You can do many things to lessen the impact of climate change on your immediate environment. Fortunately, many of these things when done by others also will have a multiplier affect, thus mitigating global climate change. The first thing needed is major shifts in perception, so, before you act, remember the slogan, "it's cool to be green."
We must all realise that nearly every thing we do in the course of living will have an adverse impact upon the planet. Although you may not be able to see the result of your actions, it is nonetheless real.
From the time you awaken in the morning until you close your eyes at night, you are doing things that leave a lasting footprint upon the environment. From the coal that is burned to supply the electricity for your stove, lights and air-conditioner, to the discarded items you dump in the bin, the petrol you use to move from A to B and the sewerage you flush that eventually finds its way to the ocean; we cannot help impacting upon the planet but we can seriously mitigate that impact through our choices and every day decisions.
While we all have a right to a reasonable standard of living, we must learn to think and act responsibly. You will no doubt have heard the catchcry, "Think globally and act locally," but how many of us take any notice? Because we imagine our individual actions having only a minuscule effect, we often tend to ignore the calls to recycle, to use less water, to think before we use the car, or turn on the air-conditioner etcetera but our actions do matter, even though we cannot see the immediate impact. If for nothing but our own selfish reasons we should practice restraint because it makes good economic sense to lower bills for power, water, gas and fuel. However, at the end of the day, we destroy our children's future by our wasteful and thoughtless practices.
Find like-minded groups and individuals
The hardest thing when facing a major crisis is to face it alone. Find and join or form your own Earth Friendly group. Share knowledge, ideas, and source products that the group can share which might be too costly for an individual. The friendships you will make and the support you will gain will be priceless when the impact of global warming begins to bite.
You may even decide to create a commune comprised of eco-friendly buildings and sustainable practices. If you also choose to incorporate meditation and spiritualism into your new way of life you will find a new richness and purpose.
Once you have formed or found such a mutually supportive group, don't stop there. Use the internet to contact other such groups with whom you can interact.
Take it even further and commence pressuring political leaders and big business to take meaningful action using emails, letters and by joining your favorite "green" group.
Vote with your feet and wallet
Here are a few suggestions that will save you money and improve your health and quality of life.
• Stop buying from corporations that damage the environment. When you must purchase products, try to choose those that don't have unnecessary wrapping or packaging and every time you do buy something that is wrapped in environmentally damaging polystyrene or plastic, tell the shopkeeper that you will only buy it if he will let you unpack it at the store and leave him to dispose of the mess.
• Learn to question the ethos of the companies that provide the necessities of life or those that provide medications. Are they good global corporate citizens? If not, take your business elsewhere.
• Read the labels on processed foods and understand what all those numbers represent in terms of your health. Aim instead to buy organic or home-grown natural products.
• Start a vegetable garden and plant fruit trees. You'll enjoy the reward of better tasting, fresher produce grown without environmentally damaging sprays, fertilizers and chemicals.
• Learn to use the marvelous resource of the kerb side collection. You'll be amazed at what people throw away. If you can't use it yourself, swap it; Donate it to the local Op shop or a needy family.
• Learn to compost your organic waste using worms. They're incredibly efficient and interesting creatures and the wormcasts and vermicompost is tremendous for the garden.
• Eat less meat. Livestock herds are a major contributor of GHG and you will be healthier and live longer.
• Oh, and while you're scrounging in those mounds of goodies heaped on the kerb, find yourself a good bicycle to use instead of driving to the local shop etc.
If it all sounds like the hippie era, do not let the connotations of that drug-taking, non-contributing age put you off. You are learning to alter the conduct of the greedy multi-national corporations and self-seeking politicians who have corrupted our thinking and controlled our minds for far too long.
Now just for fun, let's go through a fairly typical day in the life of the average citizen in countries such as the USA or Australian. In the morning, when you leap out of bed and turn the shower on, remember you are using our most precious resource; water. All over the world, rivers and dams are running dry, aquifers are shrinking, lakes disappearing and entire ecosystems are being irrevocably damaged by our insatiable demand for water. Spare a thought too, for the electricity or gas that is needed to heat that water to the level that allows you to luxuriate under its flow.
On average, every Australian family emits 13 tonnes of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere annually. (There is nothing to suggest that families in the USA are any different.) By the simple act of limiting your shower to 3 minutes (which is sufficient to lather the body and rinse and is about one third the time most people take) you reduce those emissions considerably, while saving precious water. Remember, a third of Perth's water is produced via energy-hungry desalination plant. Turn down the thermostat on your water heater too. The chances are it is set too high, resulting in excessive energy consumption. By lowering the water temperature by perhaps 10 degrees, you probably won't notice any difference but you'll save an enormous amount of gas or electricity.
