The Obligatory WGY Earth Day Top Ten

In the earth day tradition, I thought I’d make a list of personal actions that can help save the planet – one that skips over the usual lime green “buy a hybrid and recycle” message and gets right to the good stuff. What follows, then, is my list of ten not-so-inconsequential things we can all do to green up our act, and live a healthier and happier life in the process.

1. Know your footprint. Knowledge is power, and the first step in reducing your impact is educating yourself. It’s not always easy to retrace the consequences of our actions; the extraordinary complexity of global material flows tends to obscure the ways in which our everyday lives are unsustainable. But this much is certain: flying, driving, creating trash, and eating meat are the lifestyle choices with the biggest footprint.

2. Demand more from the places where you shop. Ask the manager of your local big box store why they’re still using plastic bags, now that cities are starting to ban them. Request FSC-Certified paper at the copy shop. Inquire about the growing conditions of the food at your favorite restaurant. These kinds of signals actually make a difference to retailers, especially those keen on improving their green cred.

3. Watch your waste. On average, Americans generate 4.5 pounds of waste per day, most of it ending up in a landfill. The vast majority of that waste can be eliminated through composting, recycling, buying products that aren’t overpackaged, and creative re-use. I always try to keep a few plastic bags stashed away in my backpack, for example.

4. Question consumption. The greenest product is the one you don’t buy. To be sure, consumerism is a tough addiction to break: hundreds of billions of dollars are spent every year to convince us that our wants are needs. But the less you buy, the less you realize you really need, and nothing beats the empowering feeling of taking the means of production back into your own hands.

5. Localize. It’s a good idea to be aware of where everything you buy is coming from, but it’s especially important for food. Subscribe to a CSA and get local, organic produce every week for less-than-Whole Foods prices. If you have a yard, take sustenance into your own hands and begin to make it agriculturally productive.

6. Get to know your neighbors. As much as it’s about energy, waste, or food, sustainability is about rebuilding our communities. Introduce yourself to the family down the street. Hold a potluck or a block party, and get people engaged about the environmental civilizational issues we’ll all face in the next few years.

7. Unplug. Our technological society is constantly pressuring us to keep up with the latest news, tunes and celebrity gossip – but how much do these things actually improve our lives? Discover the art of unplugging: encourage creative distractions rather than passive ones, and favor the real world over the screen. You’ll be amazed at how much more you feel connected to the people and places around you – not to mention having a lot more time on your hands (just ask no impact man).

8. Put your money where your mouth is. If you have investments, make sure they’re in line with your social and environmental values. Green investment blogger Tom Konrad is just one of many great resources out there for greening your portfolio. Sometimes, though not always, SRIs have a slower rate of return. But look at it this way: would you rather have a 20% yield in 5 years, or a habitable world in 50?

9. Know your ecosystem. Most of us live in urbanized areas, where nature often seems all but invisible – but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Seek it out. Learn to distinguish the native species of your area (plants too!), and pay attention to patterns of the wind, water and seasons.

10. Get in touch with the big picture. Until we understand our larger role in the history of humanity and the universe, we’ll be stuck in the destructive, short-term mode of thinking that got us here. Whether it’s through science, meditation or prayer, take a few minutes each day to get some perspective on your place in the bigger scheme of things, and let the insights you gain guide your day-to day actions.


3 thoughts on “The Obligatory WGY Earth Day Top Ten

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hot. Simply hot.

    …not a global warming kind of hot, either. This is a good, productive, healthy heat. The kind of warmth that when combined with the right seeds sprouts new and beautiful growth.

  2. Tom says:

    Thanks for plugging socially responsible investment, but I don’t think we need to sacrifice return to do the right thing for the planet.

    Stocks underperform when the future turns out to be not as good for the company in question than people thought, and they outperform when expectations turn out to be too modest.

    The trick is finding companies that have better prospects than other investors expect… this is always difficult, but no harder among socially responsible companies than any other sort of company.

  3. Historicus says:

    “The modern world,” Rachel Carson observed in 1963, “worships the gods of speed and quantity, and of the quick and easy profit, and out of this idolatry monstrous evils have arisen.” The reduction of nature to factory–like forms of organization in the interest of rapid economic returns, she argued, lies behind our worst ecological problems. Such realities are, however, denied by the vested interests who continue to argue that it is possible to continue as before only on a larger scale, with economics (narrowly conceived) rather than ecology having the last word on the environment in which we live. The depth of the ecological and social crisis of contemporary civilization, the need for a radical reorganization of production in order to create a more sustainable and just world, is invariably downplayed by the ruling elements of society, who regularly portray those convinced of the necessity of meaningful ecological and social change as so many “Cassandras” who are blind to the real improvements in the quality of life that everywhere surround us. Industry too fosters such an attitude of complacency, while at the same time assiduously advertising itself as socially responsible and environmentally benign. Science, which all too often is prey to corporate influence, is frequently turned against its own precepts and used to defend the indefensible—for example, through risk management analysis”(John Foster, Ecology against Capitalism).

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