Yes, You Can!

Rosie-the-RiveterI watched the film Chasing Ice, which chronicles the amazingly rapid pace at which the glaciers are melting, with a few mama friends last night. At the end of the movie, we talked about how difficult it can be to watch movies like that and feel like you don’t even know where to start in addressing a problem that is such a huge order of magnitude.

In the face of climate change, I have decided that the only appropriate response is to adopt a can-do attitude. The beauty of the can-do attitude is that you tackle something you CAN DO. Not something that feels enormously overwhelming and futile. Something that you personally can challenge yourself to do and then do it.

It’s a bit like starting a new diet or exercise program – you might have to psyche yourself up a little bit or develop a community of supportive friends. But like other changes you make in your life, you set your sights on the first step and begin there. Once you have that step down, you move onto something harder.

I’ve been can-doing about the environment for a while now, and my journey has had many unexpected rewards: new friendships, new discoveries, the sense of fulfillment that arises from actually feeling like you are making a difference. Following are my suggestions for making changes that will directly address the threat of climate change:

1. Pay attention to what you are eating. This is one topic that people seem to not want to have to think about, because a major component of the standard American diet is meat, and meat is BAD FOR THE PLANET (Really and truly, I am not just saying this because I am vegetarian. Meat production is responsible for a whopping 1/5 of the world’s carbon emissions. I blog more about food here). The good news about food is that YOU as an individual can make meaningful changes. You are not dependent on political will or corporate policy. So seize the day! What can YOU pledge to do? Here are some ideas. Remember, you can start with one and then add another as you have the bandwidth. You do not have to cause a major life upheaval unless you are ready for that.

  • Stop eating fast food. Just stop. And not just because it’s meat. It’s processed. It’s not good for your body. It’s artificially cheap. It may not even be food.
  • Eat lower on the food chain. The two worst foods for the planet are beef and lamb (primarily due to the ruminant digestive systems of cows and sheep). So stop eating them. The lower on the food chain you get, the better for the climate.
  • Choose free range, grass fed, and so forth when you purchase meat, dairy or eggs.
  • Eat meatless at least one night a week. More when you can manage it. The Meatless Monday campaign has some great recipes and also provides support and encouragement!
  • Eat organic foods! Who needs petroleum-based fertilizers with their dinner? If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, prioritize by avoiding the “dirty dozen.”
  • Eat locally raised foods. The less carbon spent transporting your food, the better! Grow your own if you can!

2. Spend your money wisely. It’s really true that in this country, you vote with your money. So be a smart shopper!

  • Buy things that reflect your values. Take the time to learn about the corporate practices of companies that you support. Start with one store or company that you frequent. If you learn that you don’t agree with their corporate practices, stop shopping there and find another place to do business.
  • Break the cycle of wants vs. needs. It’s a great lesson for both you and your kids. For starters, stop impulse buying. Go into the store with a list and come out only with the things on your list. If you see something you really want and think would improve your life, write it down. Look at it again in a week. Do you still think you need it? Put your list away for another week. Still need it? Now, think about buying it. Make your children do this too.
  • Buy quality products that will last. Better to spend $100 on a kitchen appliance that you will still be able to use in 40 years (I still have my mom’s original hand mixer) than to buy that $20 appliance that’s on sale this week and that you will be replacing next week.
  • Buy used. So many items can be acquired in good condition from a second hand store, Craigslist, etc. And if you can borrow it, even better!
  • If you have investments, take control of them. Choose to invest with a money manager who will apply filters to your portfolio so that you are not supporting Big Oil or Coal AT ALL. Ask your employer to apply those same filters to your retirement funds.

3. Use gasoline smartly. Set reasonable goals for yourself and see how many tanks of gas you can save per month. Then start thinking big – like replacing your vehicle with something vastly more fuel efficient. Or getting rid of your car completely and using public transit, car shares and the occasional rental to meet your needs. Get started by doing one or more of the following:

  • Taking the bus one day a week.
  • Making one trip per day by foot or bike.
  • Combining errands so you can drive more efficiently.
  • Carpooling.
  • Stopping trying to do everything! Stay home. Reduce the number of activities your kids do after school. Pick date nights that you can walk to.
  • Take one (or more!) fewer plane trips per year.

4. Use birth control. Seriously. I know a lot of people who have “oops” children, and I know they love them dearly. But the basic problem causing climate change is TOO MANY PEOPLE.

  • Have a small family.
  • Delay childbearing until you are in your 30s (three generations in 100 years is much more sustainable than four, or even five, generations in a 100 year span).
  • Talk with your own children about birth control and delaying childbearing.
  • Vote to increase access to birth control.
  • Donate to organizations (national and international) that help women gain access to birth control.

5. Become an activist! Things are not going to change if we all sit quietly at home worrying about climate change. We all really do have to make our voices heard.

  • Vote! Learn about initiatives and candidates. When you can, work on a campaign or donate money to support candidates that share your ideals.
  • Join an e-list and write emails in support of fighting climate change at least once a week.
  • Commit to making at least one phone call per month on behalf of the climate.
  • Commit to joining a public event or demonstration at least once a year to raise awareness about climate change.
  • Do all of those things more often!

6. Plant and preserve trees! They are the lungs of the world. We need more of them, desperately.

  • Join a local effort to plant trees in public spaces. Volunteer there throughout tree planting season (often November through March).
  • Start tree seedlings and give them away. You can live the Johnny Appleseed dream!
  • Donate money to international organizations that plant trees.
  • Buy recycled products (Paper! Toilet paper! Notebooks!) so that fewer trees are harvested.
  • Buy products that are FSC certified – meaning that the trees have been responsibly harvested and the forest land will be replanted.

7. Use less energy. Natural gas and most electricity come from fossil fuels. Mining, fracking, drilling – all of it is harmful to our habitat. And then there’s that problem of burning the fossil fuels….

  • Turn down the thermostat. Remember what your mom used to say? Put on a sweater!
  • Turn off appliances. Unplug things you aren’t using. Turn off lights when you leave a room. Honestly, these things are common sense. Plus it saves you money.
  • Insulate and winterize! There is heat leaking out of your house right now! Find the drafts and then caulk, cover, seal…whatever you have to do.
  • Choose energy star appliances. When your appliances need replacing, make sure you take energy efficiency into account. Your wallet will thank you too.
  • Investigate solar. There are many creative ways to solarize your home. Check out your area’s incentive programs as well as solar projects that you can buy into through your utility company.

Now, I challenge you to pick ONE thing from all of those lovely suggestions and do it this week. Then tell me about it! I am personally working on divestment. My goal this week is to call my IRA manager and see about applying that fossil fuel filter.

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