By Matthew Stein, P.E., Author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance and Planetary Survival, ISBN #978-1933392837, published by Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT (800) 639-4099 

Ten Things You Can Do for the Earth

  1.  Reduce: Conscientiously conserving, recycling, and reusing resources and products will help to slow the process of planetary degradation. There is a sort of consumption “food chain,” where some savings have far more positive impact than others. Consuming fewer goods and improving up-front process efficiencies have the most impact.
  2.  Reuse: Reusing of used or refurbished products has a significant impact. It saves the up-front wastage that occurs in manufacturing new products or recycling old ones.
  3.  Recycling: Recycling is a relatively easy and painless thing to do, requiring minimal changes in our consumer-oriented lifestyle, and it is usually better than throwing away. However, recycling has the least positive impact of the three options since it is at the tail end of the consumption “food chain” and it takes additional energy and resources to recycle. Getting your local land fill to instill curb side recycling or on site sorting of garbage into recyclable and compost-able products has a huge impact on the amount of local product that gets recycled instead of dumped into the land fill.
  4.  Planet-friendly diet: Negative health and environmental impacts from the agribusiness production of meat include the massive destruction of rainforests for cattle grazing,  methane pollution (a greenhouse gas) from the digestion of material in cow’s stomachs, the consumption of huge amounts of pesticides, oil, fertilizer, water, vegetable protein, and  the loss of topsoil from overgrazing. It takes about 7 pounds of grain to grow one pound of beef. Eating less meat benefits the planet. Additionally, eleven out of fifteen of the planets major fisheries are in decline or collapse, so eating less fish helps the oceans.
  5.  Political action and Networking: We can join forces with others to promote recycling, clean air, and water, and the preservation of woodlands, wetlands, and forests. We can push for tax reforms and regulations that support planet-friendly practices and eliminate subsidies for businesses that “spend” our natural resources or otherwise hurt the environment. Individually we make a statement by doing business only with planet-friendly companies and voting for candidates with a good environmental record. Great changes begin at the small, personal level before they can branch out to affect the wider world. Mass movements start when large numbers of people awaken to the need for a change. 
  6.  Replace your light bulbs: By replacing a single 75-watt incandescent light bulb with an 18-watt compact fluorescent bulb, you will save yourself about $37.06 in combined utility and bulb costs, over the lifetime of one fluorescent bulb. These energy efficient bulbs produce the same quantity and quality of light as a regular 75-watt bulb and last about 13 times as long. Over the life of one compact fluorescent, you will save yourself the hassle of buying and replacing 13 incandescent bulbs. The energy savings from a single bulb will accomplish one of the following: A) Spare the earth more than 1,500 pounds of carbon dioxide and about 20 pounds of sulfur dioxide spewing from the stack of a coal-fired power plant. B) Avoid the production in a nuclear plant of half a curie of high-level radioactive waste (which is a lot) and two-fifths of a ton of TNT-equivalent of plutonium. C) Keep an oil-fired power plant from burning 1.25 barrels of oil-enough to run a family car for a thousand miles or to run Honda’s new hybrid car from Los Angeles to New York and on to Miami before it needed more gas.
  7.  Choose a gas efficient car: For most people, the type of car they drive will have the single greatest impact on their contribution to global greenhouse gases. Hybrids and bio diesel capable diesels are great. So are super efficient gasoline type cars and propane cars/trucks. Simply adopting European mileage standards would eliminate all of America’s current need to import oil from OPEC countries.
  8.  Ride a bicycle and/or carpool: Each gallon of gasoline burned releases 19.6 pounds of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.  Reducing your consumption of gasoline significantly reduces your impact on the planet.
  9.  Reduce heating and air conditioning: About 25% of greenhouse gasses come from energy used to heat and cool buildings. Energy conserving design typically reduces building loads by 90% or more. Insulating your house, upgrading appliances to energy efficient models, and installing energy efficient windows can make a huge reduction on your monthly energy bill. Wearing sweaters in the winter, and light clothing in the summer will make a big difference too.
  10.  Install renewable energy systems in your home or business: Modern solar and wind energy systems have come down in cost and are much easier to operate and maintain than they used to be. In windy locations, a small wind turbine could provide most or all of the energy that your home needs. New roof-integrated solar panels provide cost effective long-term reliable energy with no moving parts to wear out. Solar hot water systems will usually pay for themselves in a year or two through the energy savings on your monthly utility bill.

Hope for the future: 

We must do what we can. Always. At night we must go to sleep knowing that we have done our best, and there is no more you can do than that. Do not let the problems overwhelm you. Start somewhere, anywhere, with just the smallest gesture of compassion, and you have made a dent against the evil of the world.

-Gottfried Muller in Thom Hartmann’s The Prophet’s Way

Individually, none of us will save the world, but collectively we can decide that we (the people) wish to make a sustainable future the number one priority of business and government. We can change the world, but it takes massive numbers of people to make changes on the scale of the end of slavery or the institution of women’s rights. Hitler would have conquered the world if stopping him had been number ten on the priority list. Stopping Hitler was a matter of survival. Changing the way we do business is also a matter of survival.

Do we wish to be known as the generation that had the skills, awareness and technology to create a positive sustainable future but let business-as-usual, momentum and apathy take the planet down? Or, will we be known as the generation that took the bull by the horns and made the necessary changes to avert global collapse? Which legacy will we bequeath to our children?