Sometimes our actions can give other people ideas and solutions, or simply act as a reminder of relatively simple steps that can be taken to live with a lighter step on the planet.
In my case, living in New York City, it is a different kind of list than the more commonly appearing stories of people living in huts or small houses made of shipping containers in the middle of Wyoming, Georgia, or similar rural environments. Of course those are terrific and valuable stories but I often feel they are dreams for those of us attached to living in urban environments.
Do you want to share your stories about steps you have already taken or would like to take? Please do so in comments here, or even by adding your stories directly to this Web site.
Live in a city: studies prove this to be inherently more efficient than living in a rural area, for the way most of us live. Some advantages of urban living include:
- more efficient heating of multi-unit dwellings (I am in a two-family home, not as efficient as a larger apartment building but more efficient than a large, one-family private dwelling)
- shorter distances to travel for food, medical supplies and care, visiting friends, etc
- mass transit is available for many trips.
Practice and teach Tai Chi Chuan, and practice meditation. These lead to more satisfaction with daily life, and less need to worry about material aspects of life.
Walk or ride a bicycle to errands that are not overly far away. I go out for a morning coffee (see below) and walk ten minutes instead of using the car. Now that it is getting quite cold I am getting more likely to use a car.
Save water, including short showers, reduce water flow to a minimum while washing dishes, brushing teeth, and other daily uses (although fresh water is not in short supply in the northeast USA). Hot water should be further conserved since energy is expended to heat the water, contributing to climate change.
Limited consumer: rarely buy anything that is not essential for a modest style of life. When I do buy products, including food, I try to get those with no packaging, or in glass or metal (since they can be fully recycled), or in paper or bio-"plastic". Last choice is recyclable plastic packaging. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
Buy all-natural, and these days almost all organic, food supplies, which encourages better health and helps fund alternatives to bottom-line-only industrial farming
Limited meat/fish/poulty consumption, about a total of twice a week, and the meat consumed are raised humanely and without antibiotics and other such dangerous and cruel practices. Yes, vegetarian would probably be better (see below). Meat production has many environmental and ethical problems, and the less meat (including all forms) consumed, the better, as long as healthy replacements are found by the individual.
Eat food that is reasonably local and definitely grown in the USA; that means no more kiwi fruits, and no exotic fruits from the Middle East or South America. I am looking into CSA (community supported agriculture).
Buy more and more at an organic supermarket, Queens Health Emporium. The fruit and vegetable quality is excellent, all are organic, and prices are better than Whole Foods. Other food is acquired from Stop and Shop. Their stores have larger organic sections than other mainstream supermarket chains. Other stores that are further away from me but that have some organic foods are Fairway (excellent), Trader Joe's (excellent, and low cost), and Whole Foods (don't need them for much anymore, and they are overpriced, with only spotty organic produce in their mix).
Where I have influence, when disposable goods are needed I have requested use of cups made from bamboo which are indistinguishable from clear plastic drinking cups but that are totally safe and compostable (they do need to right conditions to breakdown, but at least they are non-toxic), and similar tableware. Also, I have personally just ordered kitchen garbage bags that are made from bio-"plastic and that claim to be as strong as standard, toxic garbage bags. I will let you know how they work when I get them!
Where appropriate, share my thoughts on how to better care for the planet and feel better. This comes up most often at supermarket and retail checkout, where I always avoid plastic bags and use my own cloth bags when needed to carry a large number of items. The clerk often asks about it if there are only one or two items and I use NO bag.
Work on environmental causes, including this Web site, organizing some live events, other social networking on environmental topics. My belief is that awareness is the foundation of all other change that is needed to improve the true quality of life on the planet.
Current business focus is on an environment-focused email marketing service that I created and run.
AREAS I WOULD LIKE TO IMPROVE
Using a car in some cases where railroad would work pretty well. I do this to save time, as there are time and financial pressures that I need to consider, but mass transit use would be ideal when I do need to travel a longer distance than bicycle allows. I do use mass transit in some circumstances, and drive in others.
Should stop drinking coffee, especially at outside coffee shops. Why? Not in any particular order, here are a few reasons:
- it is a habit, and I don't like to be held by any habit
- coffee is imported from far away, possibly with bad labor practices and toxic pesticides, and my local coffee shops do not offer fair trade or organic coffee
- it costs unnecessary time. Fortunately it is generally about 12 oz per day, not more
- coffee may not be the healthiest thing, including the caffeine, although with moderate use I have not seen any documented bad effects.
