into top clothing companies, including Target, Walmart, and other retail chains. Wearing second hand clothes and shopping at thrift stores has recently become a fad but a lot of people still aren’t on board with the idea of wearing someone else’s clothes. If we normalized second hand clothing by putting sections into big trendy businesses, we could potentially minimize the production of fast fashion. Buying second hand clothing is already gained some popularity online with apps like DePop and Posh Mark, we could make an bigger impact if we brought it into business off online. (Mary Kate Harrington)
Zero Waste Challenge (Waste Audit)
goingzerowaste.com: what is zero waste what is the circular economy
Understanding what we throw away helps us understand what we are consuming. This challenge also encourages innovative thinking about how to REUSE what was once seen as trash.
Moving Toward Zero Waste at Cal Poly
Cal Poly has taken strides towards achieving zero waste in the last few years. However, the triple-compartment waste bins in current use consisting of compost, recycling and trash have not been as effective as intended. In November of 2016, the Mustang News reported that “Each year, for the past 10 years, Campus Dining has been sending an average of 236 tons of organics to be composted. Recently, these organics have been too contaminated to be composted effectively.” Due to this inefficient system, Cal Poly is faced with a challenge to revamp and improve its waste management system in order to ensure proper assortment and disposal of waste.
Therefore, my proposal is an implementation of biodegradable utensils and food service items in the new campus dining facility Vista Grande that will likely open in fall of 2019. In order to ensure proper disposal of waste and decrease contamination of compost, the new facility can mainly contain compost bins separate from fewer trash and recycling bins to encourage students to make more conscious decisions regarding waste. Cal Poly’s Environmental Impact Report drafted in 2017 states that “approximately 26,986 tons [of the 29,826 tons in 2016] was diverted from the landfill and recycled,” leaving about 2,840 tons of waste to be disposed of in the Cold Canyon Landfill only 11 miles south. While this demonstrates some diversion of waste from the landfill, the plastic usage of students and faculty is among the highest in CSU system and should be controlled for in the new facility.
Finally, Cal Poly is partnered with Engel & Gray Inc. composting services based in Santa Maria. If this new dining utensil proposal is property executed, Cal Poly can achieve its zero waste goal much faster and improve the health of the environment simultaneously. (Kaela Conrad)
Hosting Zero Waste Events
Planning out a zero or low waste event may seem like a daunting task, but is one well worth the effort. Normally, large scale gatherings such as banquets, summits, and sports events generate vast amounts of food waste and other non-recyclable trash that ends up in landfills. When this food waste decomposes while sitting in a landfill it releases what is called landfill gas, largely comprised of methane, which is pound for pound 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.
The NFL debuted an effort at the 2018 Super Bowl called Rush2Recycle in Minnesota that aimed to recover 90% of waste generated on game day. If the Super Bowl can do it, so can you. Aim to reduce waste at events by replacing food service products and utensils with compostable alternatives. Make sure recycling and compost bins are prominently displayed. Work with your event planners to ensure that waste is properly distributing to recycling, composting, and a waste-to-energy-facility. Communicate to attendees that they are at a zero-waste event and how they can be involved. These efforts can make a lasting impact on not just attendees, but also the vendors and venue who may adopt waste reducing practices into their normal routine. (Daniel Simons)
The Next Step
Email or print out extra copies of the recycling list for your neighbors.
Join a listserve or website that will help you imagine out to upcycle your older stuff.
Bring a list of items (this prevents overshopping–Baumeister 2002) to a local second hand store. See what is available that you “need.” Buy things that align with your values–sure that 60s Hawaiian shirt would be good to buy for the planet but not for my own feelings of self worth. Buy quality over quantity.
Caring for your car and driving in a way that uses less gas can have a substantial impact on the environment. Inflate your tires, take heavy items out, and driving slower will lower fuel consumption (saving money!) and lowering carbon emission.
Recycling Beyond the Bin
This webpage has resources to think beyond just getting your trash into the right container. Also using alliteration, the NRDC encourage us to recycle better, learn more, buy recycled, spread the word, and work toward policy change. For multiple ways in how to recycle different types of waste and for tips on how to live more green, please check out this Earth911.com.
