Responsible stewardship of the land and sustainable living are crafts. Living green is an art form requiring no formal training; in fact, we already innately know how to do it. Humans are natural leaders, natural innovators and have always been naturally resourceful. But we've misinterpreted our role on the planet. As a culture we've determined that the Earth is here for our use, and we've in turn treated the environment like a commodity.
But our higher level of consciousness allows us to protect. Our ability to take care of each other - not our might - is what sets us apart from other living things. It is our responsibility, not our gift, that distinguishes us.
There are easy things everyone can do to change their local ecosystem, food habits, communities, health and overall well-being. We don't have to wait around for laws or politicians or policy to change. We are not victims. We are powerful enough to make basic changes at home that will make big ripples. The changes are inexpensive, practical and healthy for everyone.
Here are 10 things each of us can do now to live more sustainably at home.
1. Stop Making Excuses. Don't say you don't have time to cook for yourself, compost or think of ways to make the planet a brighter, sweeter, more beautiful place when the average American spends more than 34 hours a week watching television. Don't say you can't afford organic food if you still have the money for dinners out, a beer at your favorite watering hole, video games, manicures, a satellite radio subscription or a pack of cigarettes. Instead of finding all the reasons why something can't happen, focus on why something can. For the overwhelming majority of people, it is entirely possible to live healthier, happier and to practice responsible land stewardship.
2. Love Your Body. All your work on this planet comes out of you. And the moment you start respecting and loving your own body is the moment you refuse to do anything that would put it in harm's way. Loving your self is the start toward exercise, a healthy whole-foods diet and the end of polluting, mindless buying and disconnection from the real world. Read the ingredients on your soap, shampoo and toothpaste and determine whether you want it on your skin, in your body or in nearby waterways.
3. Copy Nature. Mother Nature is one smart lady. From ethics to food production to giving more than you take, look to the land base for lessons on how to live your life. You've got to start trusting the Earth to provide. Everything you need - each and every thing! - exists in the natural world. The planet provides in abundance for your overall wellness, your medicine and your tools. You may have forgotten your faith in this bounty. That doesn't mean it isn't there.
4. Grow Your Own Food. Growing your own food removes your need for Big Agriculture. By creating your own beds of greens, veggies and even fruit trees, you're taking yourself out of the monster machine that large-scale agriculture has become. There is no reason everyone can't be growing at least some of his or her own food. Even one thing. Even lettuce growing out of reused coffee tins in a sunny kitchen window. If you provide just one vegetable, herb or salad green you love for yourself, you'll be saving exponential amounts of money and fossil fuels otherwise spent in the transportation of that item to you commercially throughout your lifetime. Any fish tank can host an aquaponics array that will give you and your families fresh produce year-round. Herbs can grow in pots hanging from your kitchen walls. Start a community garden with your neighbors if you don't have the time to take care of so much on your own - and then split what you reap.
5. Compost Your Food Scraps. About 20% of what we throw away as waste is actually food. Twenty percent! If no one ever threw a food scrap away ever again that would mean millions of pounds of food scraps each year turning into lush soil for backyard gardeners. Composting would minimize transportation costs associated with hauling garbage away from our homes. And it would nurture the dirt in everyone's backyard. Whether you feed your food scraps directly to your garden, or to a compost tumbler, or to the earthworms living in a container under your New York City apartment sink, you're creating a sustainable, circular system and limiting what gets added to landfills. If you don't have a garden, take your beautiful black topsoil you create and donate it to a community garden or your favorite Green Thumb. There is always a demand for gorgeous, healthy soil.
6. Eat Your Zip Code and Stop Buying Barcodes. We should all seek food closer to home, in our food shed, our own bioregion. This means enjoying seasonality and reacquainting ourselves with our home kitchens. If you're not pulling it from your backyard, see if you can get it from a neighbor's or at the farmers market over the weekend. The popularity of CSAs and markets like this has made it inexcusable to buy in-season veggies from more than 30 miles away. Anything that has a barcode is a packaged food item. Avoid these as much as humanly possible. Sugar, fillers and processed ingredients are the gateways to obesity, heart disease and unnatural consumption. Get rid of this garbage.
7. Touch More. Trees you walk by. Grass. Vegetables and fruits. Each other. Touch creates empathy and a sense of connection. A hand on the back. A hug. The soft petals of a flower. Tactile sensation is extremely important for sensory development. It's therapeutic to many of our ills. We don't do enough of it. Act more patient than you feel, practice kindness, and let people be whoever they are. Loving yourself and each other goes hand in hand with being more loving to the natural world around you. We are all connected.
8. Change Your Shopping Habits. The choices you make as a consumer are your most powerful positioning points as a member of this society. Where you put your money will dictate policy, trends, supply and demand. By making small, smart decisions every day about where your food, clothes, house supplies, beauty products and every thing else you pay for comes from, you will be making the biggest impact of all.
9. Stop Eating So Much Meat. Eighteen percent of what we call the greenhouse effect is believed to be caused by methane, much of which is caused by cud-chewers like sheep, goats, camels, water buffalo and most of all, cattle - of which the world has an estimated 1.2 billion. According to the United Nations, raising animals for food generates more greenhouse-gas emissions than all the cars, planes, ships, trucks and trains in the world combined. Seventy percent of the leveled rain forest in the Amazon is used to raise animals for meat consumption. How much of this stuff do we really need to eat? Try to lessen the amount of meat you consume on a daily basis. Shrink your meat portions when you cook at home. Try out Meatless Mondays or see if you can go a week without. A plant-based diet is a diet of peace: mind, body and soul. If you do buy meat, support the growing number of small farms doing excellent work with crop and animal rotations in pasture. Insist on buying only locally raised organic meats where farmers undertake responsible animal husbandry and holistic management. You should be able to say that the food you consumed - plant or animal - lived a respectable life and was treated fairly. Cleaner, healthier, happier food translates into a better life for you.
10. Stop Throwing Everything Away. Paper towels, plastic cups, plastic straws, cellophane, paper napkins: stop what you are doing! Forty billion plastic utensils are used and thrown out every year in just the US; while paper products top the charts for waste added to landfills at 27%. To meet demand for plastic water bottles, Americans burn the energy equivalent of 32-54 million barrels of oil each year. So start sporting a handkerchief. Refill your water bottles. Buy some cloth napkins for goodness sake! See if you can go a whole year without using a plastic, throwaway shopping bag. Donate clothing, children's toys and used furniture to thrift shops. Post other items online for sale. And instead of paper towels, cut old clothes and towels into rags to pick up spills and clean house.
Have others to add that I missed? Note them in the comments below!