Would like to further reduce use of plastics, since they are bad news starting from the extraction of resources used in their creation (fossil fuels) through toxic production processes, and releasing toxic chemicals as they decompose while also choking wildlife, etc. The really big change would come if government would significantly tax fossil fuels and provide R&D incentives for alternatives to plastics.
HARD TO CHANGE UNTIL SOCIETY CHANGES
So many products that are required for living, especially foods, are wrapped in plastics that can not even be recycled, In New York City, only bottles and similar narrow-mouthed containers, and only those with Type 1 and Type 2 plastic, can be recycled. Whole Foods also accepts Type 5 plastic, so I save that and recycle it at Whole Foods when I go there.
Renewable energy sources need to be developed extensively for economic, health, and environmental reasons
Transportation should include a larger mix of mass transit as well as plug-in vehicles, quick rental vehicles (such as Zipcar), and of course better infrastructure for bicycles (such as in Copenhagen and Amsterdam) and walking. These issues need to be addressed at a national level and also at local level with the differing considerations for city, suburban, and countryside needs.
Comment by: Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Dec-16-2009) Web site
I'm out of my depth already. Certainly globalisation has had negative effects in first world and third world alike, but I suggest re-localisation would need to be done carefully if the poorest people are not to suffer even more. And petro-chemical fertilisers and suicide genes and factory farming and monopolistic seed merchants are all worrysome.
Comment by: PT (David Alexander) (Dec-16-2009) Web site
Local food is one aspect. And I do wonder whether our meddling in the economies of less industrialized countries has been good for them in the long term. Many had been stable for thousands of years. Now, after a few decades of improved level of living, they are threatened with a worse situation. For example, if they did subsistence agriculture with animal dung and hand harvesting, the population stayed limited but stable and the land remained fertile. Now with factory farming with an eye to international markets, they are becoming dependent on export markets with their unpredicatble and often too-low pricing, and they are required to buy chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides, and the land is losing the ability to grow food. The result has been a big spike of suicides in farmers in India and China. I don't know about other countries. Monstanto's patenting of key crops requires farmers to purchase new seeds every year rather than re-grow from the prior year's crop, and Monsanto is looking to expand its patents to additional staple grain crops, and now to farm animals as well.
I wonder if you have more thoughts on the topic? I would like to better understand the implications of local vs "one world" living.
Comment by: Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Dec-16-2009) Web site
It's really good that you're taking so many measures in your daily life. Me? Well I try to use the car as little as often, spend little, buy second-hand when I can, reuse, recycle and compost wherever possible, turn off appliances. The biggest thing I've done recently is to install a solar water heater, which has been great - albeit quite expensive. In Mexico and anywhere with lots of sun (Australia, California, Texas, Florida, India, Tunisia, etc) they make enormous sense and should be heavily subsidised.
A few comments on your list. One is that you're right to save water, even living in a wet place. The water from your tap has been pumped many miles, using energy probably derived from fossil fuels. It has been purified, which is another energy-hungry process. And the sewage will need to be dealt with, using still more energy.
The other is that I'm not sure you're right to only eat locally produced food. (Which isn't to say you're wrong, just that I'm not sure.) Food miles is just one issue in food production. In developed countries farming is generally mechanised, using big, polluting machines. In developing countries the ploughing, sowing, weeding and harvesting may be done by hand or using oxen. An out-of-work farmer in the USA will not starve; one in Kenya might. So it's hard to know what is the best ethical strategy when buying food.
Each person can only do so much with lifestyle changes: the best we can possibly do is reduce our carbon footprints to zero. After that, we can encourage others do do they same: you're doing that with your discussions with checkout assistants and through this blog, and by being visible in your environmental choices. Beyond this one should strive to repair some of the damage we humans have done to the planet, more than simply reducing our negative impact. This is much harder, with the obvious example being to plant trees.
My lifelong pursuit, since age 18, has been to live more fully and find wisdom. This has involved studies with Zen masters, Tai Chi masters, and great psychotherapists while achieving my license as a gestalt therapist and psychoanalyst.
Along the way, I became aware of how the planet is under great stress due to the driven nature of human activity on this planet.
I believe that the advancement of human well-being will reduce societies addictive behaviors, and will thus also help preserve the environment and perhaps slow down the effects of global warming and other major threats to the health of human societies.