ARE YOU PROBLEM OR SOLUTION?
By Ross Bishop
There are many problems today – the soft economy, the housing market, global warming, ineffectual schools, the political system, uncaring corporations, Wall Street corruption, natural disasters and European economic collapse. So what can you do? You can’t change the world, right?
You, your friends and neighbors have enormous power, but until you collectively use it, you defer that power and to the special interests who are only too happy to take it. You would be amazed at what can happen when a number of us make changes in our everyday choices.
We live in a world of incredible convenience, but every convenience comes at a significant price, whether it’s energy consumption, refuse in landfills, downstream chemical pollution or adding to global warming.
Today your choices encourage marketers to continue creating “convenience products” to serve your desire to have an easy life. And so long as you are willing to pay the cost for not being “inconvenienced,” the corporations have no incentive to change.
And that’s the problem: being a responsible consumer is inconvenient. It is easy to throw your laundry in the drier rather than hanging it outside. Scratch cooking takes time and planning. Microwave foods are convenient. Recycling is a hassle. Buying at the Farmer’s Market is expensive and it means an extra shopping trip. Bringing your own shopping bags is a nuisance. Eating organic is expensive. Eating meat is the American way. Buying sweatshop made products at WalMart saves money. Saving energy means the house won’t be as comfortable.
No one is asking you to carry water in a bucket, use an outhouse or churn your own butter, but many of our convenience choices have a significant impact on the planet and really don’t provide all that much in return. Your life would actually improve if you dumped some of them.
The problem with conveniences is that each individual thing may seem small but in the aggregate, the impacts can be devastating. Tossing a plastic bottle in the garbage is not a big deal, but 35 billion plastic bottles in landfills each year creates an enormous environmental problem. Consider just a few other examples: If every household in America replaced just ONE BOX of 175-count facial tissue with a 100% recycled product, we would save 385,000 trees, 140 million gallons of water and almost a million cubic feet of landfill space.
If every household substituted just ONE BOX of petroleum-based laundry detergent with a plant-derived detergent, we would save 165,000 barrels of oil (that’s almost 7 million gallons). That is enough to heat and cool 9,500 homes for a year! Plus there would be an immense reduction in the need for wastewater treatment! That’s for one box of detergent! The average family goes through a dozen or more of those in a year.
You would see a real impact if you eased up on your consumption of meat. Producing meat is an incredible resource hog. The biggest single contributor to global warming (20% of the total) is from the meat industry. Raising animals for food requires more than one-third of all raw materials and fossil fuels used in the United States. More than half of the U.S. water supply goes to livestock production. It takes 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of water and 15 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. That’s the monthly water use for a family of four, and fifteen pounds of grain would feed your entire neighborhood!
Doing something about these excesses requires making sacrifices, and frankly, we’re not very good at that. Our grandparents did that sort of thing. . . But without asking you to turn into an eco-freak, there are some fairly simple things that everyone can (and should) be doing:
THINGS WE ALL SHOULD DO
1. Hang out your laundry. It smells better, is better for the clothes, the environment and it saves a lot of energy. Your clothes dryer is a huge energy hog.
2. Eat meatless one day a week. It is much healthier, and the benefit to the planet would simply be incredible!
3. Recycle. It is mind boggling how much reusable trash gets thrown into landfills every day! 35 billion recyclable plastic bottles each year, 100 billion plastic bags, 2% of which are ever recycled. One thousand miles off the coast of California and New York are islands of floating plastic, each twice as large as the state of Texas, fouling the water and killing wildlife.
Consider this: every piece of plastic that has ever been made sits somewhere in a landfill. The stuff does not degrade! Very little of it can be recycled and very little of what can be reused ever is.
4. Use Eco-friendly cleaners, laundry detergent, dish soap, recycled paper products, etc. They may be more expensive, but this is the sort of sacrifice we all need to make in order to reduce the burden of chemical toxicity and deforestation on the planet.
5. Use your own shopping bags. Europeans have done this for years to no discernible detriment.
6. Eat organic as much as you can afford. It’s much better for your health and is enormously better for the planet. If I could show you the terrible nutritional content of the fresh produce you buy from the store, you probably would not believe me. Modern factory agriculture is not your friend.
7. Plant a garden! It’s one of the healthiest things you can do for your family, it’s great exercise, it’s fabulous for the planet and it will save you a lot of money!
8. Save vegetable kitchen scraps (freeze them) for soup stock, or bury them in the garden instead of tossing them in the garbage. It reduces the burden on landfills and is good for the soil.
9. Shop at your local Farmer’s Market. It’s more nutritious, reduces industrial transportation and supports the local economy. Yes, it’s more expensive, but consider it an investment in your family’s health.
10. When you shop, try to buy whole unprocessed food. Yes, it means more cooking and planning time. Avoid buying processed food whenever possible. Especially avoid: processed meat, hydrogenated oils, GMO products, artificial sweeteners, benzoate preservatives, high fructose corn syrup (sodas, fruit juice, etc.), Olestra and any ingredient you cannot pronounce or that your grandmother would not recognize.
11. Be careful of franchise restaurant food and restaurants that serve factory made, pre-prepared entres. Most of it is loaded with chemicals and preservatives. There are a few franchise exceptions like Noodles & Company, Chipotle, Cosi, Panera and Au Bon Pain. Some franchises are starting to offer healthier choices. If possible, eat at locally owned restaurants that use healthy local ingredients and cook from scratch. Those who do this will be proud to tell you if you ask.
12. Become a more responsible consumer. Take a little time and learn about the products you buy and the companies who produce them. Is your coffee or chocolate produced under slave-like conditions? Was your cell phone or running shoes made in a sweat-shop? What about your jeans? Now that I know more about them, I feel better about buying things from companies like Burt’s Bees, Newman’s Own, Kashi, Ben & Jerry’s and TOMS shoes, etc. A couple of these have been bought by large corporations, but have kept their integrity intact.
There are a number of web sites that rank companies on their social consciousness. Some even have cell phone apps that allow you to scan bar codes and learn about your prospective purchases. The Ethical Consumer (http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/) is great publication for the UK, but I have not found anything similar here in the states. Web sites I have used are: http://www.free2work.org/ mobile app, www.chainstorereaction.com, www.shoptostopslavery.com and
There is more you can do if you want to take these ideas further. The web is a great source of information.
Live in good health!
Copyright 2009 Blue Lotus Press