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“I feel more confident than ever that the power to save the planet rests with the individual consumer.” – Denis Hayes
Does it matter what I do?
Being green, sustainable, and eco-friendly or just ecologically aware and responsible, is now more important than ever. Many are saying that what individuals do is unlikely to stop or reverse climate change at this point. Also we now know that green washing rhetoric won’t solve anything. However, this doesn’t mean that doing what you can do isn’t still as important as ever.
“Do you feel it’s a waste of time trying to prevent climate change? That reducing your carbon footprint is pointless when someone else is happy to increase theirs? That changing lightbulbs is a futile gesture? Well don’t, says Michael Pollan, in today’s G2, because even small changes in your lifestyle – and your thinking – can help save the world.”- The Guardian
Being green is the only win-win option. There are a number of action areas an individual can consider taking depending on one’s circumstances which are discussed below. Visit Green Shortz (video), a fun and humorous resource where anyone can learn how to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.
Mass Consumerism: The Story of Stuff
We have entered a time of mass consumerism and the story of stuff (video) and never enough. Insatiable greed is putting our species at risk in many ways. In order to avoid death human beings seek happiness in all the wrong places, they succumb to addiction and get lost. Ernest Becker said “the idea of death, and the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else.” In this profound video ,”I Shop, Therefore I Am” (video) these concepts are introduced.
“People like to have a lot of stuff because it gives them the feeling of living forever,” says American social psychologist Sheldon Solomon, who believes today’s materialism and consumerism will have disastrous consequences. It turns out we are searching for something we already have and that enough is actually enough. In this DW Documentary video on money, happiness and the search for eternal life this is discussed further:
“For a culture to avoid self-destruction as it progresses, writes Henry George in his classic 1883 work Social Problems, it must develop ‘a higher conscience, a keener sense of justice, a warmer brotherhood, a wider, loftier, truer public spirit’, while ensuring responsible and visionary leaders who embrace ‘the mental and moral universe’. By stark contrast, modern consumer culture barrels in the opposite direction, breeding an increasingly trivialized and disengaged strain of personhood, devoid of the ‘loftier’ qualities needed to sustain a viable society and healthy life supports.” – John F Schumaker
Go Green in 2019
We look to world leaders to stop our challenges with climate change. However, world leaders can’t make us stop shopping, consuming, using plastics and chemically polluting the entire planet with our constant demand for stuff, in fact they are relying on that demand. This is one thing that’s completely up to each individual to stop if we are to change this problem. We actually employ Trump and his administration, as well as leaders just like him all over the world and pay them through our taxes, to keep that story of stuff going and to keep all that stuff coming to us. This is called supply chain economics and in a limitless growth based capitalist system it is a deadly addiction.
It’s now more important than ever to become aware of this, to slow and if possible stop, consumerism and go green. Despite many saying this won’t stop climate change, this does make a vast difference. Be the change you wish to see in the world. It starts with you, especially in this case. Do what you can.
What is Sustainability?
According to Global Footprints, “there is no universally agreed definition on what sustainability means. There are many different views on what it is and how it can be achieved. The idea of sustainability stems from the concept of sustainable development which became common language at the World’s first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.”
The World Commission on Environment and Development describes sustainable development as “a process in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations”.
What is Permaculture?
According to the Wikipedia, “permaculture is a set of design principles centered around whole systems thinking simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems.” Today there are numerous permaculture resources for those living almost anywhere to get started with some aspects of this lifestyle.
Retrosburbia is encouraging permaculture and sustainable lifestyles for urban dwellers, rural communities and beyond. From tiny homes, to composting, to fermenting your own foods there are lot’s of fun ways to get started with living in harmony with nature.
CoolClimate Maps | BERKELEY.EDU
Interactive carbon footprint map from the CoolClimate Calculator. Find out how you compare to local averages and create a personalized climate action plan for you or your community.
Making Better Choices is Always Possible
Here is a list of personal choices you can make that will help alleviate many issues we are now facing as a society as well as begin to address the challenges of climate change.
