“When you were born, I labored for three days and three nights. You just wouldn’t budge; you were so stubborn! It was the most painful time of my life.”
Sound familiar? Mom usually concludes it was all worth it and you were a precious gift unless she’s using the birth experience to illuminate how indebted you are to her, for the rest of your life, in which case you’d better pick your socks up in the hallway.
Whatever the case, you do owe Mom. So imagine Mother Earth, who has taken millions of years to give issue to you. She has provided for you, and while she wants you to be happy, she wants a little cooperation as well. Is it so much trouble to pick up your litter, recycle your trash, save the whale birthing grounds in southern Baja, patch up the ozone hole and stop tinkering with the DNA sequence in your tomato?
All right, before you run screaming into a dark cave (adding to noise pollution and trampling upon the eco-habitat of an unsuspecting bat), just take a deep breath. There are manageable changes you can make in your life to ease up on the Earth. What you can do is run through a typical day or even a favorite pastime and see where you can cut back here, refrain from there or try this and that.
These are just a few little steps in a day that could make a difference. You won’t be able to spackle the ozone hole by the year’s end, but you will make a difference even if Mother Earth is the only one who appreciates it.
6:15 a.m.: Stumble into the bathroom. Do you need to switch on the light to see your mug, or is there enough spring sunshine to illuminate the room? Consider using energy-saving 15-watt fluorescent bulbs.
6:18 a.m.: Shower. Refrain from running the water full blast to heat it up it probably heats up fast enough, and 20 million other people (plus plenty of species) in the Bay Area depend on our little supply. Think about installing low-flow showerheads. How about a low-flow toilet or adding two half-gallon bottles to the tank?
6:28 a.m.: Get dressed. You’re tempted to reach for the polyester, but wait! Besides being a bad ’70s flashback and causing static electricity back-up, the fabric is a nonrenewable petrochemical. Clothes shopping can be fraught with confusion, what with sweatshop labor or harmful chemical bleaches, so start off slow. Check out organic cotton and hemp; they’ve come a long way from sack-cloth hippie wear.
6:38 a.m.: Make your nutritional fix. Heat up small portions in the microwave, not the stovetop or oven. Run the dishwasher only if it’s full. Meanwhile, look for energy inefficiencies, such as that outdated avocado-hued refrigerator. Rather than being thrifty, antiquated household appliances gorge themselves on precious energy, so upgrade. (Renters might want to point this out to the landlord).
6:50 a.m.: Feed Bowser. By the way, is your pet spayed/neutered? About 8- 12 million dogs and cats go into shelters every year, and half are euthanized. Strays threaten the public health and other species.
6:51 a.m.: Open the curtains to let the sunlight warm the house and leave the thermostat at 55 degrees.
6:55 a.m.: Get commute-ready. Don’t tell us you own an SUV. We’ll abstain from the “kill your SUV” lecture for now, but remember that automobiles in general belch pollutants from the tailpipe and exude heavy metals and asbestos from brake-pad linings, which end up in the Bay. Behind the driver’s seat, you inhale 10 times the usual urban concentration of nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.
Admittedly, public transportation especially in the suburbs falls sorely behind in serving Californians’ needs. Still, there’s vanpooling, carpooling, bicycling, rollerboarding. You might need to wake up earlier, but think of all the friends you can make and the road rage you’ll avoid.
8:13 a.m.: Punch in the time clock. Now you’re safely indoors or so you think. Did you know that the Environmental Protection Agency ranks indoor air pollution in its top five threats to public health? We’ve all heard of “sick building” syndrome. Ask that vents be checked and filters changed. During redecorations, consider that new carpets and other furnishings give off chemical vapors.
If you’re a silent cog in a merciless wheel, consult “How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office” (Dr. B.C Wolverton, Penguin, $15.95). The co-worker who shares your space might look askance at the English ivy, but a nice little palm tree removes chemical vapors and adds to the aesthetics.
1:10 p.m.: Lunch, at last. You’ve probably heard all the arguments: the meat vs. grain (enormous use of fossil fuels and pesticides) and corporate fast foods vs. local mom-and-pop take-out (fast-food beef is often purchased from areas where rain forests are cleared to graze cattle). Choose wisely not only for your body, but for everyone else’s. This applies to dinner as well.
3:22 p.m.: Take a coffee break. Did the beans come from shadegrown plantations? Those lands often shelter migrating songbirds and discourage soil erosion. Organic plantations shy away from pesticides. Next time, treat the workplace and bring in the good stuff. Your local coffee chains/cafes might already carry it, but encourage them to do so if not oh, and bring your own thermos. (Incidentally, coffee grounds make good yard fertilizer.)
5:47 p.m.: Do errands. Combining little trips cuts down on automobile pollutants. You and your friends, co-workers or family members can bond by doing chores together: That way, you can reduce trips even more and maybe precycle by divvying up jumbo detergent into reusable containers.
Also, do you really need what you’re buying? On average, American households throw out 200 million tons of solid waste every year with industrial waste, make that an estimated 11 billion tons. Instead, buy used, swap with friends and donate your unwanted goods.