Volunteers help plant a tree along the Los Angeles River during a community tree-planting and clean-up effort in the Glassell Park area of Los Angeles.
Go ahead and put "saving the planet" on your list of New Year's resolutions. Sound tough? Then consider this advice from the late renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." So whether you're interested in everyday, earth-friendly actions or starting a global movement, check out the list below for helpful resources and inspiring ideas.
Eat organically. Protect your health and the planet by eating organic foods free from pesticides and genetically modified ingredients. The average distance food travels from farm to plate is 1,500 miles, so buy locally grown products at a farmer's market or food cooperative whenever you can. Search for nearby farmer's markets at www.ams.usda.gov/farmers markets, or look for local and organic food sources at
. Better yet, start your own garden and experience a taste of self-reliance.
Cut the chemicals. More than 70,000 synthetic cleaning products are produced today, many of which contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Opt for environmentally safe cleaning products instead — many are even easy to make at home. Better Basics for the Home by Annie Berthold-Bond (available on MOTHER'S bookshelf at http://www.motherearthnews.com includes tons of recipes for homemade, nontoxic cleaning and personal care products.
In health food stores, look for Seventh Generation, Son 8r Earth, Orange Mate, Earth Friendly and Ecover brands.
Lower emissions. Cut your contributions to air pollution and global warming: Ride your bike or carpool, or find car sharing networks and information to start your own at
Reduce your utility bills by finding products with an Energy Star rating at www.energystar.gov. Also install compact fluorescent light bulbs to further cut your energy use.
IN YOUR COMMUNITY
Educate yourself on the issues. The Environmental Protection Agency's Web site is full of current information about local pollution and environmental health risks — just search by your zip code. Also explore the "Where you Live" section at www.epa.gov. To connect with environmental activists near you, try www.sierraclub.org, and go to "My Backyard" for links to local newsletters.
Find like-minded folks. If you're searching for environmental groups in your area, a good resource is the Environmental Research Foundation's database of local groups at
. Another Web site that lists contact information for environmental groups is www.earthshake.org
You also might consider working with civic and church groups, which often co ordinate volunteer projects and might be open to organizing a recycling effort or starting a community garden. Getting involved with local government committees (think planning commission or county water board) also can be an effective way to bring about environmental change.
Seek support for your group. If your community has concerns with toxic contamination, the Center for Health and Environmental justice [
or (703) 237-22491 has resources to help grass roots organizers. The Environmental Support Center [
or (202) 331-97007 also teaches local activist groups about fundraising and training.
Learn the real story. The Environmental News Network (
) reports on environmental issues around the world. The Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization focused on social justice and environmental sustainability, publishes eye-opening, up-to-date "State of the World" reports.
Take action. Expand your environmental horizons by volunteering with an international organization or by going abroad. You can start with online directories of environmental groups:
are among the best.
Turning Blue-Collar Jobs Green
Integrating environmental preservation with U.S. job protections is the focus of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition seeking to create 3 million new green jobs and end U.S. dependence on foreign oil within 10 years. The Alliance is building a national and grass roots coalition between businesses, labor unions, environmental groups and urban leaders with the goal of mobilizing citizens in support of the plan and passing legislation to make it a reality.
And the Apollo Alliance is on its way: Seventeen major unions support the Alliance, including the United Auto Workers, the United Steelworkers, the Service Employees International Union and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council also are on board.
Inspired by former President John F. Kennedy's Apollo project to send a man to the moon, the Apollo Alliance aims to end our addiction to foreign oil, build sustainable cities and revitalize the U.S. manufacturing industry.
Bracken Hendricks, Alliance executive director, says the idea that environmental protections have to come at the cost of jobs just isn't true. "We need to rebuild an electric power grid that is adaptable for renewable technology and distributed generation, and this is going to be highly labor intensive," he says. "There are good jobs associated with greening the economy."
Instead of throwing money away investing in dirty fossil fuels, Hendricks wants to use the existing energy budget to fund this reconstruction. "This way, we can in a sense turn pollution into good jobs," he says.
To push toward energy independence, the Alliance currently is seeking support from the Democratic presidential candidates for the 2004 elections. "We are trying to link with the progressive labor movement seeking worker justice and long-term environmental stewardship," Hendricks says.
The group also outlines a 10-point plan for transforming the U.S. economy and cities into models of sustainability and environmental soundness. The 10 points, which can be viewed at www.apolloalliance.org, include building more efficient factories, homes and offices, revitalizing mass transit and urban centers, and encouraging production of energy-efficient vehicles.
Conscientious Clothing: Look for the Labels
Next time you're shopping for clothes, be a conscientious consumer and check out the labels. A label can tell you such details as whether that pair of pants is dryclean only, and help you figure out whether a sweatshop produced the item.
Many clothing companies have gone global, and all too often, these companies employ workers in factories with few, if any, health and safety standards. Unfortunately, it's a growing possibility that the clothes on your back came from factories that employ child labor, threaten human health and safety, and pay impoverished workers far less than a living wage.
