There is no Planet B, so we all need to care for the Earth
While “Earth Month” has departed, I’m sharing 19 ways that you can do more for the planet by reducing your carbon footprint. I use all of these, but my intent is not to pat myself on the back. Rather it’s to offer a variety of practical tips that you may choose to adopt in your life. Everyone’s situation is different. But therein lies the opportunity. If you add even one new practice that fits your life, then the whole planet benefits.
Some of these are “oldies-but-goodies.” Others are changes I’ve made just this year. It’s a cliché that “Earth Day is every day” but it’s also absolutely true. The world just inched past the 410 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, and we all need to better understand where emissions come from, and how we can reduce them.
New this year:
- Changing our electricity to clean energy sources – This year, we signed up for Portland General Electric’s “Green Future” program. We still get our bill from PGE, but for about $6/month extra, we ensure that a portion of our electricity comes from wind (70%), solar (24%) and other renewable sources in the Northwest.
- Attacking food waste – Imperfect Produce is a company that delivers fresh, organic produce to our door weekly. They snag produce that may have cosmetic issues that make them hard to sell in a supermarket but are otherwise perfectly fine to eat. This service (1) lets us eat organic (2) diverts fruits and veggies that would otherwise end up in landfills and create more greenhouse gas emissions (3) supports local jobs.
- Donating to support carbon offset projects in Appalachia – We are fortunate to be able to support a carbon offset program such as Clean Choice Energy is offering. (Note: they are a client, but I receive no money for sharing the news about their “Replenish our Forests” program.) My husband is from Appalachia, so this is in his honor!
Every year at New Years, I make “green resolutions” along with the usual suspects like losing weight and exercising more. “Green resolutions” are more satisfying because they are all about creating a better life for everyone.
In addition to the 3 tips above, here are 16 more that fall into the “keep doing” category:
- Avoiding single–use plastic – like straws for sodas and plastic grocery bags. Recent studies have shown in graphic detail just how bad the “plastics in the ocean” problem is. It’s not hard to sip my drink from the cup and use paper bags (or reusable ones) for groceries.
- Downsizing our living space and the heating and cooling costs that go with it! The EPA offers a carbon footprint calculator that will show you that your home energy costs are likely the largest part of your footprint.
- Going from 2 cars to 1 – my husband loves public transit and was happy to stop driving. We save thousands every year on the gas, insurance, parking and insurance costs of a second car. And not having a second car means zero emissions from that source!
- Driving a hybrid car – we bought our first hybrid 16 years ago. We wanted to save gas and reduce our emissions. My Honda Civic Hybrid emits 202 grams of CO2 per mile. The Ford F150 pickup – the most popular passenger vehicle in the U.S. – emits 453 grams of CO2 per mile. (Nothing against pickups – I’m just saying.) Use the EPA’s fueleconomy.gov site to find out the CO2 emissions for your vehicle.
- Using Lyft and Uber – again, everyone’s needs are different. But we’ve been pleasantly surprised at the speed, efficiency and professionalism of these car services. If you don’t need to use a car 365 days a year, think about using these services when you need them.
- Shopping less – a smaller living space requires less stuff. As a master “window-shopper” I am happy to look at the latest fashions or décor, but I don’t have to buy.
- Shopping local – we are fortunate to live where we do because local fish, meat, bread, produce and fruit are all available. We eat healthy and support our fellow citizens who grow, fish or raise the food.
- Stepping away from red meat – I love beef, lamb, and pork but the impact of raising, distributing and eating them is decidedly bad for the environment. Happily, my desire to improve my cholesterol levels aligns with protecting the environment in this way. Steak is now a rare treat for occasions like birthdays and Christmas.
- Getting involved, building community – The number of organizations concerned with protecting the planet and fighting climate change has exploded. The Earth Day Network, The Nature Conservancy, the Climate Reality Project and the We Mean Business Coalition are just some of the places sharing science-based information and offering many local opportunities to get involved all year long.
- Reading books electronically – I have always loved books (and big bookcases full of them!) But chopping down forests in order to print books is a bad tradeoff. And studies show that e-readers overall are better for the environment.
- Avoiding air travel – of all the transportation choices out there, air travel is worst for the environment. Most airlines allow you to offset your carbon emissions as you are buying your ticket. Tell your favorite airline that reducing their emissions is important to you.
- Choosing recycled goods like toilet paper, napkins, printer paper. Yes, they do cost more, so pick the ones that fit your budget.
- Washing clothes in cold water – this saves energy that would otherwise be used to heat the water. With today’s detergents, your clothes will be just as clean.
- Driving a fully electric vehicle – This is an aspiration. My husband wants a Tesla, which we can’t afford. But we are keeping an eye on the prices and the features.
- Keep learning about climate science – if the word “science” scares you off, don’t let it. The basic idea is that greenhouse gases act as a sort of blanket around the Earth, warming land and seas to unhealthy temperatures. Once you understand that, you have many options to help reduce that heating.
- Remembering that the mantra “reduce-reuse-recycle” is as true today as in 1970 when the first Earth Day happened. The good news is, there are FAR more ways to do this today.
For me, making Earth Day every day is not about being “elitist.” No one feels smug driving around in a Honda Civic Hybrid. I am simply trying to do my part – however small – to make things better for my fellow citizens. In doing so, I have discovered many people who share similar priorities. There’s a lot more common ground than you might think!
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