Resolving to be more green, and resources to do so!
If one of your resolutions is be more green, live more lightly on the planet, or just save… money (while doing something good for the planet)…consider my list of 5 key areas for action you might take on:
You may not be ready to total convert your life to be instantly green but you can start by trying one or all of these practices once and increasing it from there.
My suggestions are packed full of links (in red) to other resources where you can dig deeper. Spend some time educating yourself on one of the topics and make at least one New Year’s resolution to adopt a green upgrade to your life.
1) Eat more local & organic food (or at least chemical-free)
Start with one meal a week and work up to one meal a day. Once you discover the joys of eating fresh food, in season, that didn’t travel far and wasn’t sprayed with lots of nasty chemicals, maybe even grown by someone you know, you may find you want every meal to be that way! Plus when you shop at the local farmers’ markets you can enjoy live music, a social setting and the chance to meet the fine folks who grow your food. Try growing some of your own food, at home, at a neighbor’s, or in a community/school/church garden. I helped start a new program last year, called Citizen Gardener, to get more people started growing food inside the City. If growing is not your thing or you want to supplement what you harvest, check out the farm stands, farmers’ markets an/or consider a CSA or a delivery service like Greenling Organics. The City of Austin and Travis County jointly created a new Sustainable Food Policy Board, which I will be serving, at the pleasure of Councilmember Randi Shade. We will soon be putting together our vision of what we want to happen in Central Texas as it relates to sustainable food.
2) Drive fewer miles
Please!!! Austin has one of the worst rankings for vehicle miles traveled (55th place and almost double what they drive in the NY tri-state area) . That means we spend a lot of time behind the wheel and are burning lots of fossil fuels into our local airshed rather than swimming in Barton Springs, relaxing or spending time with loved ones. Who wants to spend their life in traffic? There are many ways to tackle this… Combine trips. Walk, bike, carpool or use public transit (even once a week). Work from home. Arrange for a work week that is four 10-hour days. If you have the option to move closer to where you work or attend school the time and money you don’t spend driving can help you justify spending a little more on where you live. And here’s another thought…what if you were to get rid of one vehicle from your household and fill in the gaps with biking, riding the bus/train, carpooling, or using a carsharing program and check our cars or trucks from a program like Austin CarShare.
3) Buy/Use less Stuff and send less stuff to the landfill
First, if you have not yet watched The Story of Stuff, please budget 20 minutes sometime today to watch this fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. So if you have already asked yourself if you really need a particular product or service, and the answer is “YES,” first see if you can borrow it, rent it or barter for it. If you do have to go shopping, try to find a used version through a thrift or consignment store, garage sale or swap.. If you must buy new, shop locally, within walking distance if possible, and of course take your own bag. Then look to buy products with minimal packaging (this is called precycling). For the truly advanced, practice what I call Practice “X-ray shopping” – Shop with eyes and a mind that can see beyond the surface to detect the story of how that product came to be (again, WATCH the Story of Stuff!). Then there’s the mantra, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” and I’ll add “Compost”. For the stuff that ends up in your home, Austin’s new single-stream recycling and Ecology Action’s expanded locations, it just got a lot easier to recycle a lot more items in Central Texas. We are no longer pained by having to throw out those pesky yogurt containers, hummus tubs and #5 and #6 bottles. [Note: Even with the current trek that Austin’s recyclables are making to Garland, the fact that MORE material is picked up, every OTHER week, diversion rate is higher and the environmental footprint of this method still comes out ahead. (We will, of course be pushing for a comprehensive local zero waste plan and local handling of materials in the coming weeks and months. )] Take advantage of the lawn and leaf collection days, bulky trash pick ups and the household hazardous waste drop-off facility. Another strategy is to divert organic matter (lawn/yard waste and food scraps (especially fruit and veggie parts), egg shells, coffee grinds, paperboard, etc) to compost piles. Organic material in landfills doesn’t compost, it is mummified and putrefies and creates methane gas and potential water table leakage when the liners eventually wear out. Composting is so awesome that just about everybody who can wrap their head around the NUMEROUS benefits of compost becomes a compost evangelist and soil worshipper! If a group of us who have been visioning a more sustainable future are successful, there will be neighborhood gardens and compost centers. If you have a yard there are many varieties of compost bins you can purchase or construct. In the meantime, I believe ANYONE can compost, even if you have no yard. I live in a condo and keep a bucket in my freezer that I walk over to a friend’s yard when it gets full. Dropping off my compost creates a fun excuse to be social and I occasionally get to share in the bounty of their garden. There are people who feed their food scraps to a bin of earthworms under their sink and love it!
4) Eat lower on the food chain, toward a plant-based diet
According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions (and thus contributes more to global warming) than all the cars and trucks on the planet. It is also a major source of land and water degradation. Wow! And that doesn’t even account for the massive energy, water and food inputs that it takes to produce animal protein from plant material. It takes the most energy and material inputs to produce a lamb, beef, eggs, pork, dairy and poultry. Fish are not this chart, but beware, fish farming is not so great from an environmental perspective, and many of the world’s fish have already been overfished and/or are in danger of not being able to regenerate their populations. I won’t go into any details but CAFOs (Confined Animal Feed Operations), where most of the meat eaten by Americans comes from, are worse that Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and anything else where torture and inhumane treatment are allowed. Many of them also lead to pollution of waterways, and lots of emissions. These places should be abolished and replaced by sustainable agriculture practices that give animals a good life while building soil, the basis of our life here on Earth. It’s possible to be very healthy and be vegetarian or vegan, but if you have determined that meat is an essential part of your diet, opt for smaller portions of the good stuff you can find at the farmers’ markets and select retail establishments, like People’s Pharmacy. Always seek out organic dairy products (just reading the details of the CAFO and conventional dairy are enough to turn my stomach)
5) Conserve Water & Conserve Energy
Sooooo much has been written about conserving energy and water (including a whole book written by my friend Susan Meredith Beyond Lightbulbs: Lighting the Way to Smarter Energy Management), that I’ll put in some links here and call this blog post done.
In case you didn’t know, the largest single user of electricity in the City of Austin is the Water utility. So, saving water not only saves a precious resource (we are in record drought) but saves energy and the associated pollution that goes along with extraction and burning of those fuels. Solar and renewable energy are great but it’s a lot more efficient to cut demand first. See these sites for lots of resources, tips and rebates:
* Austin Water Conservation * Austin Energy Efficiency * Austin Energy Green Building
For further tips see the Austin Climate Protection Plan’s Green Tips lists, which are very good. For an amusing dose of green living tips, subscribe to Ideal Bite. I have also been impressed with the Sierra Club’s “The Green Life” daily green tips.
OK, there are at least 1000 more tips I could have written but for now, I’m happy to tell you that the coming year (hopefully before the next Solstice) there will be a fully functional green portal website built, the Austin EcoNetwork, and there will be primers and discussions on a myriad of environmental topics. If you feel like an issue expert or just a great researcher, you can apply to be a subject leader. Details forthcoming. If you know you are interested, send an email to Christa.firstname.lastname@example.org.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
I am thrilled to be stepping into a new year that will have Obama as president, an energized population, and a lot on my plate to keep me productively engaged. I look forward to working with many of you to create effective dialogue about issues of sustainability that leads to ACTION and a healthy, thriving city with healthy, thriving people .
Wishing you a prosperous and peaceful new year.