This is one of the personal choices that will have the most impact on the environment with the following list of considerations:
- Reducing or eliminating one’s consumption of meat and associated products. Refer to the following article for more information: Meat, To Eat or Not to Eat. There is also some information provided on our Diet Critical Stress page.
- There are three very broad categories of plant-rich diets to choose from: vegan, vegetarian, and low-meat.
- Choosing local verses global sources of food.
- Choosing organic.
- Drawdown reference: Food with a note to look at the Demand-Side solutions listed there.
This is a broad area of consideration for individuals with many options available.
This is perhaps one of the least expensive actions related to energy one can take. Some examples are as follows:
- Moving from Incandescent to LED bulbs. LED bulbs have steadily come down in price and are a quick and easy way to reduce. Drawdown reference: LED Lighting (Household).
- When it’s time to replace a florescent tube or associated ballast consider converting from florescent to LED tubes. There are many videos on YouTube that explain how you can do this. Here is just one of them: How to easily convert fluorescent Lights to LED –Easy Ways to Save Money.
- Retrofitting your dwelling to reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling:
- Improving the insulation and plugging airleaks in one’s home. Drawdown reference: Insulation.
- Moving to more energy efficient windows.
- The use of a Smart Thermostat to reduce one’s heat consumption. Drawdown reference: Smart Thermostats.
- Using a clothesline (indoor or outdoor) instead of a dryer or arranging to run the dryer at non-peak hours.
Using Renewable Energy Sources (Electricity)
This is perhaps one of the more challenging changes to implement for individuals. Assuming one is connected to a domestic electric power grid one can first try and determine the percentage of renewable sources used to feed the power grid in one’s area. There can be large differences in the renewable make up depending on the Country, State/Province, and Municipality. Most grids have to consider base load and peak load sources. In many countries the primary sources are non-renewable and fossil fuel based. In those instances it is worth considering various means of offsetting one’s use of non-renewable sources. Here are some example scenarios:
- Investing in a rooftop solar panel system. Drawdown reference: Rooftop Solar. These systems can either be connected for Net Metering (See this Video-1) or as a Feed In Tariff (FIT, See this Video-2) source. This option can be capital intensive and hence not attractive for many individuals who are uncertain about how long they intend to stay in a particular location. If one has a fairly stable situation this is a great way to save money and help the environment. Here’s another video that is very informative (Video-3).
- For those in a less stable situation or for someone who does not own their dwelling (e.g. apartment or rental dweller) one can consider buying Renewable Energy Certificates (or RECs, See these Video-1 , Video-2 ) from a reputable supplier. This typically means that one will continue to pay the utility the same amount and also pay an additional amount to the REC supplier that is proportional to one’s energy consumption. This allows them to supply renewable energy into the grid on your behalf. This essentially allows an individual to transform their energy consumption to All Renewable without the large initial capital outlay associated with a solar panel installation. This approach requires a certain sense of altruism for the environment as one essentially pays a higher rate for one’s energy. Many environmentally conscientious people in developed nations have chosen to take this path as a personal action.
Using Renewable Energy Sources (Home Heating & Hot Water)
For many people living at higher latitudes (> 30 degrees North or South) on the planet home heating is an essential use of energy. It may surprise many people to know that it is possible to use renewable energy to heat their home and water. There are multiple option of which we’ll only mention a handful as follows:
- One easy method for those who use natural gas to heat their homes is to switch to using Green Natural Gas (Drawdown Reference: Landfill-Methane) through the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (or RECs). See these two videos (Video-1, Video-2 ) for an explanation on how this can be done. You can also view this link for more information on this.
- Another more capital intensive approach is to consider using a Geothermal heating system. This option may be prohibitively expensive for existing home owners but worth careful consideration if building a new home. Here are some videos that explain this method of heating and cooling (Video-1, Video-2) and how this can lead to energy cost savings.
