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Years ago, a friend told me a story of an acquaintance with strong environmental leanings who hoped to teach his children the importance of nature and environmental protection. One day, while riding in the car with his children, her friend was giving a friendly lecture to his children on the value of recycling. When he had finished, his son asked, “Dad, if recycling’s so good, why don’t we do it?”
Over the past decade, I’ve spoken to hundreds of audiences about environmental protection, many of which were populated by environmental educations and environmental enthusiasts. Numerous people in my audiences have admitted to me in private that they don’t do enough — or don’t do much at all. They talk a good talk, but don’t seem to be able really to walk their talk.
Leo Tolstoy may have said it best, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” A cynical friend once remarked, “Environmentalists are people who want to tell others how to live.”
While I know many dedicated environmentalists who really walk their talk, I know a fair number who “think globally, but act vocally.” They complain and provide advice for others, but don’t do much to help make a better world. To them, knowing the answer is not always living the answer.
If you’re one of those individuals whose sentiments and actions are out of alignment, here are fifteen steps you can take to dramatically reduce your impact and help create a truly sustainable future.
1. Install compact fluorescent light bulbs in the most commonly used light fixtures in your house.
2. Hire a professional to perform an energy audit on your home, then weatherize your home and beef up the insulation.
3. Install and use a programmable thermostat. It will cut your heating and cooling bills by 10 percent or more.
4. Plant shade trees to keep your house cooler in the summer.
5. Install water-conserving fixtures such as water-efficient showerheads and water-efficient toilets.
6. Replace worn out appliances such as clothes washers, dishwashers, furnaces and air conditioners with energy and water-efficient models. Buy Energy Star qualified models.
7. If you water your lawn, water early or late in the day and replace water-hungry grasses with low-water grasses, and remove sections of lawn that are hard to water and wasteful of water.
8. Recycle all household waste from newspapers to cardboard to aluminum to glass.
9. Compost all kitchen scraps (except meat and bones) and yard waste. Compost in your backyard and use the compost to enrich the soils in your flower and vegetable gardens.
10. Eat more vegetables and less meat. Buy organic vegetables whenever possible.
11. Carpool, ride a bike, walk, or take the bus whenever possible.
12. Replace gas-guzzling vehicles with fuel-efficient models getting 40 miles per gallon or more.
13. Curb consumption. Learn to live more simply. Buy less. Buy used goods. Practice green gift giving.
14. Reduce the number of pets you keep. Hard as it is to swallow, our pets have a huge impact on the environment, one rarely discussed these days for fear of offending pet lovers. Cats, for instance, kill several hundred million songbirds each year. Pets such as cats and dogs produce mountains of solid waste that may wash into nearby streams during heavy storms. Feeding cats, dogs, parakeets, cockatiels, and other pets also requires enormous acreage, land that was once wildlife habitat, and energy for processing and shipping food.
15. Drop those extra pounds. Weight loss is another important environmental strategy, though never mentioned. Today, over 60 percent of all American adults and 15 percent of all children are overweight. They take in more calories than the need. In fact, the average American requires 2,200 calories per day, but consumes 3,200 — 1,000 calories extra, which accounts for the extra poundage that leads to late-onset diabetes, heart attacks, and other medical problems.
Consuming calorie-rich food in excess, which has become something of an American pastime, is not only unhealthy it requires more resources. The more food we eat, the more land is required, the more energy and materials are used, the more fertilizer that’s needed, the more pesticides are applied to our land, and the more pollution is produced. Taking care of health problems also requires massive amounts of money and resources.
By eating less and maintaining health, we can lower our environmental impact — and quite dramatically.
These steps can dramatically reduce your impact on the environment, the first step in building a sustainable future.
Most of the steps are easy. If you put your mind to them, change your priorities, refocus on your values and commit to living by your ideals, well, anything is possible.
And if hundreds of thousands of people in each state follow suit, we can make huge inroads into current problems and help steer our society back onto a sustainable path.
Contributing editor Dan Chiras is a renewable energy and green homes expert who has spent a lifetime learning life’s lessons, which he shares in his popular blog, Dan Chiras on Loving Life. He’s the founder and director of The Evergreen Institute and president of Sustainable Systems Design. Contact him by visiting his website or finding him on Google+.