Okay, you’ve changed all your light bulbs to CFLs. Now you’re curious about what you can do to color your eco-conscious lifestyle with an even deeper shade of green. Here are five tips guaranteed to make the most dramatic reduction to your carbon footprint. They require more significant lifestyle changes than replacing your shampoo with organic botanicals, but given the alarming state of our environment, perhaps it’s time for something more drastic.
One of the most significant drains on our natural resources and contributors to global warming? Meat. The United Nations recently listed raising animals for food as “one of the top two or three most significant contributions to the most serious environmental problems at every scale, from local to global.” Growing animals for food is one of the most resource-intensive practices on the planet. Half of the fresh water consumed in the U.S. is used for livestock. Eighty percent of the agricultural land in the U.S. is used to raise animals, and 70% of the grains we grow goes directly to feed farm animals, a process that is energy intensive. In fact, a third of all fossil fuels produced in the U.S. are used to raise livestock—which produce 130 times as much excrement as the entire U.S. population, excrement that ends up polluting our ground and surface water due to a lack of regulations. The negative impact from the livestock industry is colossal, directly affecting water consuption, energy use, and the 840 million starving people on this planet. www.goveg.com.
On average, each ingredient on your plate traveled 1,500 miles from the farm to your belly. Eat a salad with the typical produce sold in most grocery stores, and that meal is responsible for possibly tens of thousands of petroleum-sucking food miles. The solution? Cut back on products that are shipped from far corners of the world and concentrate on eating local fare grown within 100 miles of your home. Of course, the best and most local option of all is your own backyard. Plant a garden and enjoy the freshest, healthiest, and most eco-friendly fruits and veggies in town. sustainableagriculture.net.
RECYCLE AND COMPOST
Shockingly, only 33% of Americans recycle, which means those Earth Day specials starring Alan Alda during the ‘90s didn’t have a lasting affect on the population as a whole. We know in our gut that BRO readers already recycle their PBR empties, but what about composting? The average American produces 4.4 pounds of garbage a day—half of which is made up of organic material like food scraps, paper, and yard waste. Those same organic materials can be composted in inexpensive plastic bins, turning them into carbon-rich fertilizer for your garden. Between recycling and composting, you could feasibly cut your landfill production by 75%. recyclenow.com.
It’s the most simple thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint, and yet it’s the last resort for most of us. Americans drive 12,000 miles a year on average, but 15% of all trips in the U.S. are less than a mile long. If we all substituted one short car trip a day with a walking trip, we’d save 8.4 billion gallons of gas and 8.2 billion tons of carbon emissions every year. If you can manage to drive ten fewer miles each week, you’d cut your personal carbon emissions by 500 pounds a year. Inventory the trips you make in your car and decide which ones could feasibly be substituted with a walk or bike ride. Develop a walking schedule and stick to it. drivelesslivemore.com.
This could be the toughest habit to break. We are a society that is obsessed with stuff. By the time we buy the iPod, we’re already saving for the newer, better version. “Reduce” is the first item in the old environmentalist’s mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Yet the U.S. has more shopping malls than high schools. When the terrorists attacked, our president asked us to show solidarity by shopping. The average American consumes twice as much as we did 50 years ago. If everyone in the world consumed at U.S. rates, we would need five planets to house our goods and trash. Consuming less would have an overwhelming affect on the amount of goods produced, the amount of energy and petroleum used to produce those goods, and the amount of goods that end up in our landfills. Still need convincing? Check out the 20-minute video at storyofstuff.com.
A growing number of people have taken to rummaging through the garbage for food and other products in an attempt to minimize their impact on the environment. Dumpsters behind grocery stores are a hotbed of Freegan activity, as the stores often are required to throw away bread, canned goods, eggs, cereal, and fruit well before the food has expired. www.freegan.info.
Are we really recommending you get into a car with a stranger? Not exactly. We’re suggesting you get into a car with strangers who share similar interests. Goloco.com is a social networking site for people looking to cut their gas consumption down by carpooling. Create a personal profile and find other commuters in your town who are religious fanatics, Obama supporters, or metal heads. goloco.com.
VOTE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
The environment has gotten cursory lip service in previous elections, only to have the thunder stolen by topics like the economy and international affairs. This year, more than ever, remember that the environment directly affects big ticket items like the economy and international relations. Log on to the League of Conservation Voters to see what environmental legislation is currently being debated in Congress as well as how green your representatives have voted in the past. lcv.org.
DITCH THE CATALOGS
Twenty billion catalogs are distributed world wide every year, most of which are unsolicited. You probably get two or three random catalogs a week, which you either recycle or throw in the trash. Very few of those catalogs contain recycled paper. In fact, eight million tons of trees are cut down specifically to produce those unwanted catalogs. Check out Catalogcutdown.org for a service that will take you off the catalog mailing list (think: No Call Registry for junk mail). catalogcutdown.org.
SAVE THE BEES, SAVE THE WORLD
One third of the fruits and vegetables we eat depend on honeybee pollination to thrive. It’s a disturbing figure when you consider 70% of the managed bee population in the U.S. has disappeared over the last decade. It’s called Bee Colony Collapse Disorder, and scientists aren’t exactly sure what’s causing it. A virus? Pesticides? Global warming? You can help fight it by supporting honeybee research, buying pesticide-free organic produce, and planting a native plant and wildflower garden.
These eco-suggestions may not have as big of an impact on global warming than the five solutions listed above, but you have to admire the innovation and level of commitment involved in each.