After your morning shower you might typically turn on a heater in winter or the air-conditioner in summer. Stop. Think. Is it really necessary to turn that heater on? Why not put on an additional layer of clothing and slow the meter down?
As you wash your breakfast dishes, consider putting a plastic bowl into the sink to use less water and therefore less energy to heat that water.
Next time you buy cleaning products, choose a natural biodegradable dishwashing liquid in preference to one that is a bi-product of the petroleum industry. Look for other naturally-based cleaning products as well and enjoy the benefits of less exposure to harmful chemicals.
After washing the dishes, use the dishwater on the garden or pot plants instead of tipping down the sink where it eventually ends up in the ocean. Now, as you brush your teeth after breakfast, do you need to leave the tap running? Of course you don't. Also, when washing your hands, would a little cold water run into the basin be just as effective as washing under the running tap?
Before you go out the door on your way to work, turn off all your non-essential electrical appliances that normally would sit drawing stand-by power throughout the day. This one act alone will significantly reduce your power consumption and therefore benefit the environment. Next time you go shopping, you would also be well advised to swap your incandescent light bulbs for the new energy-efficient variety if you haven't already done so.
As you head to the car, consider the alternatives of using public transport, walking or cycling. Maybe it's worth investing in an energy-efficient motor scooter instead of firing up a tonne of steel, because for every 15,000 kilometers traveled, the average family car pumps out 4 tonnes of greenhouse gases. Maybe it's time to talk to co-workers about forming a car pool or sharing transport. Perhaps your boss might let you and fellow employees do a large chunk of your work at home, thus reducing office costs. Talk to him, he might see other ways to reduce his overheads by some of the strategies we've outlined previously. Remind him, that if more employers followed his example or staggered work hours, freeway congestion and associated air pollution could be greatly reduced.
As petrol prices continue to rise, the impact upon the family budget will become more severe. Maybe you should examine whether or not you can find employment closer to home, or relocate before the ever-rising cost of getting to and from work places an intolerable burden upon the family budget. Maybe even consider moving to a country town where housing costs are lower and there are often excellent incentives offered by the local community to attract new life and vitality. The more leisurely pace of life, less stress, and friendlier community environment might more than compensate for the dubious privileges of living in the city. If you have associated health problems such as asthma or bronchitis, they may even disappear with improved air quality.
While you're at work, look around you. Does that thermostat need to be set so that everyone is shivering or removing clothing? Can natural light be used instead of burning all those overhead fluorescent tubes? After saving data, idle computers should be turned off. At lunch time, could you save money and prevent the unnecessary discarding of fast food containers by taking the time to bring a meal from home?
We could go on following you through your typical day, showing you a myriad of ways to help the environment (and your pocket) but we think by now you're beginning to grasp the concept of thinking responsibly and examining your options. It's quite simple really isn't it? It's just a case of pausing before you act, because there's bound to be a way to help the environment, your health and your pocket in nearly everything you do.
Some additional ways to help the environment:
1. Purchase energy efficient products (aluminum products take more energy to produce than plastic)
2. Purchase a hybrid or electric car or motor scooter,
3. Eat less meat because human consumption of meat results in massive emissions of methane from livestock herds,
4. Buy products that can be recycled,
5. Contribute to tree planting schemes to offset carbon dioxide emissions from your home.
6. Check the energy star efficiency labels on electrical appliances before purchasing them to get the least damaging to the environment and your pocket,
7. Seal up cracks around windows and doors to reduce energy loss,
8. Insulate your ceiling,
9. Cover windows with blinds, curtains or drapes to reduce energy use,
10. Use natural products for cleaning,
11. Put a "No Junk Mail" sticker on your letter box,
12. Recycle newspapers and magazines and consider whether you really need that newspaper delivered every day,
13. Don't purchase take away foods or other products that come with environmentally damaging and wasteful Styrofoam packaging,
14. Take old clothing and shoes to a second hand store for recycling,
15. Don't dump car batteries, torch batteries and printer cartridges. Take them to a recycling center.
16. Don't dump old household appliances and furniture into landfill – recycle instead,
17. Recycle used glass, metal and aluminum cans and plastic bottles,
18. Turn up the thermostat setting during summer if you must turn the air-conditioner on. Consider using a fan instead,
19. In winter, put on an extra layer of clothing rather than turn on the heater.
20. Shut doors to prevent heat loss and only heat the room you're using,
21. Turn off lights in rooms as you leave them vacant,
22. Consider installing "energy strips" that will automatically turn off unwanted appliances that would normally use standby power,
23. Use calico bags when you go shopping,
24. Avoid products that have been transported long distances and help reduce emissions from transport,
25. Install water saving shower heads and dual flush toilet cisterns (or even put a brick in the cistern),
26. Turn off garden reticulation systems after rain.
(Copyright Alan Greenhalgh 2008)