A growing number of consumers are demanding a "no-sweat" guarantee. A 1999 National Consumers League survey found the No. 1 issue that "worries consumers a great deal" is the use of sweatshop and child labor. If you're shopping for "sweat-free" products, here are some clues to help you in your search:
A fair trade tag tells you an imported product meets a specific set of criteria for fair labor practices. Fair trade clothing remains scarce in stores, but you can look for it online, or from Sources like Co-op America's National Green Pages [
or (800) 58-GREEN].
Another good anti-sweatshop indicator is a union logo. Unions are a powerful tool for improving workplace conditions. Look for the union logo in stores, or search for union products online at
Country of origin labels can be helpful because many complaints of abusive workplace conditions are aimed at factories in countries with lower standards of living and fewer labor laws. But this isn't a fool-proof standard: The U.S. territory of Saipan is a frequent target of sweatshop complaints, but clothing produced there still can proudly sport a "Mack in the U.S.A. label.
A more reliable label to check out is the item'., brand name logo. A little online research often can tell you which brands are your best bets for buying sweatshop-free products. Useful Web sites include
and Coop America's
Sprouts & snippets
Not Breathing Easy. In dozens of cities across the country, air quality has declined during the past decade. Nearly half of all Americans now are breathing unhealthy air, according to a new report from the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a nonprofit organization that studies transportation issues. Wondering about your city? Visit
for the online report.
Cleaning Up with Forests. For cheaper, cleaner water, protecting our forests may be our best bet, according to a recent study by the World Wildlife Fund and World Bank. The groups' report, "Running Pure," projects that cities around the world could save billions of dollars on water-treatment plants just by protecting forests in watershed areas.
The report found that some of the world's largest cities have forested watersheds that naturally filter pollutants from the water supply. Extending greater protection to those forests would improve drinking water purity while easing the strain on city budgets. New York City is among the first to clean up with its forests; the city adopted a $1 billion watershed protection program in lieu of a $6 to $8 billion wastewater treatment plant.
Get the GMO Info. As the debate on genetically modified organisms continues to unfold, we're all discovering that the issues involved impact everyone. If you want to stay up to date on this very important issue, The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods has two helpful e-mail newsletters: one monthly, the other biweekly. Just go to
to sign up or for more information.
Except where noted, Green Gazette is written by Megan Phelps and Lindsey Hodel.
Eco-Shop 'til you drop
Are those organic apples from New Zealand a more eco-friendly purchase than the local apples that have been doused with chemicals? Is it OK to eat "farmed" salmon? What is "genetic engineering" anyway? Food shoppers concerned about their health and the fate of the Earth have an increasingly tough time at the supermarket these days. Cynthia Barstow, an environmental/sustainable agriculture-marketing consultant, has responded to our collective confusion with a useful guide, The Eco foods Guide: What's Good for the Earth is Good for You! She dubs herself a "soccer mom," but demonstrates her professional grasp of sustainable foods issues by taking this complex subject and explaining it in simple ways.
Early on in her book, Barstow takes us on a vicarious grocery shopping trip to witness her own selection dilemmas and learn how she ferrets out the truth and decides what to buy. In her user-friendly guide, she explains everything we need to know to be an eco-friendly shopper. Web site addresses abound, and are graphically marked for easy reference.
Barstow urges her readers to venture beyond the supermarkets and explore food-buying alternatives like farmer's markets, roadside stands and CSA (community supported agriculture) subscription services.
Her guide also includes tips for encouraging more healthful school foods, becoming an anti-GMO activist, and a section titled "Food for Thought" that updates readers on the ongoing studies into the ethics of our food systems and the "soul" of our agriculture.
The Eco foods Guide is available on MOTHER's Bookshelf, Page 94.
— Nancy Smith
Calling All Environmentalists
Put your money where your mouth is by signing up for a phone service that donates to nonprofit groups. It's a simple way of giving hack to the planet because all you have to do is talk on the phone.
Founded by a coalition of nonprofit organizations in 1993, Earth Tones offers long distance service and dial up Internet access. Because nonprofit organizations own Earth Tones, 100 percent of its profits go directly to environmental groups.
"Earth Tones was formed to give environmental organizations more money for organizing, advocacy and public education," says Corina McKendry, Earth Tones operations director.
The company also encourages its customers to become "airtime activists" by providing action alerts with their monthly hills and free calls to Congress and other legislative decision-makers. "We believe: that with our new Internet access, even more potential exists for organizing around issues needing immediate attention," . McKendry says. Reach Earth Tones at (888) 327-8.180 or
Working Assets long-distance and cellular-phone service donates 1 percent of its customers' monthly bills to nonprofit groups. Since it began in 1985. Working Assets has donated more than $35 million to causes promoting economic and social justice, the environment and international peace. The company also offers a credit card and donates 10 cents for cacti purchase you make. Action alerts also accompany your bills, and you can rest easier knowing your phone company supports green causes. Reach them at (800 7888588 or
Affinity, a long distance provider, offers a plan that donates 5 percent of its profits to the Context Institute, a research organization dedicated to building a humane and sustainable culture. Find out more at
or at (800) 670-0008.
Mother Earth News