Beware! Aspirational Recycling
Americans are fond of recycling although we often do not do it correctly. This aspirational Recycling has caused significant problems. Fortunately, it is easy to fix. Request a recyclables list from local collector. Print and post it near the trash and recycling cans in your home to ensure everyone in the household understands what should and should not
Since the 1950s home sizes have doubled in the United States despite the fact that families are choosing to have less children and are therefore smaller. Many have addressed this nonsense and the high cost of living in major cities by building their own home, which are most often on wheels and under 450 square feet. Tiny Homes are growing in popularity and political bodies are beginning to recognize their value in addressing the housing crisis in states such as California. Here is a brief TED Talk on youtube discussing the tiny house movement.
A city with buildings covered in vines and other forms of vegetation may make you think of a postapocalyptic waste land, but these green buildings may be the way of the future. Green buildings are the best way to eliminate urban heat islands. According to a National Geographic article, “An urban heat island… is a metropolitan area that’s a lot warmer that the rural areas surrounding it.” These areas often have poor air and water quality because of the quantity of pollutants such as; vehicles and people. People who live in urban areas are likely to turn on their air conditioning when it is warm out. However, this just adds to the issue and heats up the city even more. By designing building with more vegetation, the effect of urban heat islands will be greatly reduced. Concrete and metals draw heat and attract sunlight causing uniformly raised temperatures of up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Replacing these surfaces with natural plants will reduce the temperature inside buildings as well, which will lead to less use of air conditioning. Making cities eco-friendly will reduce energy consumption, improve people’s mental health and help mother earth combat climate change. (Nikolas Jenkins)
We have an obligation to conserve the forests and eliminate the negative environmental byproducts of mass paper production. Locally we can reduce the our university’s and community’s consumption of paper products by allowing for digital signatures for all administrative functions and subsidizing and incentivizing the use of tablet readers for all students. We can also make all receipts digital.
In terms of personal experience regarding signatures, when I had to complete an emergency medical withdrawal from my classes due to a sudden illness last quarter, I had to go door to door to get all of the signatures on physical paper in order for the form to be accepted. By having this be digital, and refusing or reducing the amount of paper necessary, not only would tasks such as this be more efficient but much more environmentally friendly as well. The cost incurred by a program in which a tablet is provided for all students could be offset against the costs of purchasing printers, toner and paper as well as the paper recycling costs. These costs are currently borne by the university, parents and students. Through establishing the university as a digital first academic institution, SLO could lead on this critical conservation issue. For more information on paper vs digital worlds, click here.
Also, by looking at the large amount of receipts present on Cal Poly’s campus, this turn towards digitalization would impact forests more than we know. According to an article published on ChEnected, receipts take 250 million gallons of oil to produce, kill 10 million trees, and make up for 1.5 billion pounds of waste (Matthews 2016). More information regarding sustainability challenges in the paper industry can be found here. (by Gabriella Resnick)
Switching to Cold Showers
Although it may seem calming and more preferable, warm showers may have less benefits compared to cold showers in both physical and environmental issues. I will not mention it here since this post will focus on environmental overconsumption issues but there are many different ways that colder showers help with blood flow, mood, and more physical problems. Regarding the environmental aspects, cold showers use a lot less energy than warm showers because the water doesn’t need to be heated. This results in a lower carbon emission when a cold shower is taken as opposed to a warm shower since the amount of energy needed is drastically different. Additionally, since the time in the shower may be less enjoyable, it may reduce the amount of water used because people would be more motivated to get out of the shower quicker.
This may be a difficult transition for some but according to Planetsave.com it should be a slow changeover from starting at your normal temperature and working your way down. In doing so you will be able to adjust to the lower temperature more easily. This is something a lot of first years may not think about since we live in dorms in which we don’t have to pay for the heating bill directly. It is important to consider however, how this small act that many can participate in may be able to help lower our resource consumption. (Daniel Razum)
Save Water Today!
The United States uses the most water per person that citizens in any other country. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average American household uses about 400 gallons of water per day. Water is of course, in our everyday lives from drinking to showering to using the restroom. Many other countries such as Libya and the Western Sahara do not have the luxuries that we possess here in the United States seeing as they do not have access to clean water. Although we are privileged to consume or use water whenever we please, the amount that we use is excessive and can potentially run out in the future if we do not stop over consuming and wasting such large quantities.
