Sunday, January 29, 2006

Practical Advice

I changed the template on my blog. I like this layout better, and I find the light green to be easy on the eyes. The other color scheme was hip but it got to be too dark for me.

I just finished The Consumers' Guide To Effective Environmental Choices from The Union Of Concerned Scientists. I found it at the local library and it's an excellent resource. (Scroll down on that page, and you'll see a summary of the book and a pdf of Chapter 1.)

The authors take raw scientific data, analyze the results, and present them in a coherent way, without talking down to the layperson. Clearly, they intend to convince as many Americans as possible to make the environmental decisions that will have the most impact. One of their tactics is asserting that we shouldn't sweat the "small stuff" (like paper vs. plastic or cloth vs. disposable), so that people won't get discouraged or feel overwhelmed. They're not saying these aren't important issues, but that the difference between the choices isn't all that much in terms of impact. They look at all our activities from this perspective - so if you're going to either give up driving or give up buying some knickknacks, please give up the driving. Of course, I say give up both. And cloth is the answer to paper or plastic. But I seem extreme to most people I know. That aside, I truly appreciate this book. It's well written and the authors make no bones about the dire environmental consequences of the typical American lifestyle. In the epilogue, they offer a interesting history lesson about the birth and explosion of American consumerism.

The book was published in 1999. I wonder what the authors would say today. It seems like a lot of things have changed in the last seven years ... but I only recently started listening.

Here's their list, in alphabetical order, of the leading consumption-related environmental problems:

Air pollution
Global warming
Habitat alteration
Water pollution

Concentrating on those categories, they rate a myriad of consumer products and activities according to their damage to the environment, and assess the results in terms of what individuals can do, and what we should encourage our policymakers to do.

Here are their "Priority Actions for American Consumers":

1. Choose a place to live that reduces the need to drive.
2. Think twice before purchasing another car.
3. Choose a fuel-efficient, low-polluting car.
4. Set concrete goals for reducing your travel.
5. Whenever practical, walk, bicycle, or take public transportation.
6. Eat less meat.
7. Buy certified organic products.
Household Operations
8. Choose your home carefully.
9. Reduce the environmental costs of heating and hot water.
10. Install efficient lighting and appliances.
11. Choose an electricity supplier offering renewable energy.

The authors stress the environmental destruction caused by fossil fuels and the consumption of meat, beef and pork in particular. I already knew that meat was bad for the environment and that animals live and die in horrific conditions, but I'm further convinced by the raw numbers in this book. Sometimes I miss eating meat. But based on what I've learned, it's not good for the environment or my state of mind. As for fossil fuels, that's a no-brainer. But our society is so dependent on them, it's going to take a major paradigm shift before a new culture begins to emerge. Who's with me?


At 4:00 AM, Blogger lauren said...

I got that book as a Christmas gift, and I think it's a good reference tool to have on my shelf. I agree with you that those small steps are important too and often easy, so why not do everything we can? Oh, and I'm all for the paradigm shift for 2 main reasons. First, I'm alarmed by the fact that it has been in the 50s in Boston in January. My gut (and ALL of the scientific evidence) screams that this current paradigm just cannot continue. Second, I think the alternative could be a beautiful thing: vibrant, local communities and a return to sustainable ways.

By the way, I love the new template. I always have trouble reading long posts on a black background. Plus green suits you. :)

PS - I posted the corn chowder recipe over on my blog.

At 3:07 PM, Blogger SustainableGirl said...

Thanks Lauren - just wanted to note that it is also unseasonably warm here in Central Washington (50s in February???). On Christmas Day in Seattle, it was over 60 degrees! I hope it's a fluke, but I have a feeling everyone's winters will get warmer before they get colder again ...


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