I’ve been thinking about the sort of world my kids are going to grow up in. If you’re around my age, then you have also spent most of your life burdened by the knowledge that we’re systematically destroying our planet. Technology soars ahead, yet humankind’s impact on the earth continues on a steady course of destruction. It’s the rape and pillage model used by the Goths and the Huns centuries ago, except that now we’re not just killing people and burning down villages. It’s the whole planet and every living thing that we’re annihilating.
As a pre-teen, in an attempt to stave off humankind’s imminent self-destruction (and that of the birds, fish and furry animals unfortunate enough to live among us), I helped found the Environmental Awareness Club at my school – a group of keen little girls who went around picking up trash in and around the property, and even organized monthly beach clean-ups, which we persuaded our parents to attend (they had no choice – we were too young to go by ourselves).
Now that I’m a mother, I’m particularly fierce when I see April drop her garbage on the street. But I know that there’s a lot more needed if we’re going to help reverse some of the damage that’s already been done. But, “oh,” you might say, “it’s futile!” With the Fukushima explosion, the ice caps melting, the near-extinction of the polar bears, a plastic continent floating in the Pacific Ocean, our food system in crisis, “what is there to do?” It’s easy to be apathetic. But wouldn’t that make us part of the problem? The truth is, there’s a lot we can do. And most of these things aren’t difficult at all.
Organic farming is better for environment. It can also produce larger amounts of nutritionally superior food than the heavily subsidized Agribusinesses of today. I know: organic food is expensive. But maybe we’re looking at it all wrong. Maybe it’s the conventional food that’s unsustainably cheap. Did you know that in North America we proportionally spend less on our food than anyone else on earth? Did you know that the average American household throws away about 25% of the food they buy? If you want to know why organic food is more expensive than “conventional,” take a moment to learn why. If you’re keen to help the planet and eat better food, then why not sign up for a CSA basket (which is often equal to the cost of conventional grocery store produce), or buy local, organic food at the farmers’ market?
Learn to cook
You don’t have to cook every meal from scratch and avoid eating out entirely. But cooking more and preparing meals in advance can save you money, decrease food waste, and give you social currency among your less culinarily-savvy friends. There are other advantages. You can usually negotiate deals when buying produce in bulk at farmers’ markets. Fruit and vegetables are also less expensive and significantly more delicious and nutritious at the peak of the season. Learning to can, and making massive quantities of tomato sauce, strawberry jam or other preserves will save you money, provide you with a taste of summer in the cold months, and supply you with pre-made gifts for dinner parties. You may even end up with enough cash left over at the end of the month to treat yourself to dinner at that new locavore restaurant everyone’s raving about. Last but not least, cooking is fun! Experiment with recipes and learn the tricks. There are lots of quick, easy meals that take less time to prepare, and are cheaper than ordering in.
Grow your own food
With businesses like Urban Seedling popping up, you can have a vegetable garden on your balcony or in your yard that can provide enough produce to feed your family during the summer months. No space? Why not join a communal or community garden? The garden I belong to costs me nothing but my time, and every Saturday I leave with bags laden with freshly picked produce, ready for eating.
Support local businesses
I try to buy from local companies whenever possible. This not only cuts down on transportation costs and the unnecessary burning of fossil fuels, but it also invests money into the local community. Once again, prices of products manufactured locally can be higher than those made overseas, but what about the human costs? If something you need isn’t produced locally, you could always buy it at an independently owned store. Also, getting to know the people in establishments near your home fosters community, and leads to higher quality of life for everyone involved.
Walk, bike or take the bus
I know that many of us are married to our cars, but if there’s one thing that can make a hugely positive impact on the world, it’s driving less. We complain about gas prices without thinking of the real cost to the planet of every tank of gas we burn. Riding your bike, walking or taking public transit is not only cheaper; it’s also better for your health. You’ll also get to avoid road rage, and if you’re taking the bus, you’ll have time to catch up on your reading.
Buy Used or Second-hand
I try not to buy anything new unless I have to. Yes, there are certain things that you can’t really buy second hand (food, toothbrushes and underwear come to mind). But for most other things you can hit the thrift store or search craigslist, kijiji or other online classified ads for a nearly new version.
Get Rid of your Credit Cards
If you no longer had credit, would you buy as much? If you could only spend the money in your wallet, would that kind of ugly $30 shirt make it into your cart, or would you think twice about buying something you’re unlikely to wear more than once? I admit, I still have a credit card, but I try to limit myself to using it only on big purchases like plane tickets.
Reuse, Reduce, Recycle
I remember this campaign from when I was a kid. It’s no less relevant today than it was in the 80s. Don’t just throw things away: glass jars, egg cartons, Ziploc bags: all of these things can be reused in multiple ways. Buy less. Be mindful of what you use and how. And when you do finish drinking your coffee or soda, throw the bottle or cup into a recycling bin (or better yet, take your own cup with your to the café).
Eat Less Meat
I recently watched a TED talk in which Graham Hill, CEO of Treehugger talks about being a weekday vegetarian. In a recent column by Mark Bittman in the New York times, he talks about eating vegan before 6pm. Eating less meat and animal products is better for your health, and the health of the planet. So whether it’s cutting meat during the week, or cutting your consumption by eating only organic or pasture-raised local meat, reducing your consumption is a major way to diminish your ecological footprint, and you’ll likely lose a few pounds in the process
Learn to meditate
This might seem like an odd inclusion, but it might be the most important of them all. Meditation fosters a greater sense of wellbeing, which is spread from person to person. Taking a short amount of time each day to clear your mind, and being mindful of how you react to others and your surroundings, can have a profound impact on your life and the lives of those nearest to you.