There are many strategies that people suggest in order to save water such as refilling water bottles and taking shorter showers. Of course, these techniques are important and help reduce the amount of water we use, but there are new technological advances that could make an even greater impact on water conservation. There are new Water Sense toilets which use 20 percent less water than the current federal standard of 1.6 gallons per flush. As well as new technological advances designed to reduce water consumption, an easy problem to fix while the plumber is there is to fix any leaks that you may have in your home, work, school etc. With the new Water Sense fixtures and fixing leaks combined with the small techniques used before, you could cut down water consumption a significant amount. (Ciara Lowth)
The Next Step
Implement one of the strategies today and try it for a week. If it works for you, practice for three weeks making it a habit. Then move on to the next one. For further support, challenge a friend or family member to do the same activity. Keep each other accountable and celebrate when you both reach your goal.
Email or print out extra copies of the recycling list for your neighbors.
Shrink That Energy Footprint
It is not only our buying of stuff that creates a problem. It is also what we do when we are at home relaxing. Americans use almost more energy per capita than anyone (Canada is higher because it is freakin’ cold). Check out this website to learn how to lower your electricity and gas use. You can do something as small as change how you use electricity, change the way you boil water.
Decrease Electricity Use
Electricity lights up our life, but also increases CO2 release. Below are a few websites that can help you lower your use of electricity in your home. Many of these can be done once and will continue saving you money each year.
Pacific Gas and Electric Power Savings website
Harvard University-5 simple steps to save electricity today
Do It Yourself Home Energy Audit
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “Of all the energy consumed in the United States, about $100 billion worth, approximately one-fifth is used to heat, cool and light our homes and operate home appliances — stoves, toasters, microwaves, washers, dryers. Your expenditures each year for household energy can be minimized, sometimes with simple changes or alterations of energy usage practices.” Below are a few websites that can help you with this process.
Energy.gov DIY energy audit
DOE.gov DIY energy audit (more detailed than energy.gov)
Change Policies to address Fossil Fuels
Americans consume more oil, coal and gas than any other people worldwide because fuel consumption here is less heavily taxed. United States federal and state taxes on fuel consumption are a fraction of tax levels in France (1/6), Italy (1/7) and the Netherlands (1/8). Our fossil fuel industry is corrupt with the rich and is in a position to actively lobby with the government for taxation favors and write-offs. Our fuel reserves nationally are two to three times larger than all of Europe combined. A major outcome of our fuel overconsumption is environmental degradation. It is estimated that some 12.6 million Americans are exposed daily to toxic air pollution from active oil and gas wells and from transport and processing facilities.
We can utilize cleaner and cheaper alternatives by investing in these sectors:
Renewable sources such as hydropower, biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel, wind and solar options for houses and companies. These are not only beneficial to the earth, but also to citizen pocketbooks as tax write-offs (though this may change).
Our government’s policy towards climate change must involve adaptation of the corporate foundations in our society. If we continue to allow big fuel companies to run our federal narrative, corrective action to the environment’s climate crisis will be impossible. (Clare Giatzis)
Being Creative and Innovative
Find new and innovative ways to upcycle your stuff. For example, rather than recycle my cardboard egg cartons I use them to plant seeds, which are then easy to transplant. The cardboard generously holds water and later decomposes.
Between youtube, websites (for dorm ideas) and Pinterest, there are thousands of ways to utilize materials rather than toss them in the trash or recycling. However, the goal is use what is available, not to buy more stuff to create upcycle ideas.
Many items that are no longer useful to us may be useful to others. One important product that can be a boon to others are eyeglasses. If you change your prescription, you can send your eyeglasses here, where they will then donated to someone who can use them.
Gently used (second hand) stores
Give a pair of jeans a second life by buying some of your wardrobe (not underwear) from second hand stores.
This does not only apply to clothing. Most necessity items from silverware to board games can be found at the local Goodwill or Salvation Army. Pro-tip: Go to second-hand stores in very wealthy areas. They have extra nice stuff.
Other stores, such as Habitat for Humanity ReStores, sell home improvement items donated by contractors and builders.
Of course, if you cannot share it and do not need it, get rid of it. The new queen of organizing, Marie Kondo, encourages Americans to organize and simplify. Hold up that old shirt from the 1990s and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If not, pass it on. There are others who may be able to find a better use for it.
Indeed. Here is an instructable on how to refill your printer ink cartridges. What else might you be able to do refill rather than replace.
Although this may not seem like it will make a large difference by itself, there is the large impact on all those who see what you are doing. Each time you bring your coffee mug you are reinforcing your value of Refilling and sharing that value with others. This may in fact inspire them to do the same or potentially have a conversation about what you are doing.
Broken gadget. Yep, it may be worth tossing or it might be worth taking five minutes to open it up and see what is wrong. Sadly, in our current age much of what is sold is designed with planned obsolescence (made for the dump) in mind.
Even if you cannot fix it, you may know someone who can. And since you have already begun building RELATIONSHIPS in your community, it may take a quick email or Facebook note asking for help to find someone willing to take a look.
Learning new skills
The best and worst aspect of running a farm is the challenge. I have never found anything more meaningful and stressful than coming across a problem that needs attention. When there is no water, an animal is sick, the bees are swarming, we need a new shelter for the goats, the tomatoes are not producing, the weedwhacker will not start; all of these are opportunities to learn.
Most folks don’t live on a farm. Yet, I believe most people especially in the United States can find ways to learn new skills that create a more sustainable livelihood. Whether it is fixing the leaky faucet, creating a garden in a vacant lot, helping an elderly neighbor with a stuck door (using cooking oil rather than chemicals), investigating how much food waste you produce or electricity you use, are all simple ways to learn new knowledge. Below are some examples.
Our Earth is 71% water. In fact, us as human beings are mostly made of water too.
Thinking of overconsumption by Americans, the saying comes to my mind, “a little is good, but more is better.” Images fill my head such as overflowing trash bins filled with plastic containers, morbidly obese people eating McDonalds, obsession of social media and pop culture, the craze of fast fashion, Kardashian’s driving around Range Rovers, fist fights on a “Black Friday”… I think of images like, this, this, this, this, even this, and this, while often forgetting about this and this.
But what about the places that don’t have a voice? What about the plants and animals without credit cards or money to spend? What about the ecosystems that we don’t see in our daily lives?
Let’s talk about water. Overconsumption, pollution, and trash are all factors in killing our oceans. According to NOAA, “The majority of pollutants going into the ocean come from activities on land. Natural processes and human activities along the coastlines and far inland affect the health of our ocean.” The trash that we create on land, much or it from overconsumption, can injure and kill marine life, interfere with navigation safety, and pose a threat to marine and human health. Our oceans and waterways are polluted with a wide variety of marine debris, including tiny micro plastics that get into the marine food chain, and eventually end up in the sea food that we consume.
I’d like to reimagine a place where we take the underwater world into consideration with the way we consume. We need to take responsibility for the repercussions of our actions, admitting that we are part of the problem and the solution. Some ways that we can consume more consciously to help ocean health and overall world health are: stop the use of single use plastics, don’t litter, don’t purchase items that exploit marine life, only eat sustainable sea food, donate to conversation efforts, support organizations that are fighting to protect our waters, educate ourselves, help raise awareness, and many more.
Water is life. The marine ecosystem is so valuable and worth protecting. Together we can make the change. (Elizabeth Barnes)
Fortunately, You are not alone in reimagining the world. People of all backgrounds, ages, faiths, and philosophies are working toward a new vision of planet earth. Below are a few examples of organizations you can connect with. Please also see John Foran’s page (ADD LINK).
The Cool Block motto is “Become more planet friendly, disaster resilient and community rich.” Through citizen engagement with residents and politicians, Cool Block
Fives ways to affect change
Although this World Economic Forum article is discussing strategies to address the climate crisis, all five are useful for decreasing consumption as well. The five include:
- Start the discussion
- Tap into relational capital
- Get to know your local, regional, national and global policy landscape
- Amplify the voices of others
- Recognize the journey
The Next Step
Choose a skill you would like to learn. Whether fixing electronics, building a raised bed garden, replacing incandescent bulbs with LED lights, or planting a fruit tree, you can do it. Grab a book and a knowledgeable friend and start. Join a listserve or website that will help you imagine out to upcycle your older stuff. And, based on personal experience, you will make mistakes. Good. This is part of the learning process.
Go for it! Write down your vision of the world in one, five, or ten years. Ask how your consumption habits are empowering you toward or creating barriers in front of this vision. Then write down specific steps you can take today or tomorrow to begin to live a lighter lifestyle that is in line with your values.