- Solar Hot water is another green alternative that can be adapted to heat a home in some circumstances. See this video from a New Zealand company (Video-1). Here’s yet another unique and novel approach developed in Scotland which uses solar electricity to store energy in a “Heat Battery” (Video-2) .
Many of us have become so accustomed to just getting into our gas vehicles whenever we want to do errands, go on road trips or commute to work, that we don’t take the time to consider other options. Here are a few points to consider:
- Errands – Are you within walking distance of some of the places you shop? Do you live close to your bank? Would you be able to do some of our errands on foot, especially when you are just going to purchase a few items? This option might not be feasible year round for everyone, depending on where you live, but walking to stores, the library and/or the bank instead of taking the car is one way to reduce the number of times you use your vehicle. Another option is to plan your errands in order to make fewer trips.
- Another option for doing your errands is to use a bicycle. Using saddle bags or perhaps a small backpack would be necessary, but it is doable. Just make sure that your bike will be secure wherever you have to park it.
- Commuting – Would you be able to commute to work on a bicycle? Would you be able to take a bus or light rail? Could you carpool? Would you be able to work from home either occasionally or for part of the work week? If you work fairly close to home, perhaps you could walk to work when the weather is nice.
- Drive at or below the speed limit to increase fuel efficiency. Avoid speeding and sudden accelerations.
- Make sure that your tires are properly inflated.
- Electric Vehicle – If you are using an ICE car (internal combustion engine), consider transitioning to an electric vehicle. Driving an Electric car will cut your CO2 emissions by at least 50%, relative to driving an ICE vehicle. The amount of CO2 emissions saved is a function of your electricity source. The following video explains this (Video-1).Most car trips entail just driving a few kilometers from home. There is definitely some ‘range anxiety’ associated with using an EV for longer-distance trips, but careful planning will help alleviate uncertainty. Apps such as PlugShare are extremely useful for locating charging stations and, therefore, planning road trips.Depending on where you live, your government might offer incentives for purchasing electric vehicles and installing an EV charger at home. Note that different EVs have different ranges. Also, purchasing an EV may entail being on a waiting list, depending on which vehicle you’re interested in and where you live. It’s worth doing some research and watching videos on YouTube.
- Plug-in Hybrid (‘PHEV’ = Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) – For many ICE drivers the transition to a Plug-in Hybrid is much easier as it overcomes the ‘range anxiety’ issue. A Plug-in Hybrid does this by providing a gasoline backup to its battery. With a Plug-in Hybrid, errands and other short drives, in most cases, can all be done on battery power, but when you need to go on a longer trip the car will automatically switch to gas.
- Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle – Is an Electric Vehicle that uses Hydrogen and a Hydrogen fuel cell to produce the electricity to power the car instead of a battery. The process of producing hydrogen and distributing it results in a much less efficient vehicle as this video explains (Video-1). The question as to whether using Hydrogen makes sense from an efficiency and environmental is very much dependent on future development so it is difficult to predict the outcome of this as this video explains (Video-2).On the other hand, given the state of today’s battery technology, it is possible to produce a very lightweight long range vehicle that can show a more comparable efficiency to an EV since an EV suffers efficiency losses due to the weight of its battery. Note that this trade off is only realized when considering relatively long distances which may or may not be practically significant depending on the application. The following link describes such a vehicle development which is a more extreme example of what is possible and described in this video. Note that this video provides a fascinating business model alternative for personal transport.
- As in the case for Electricity and Heating it is now possible to buy Renewable Energy Certificates to make your gas car driving more renewable. You can find more about how this works here.
Reducing One’s Use of Plastic
Here are a few options for reducing the use of plastic in your daily life.
- Food wrap – Use reusable wrap instead of plastic wrap. Beeswax food wraps are a viable solution for wrapping fruit, vegetables, herbs, cheese, bread and other solid food products. Beeswax wraps come in various sizes. A beeswax wrap could also be used instead of plastic wrap to cover a container that doesn’t have a lid.
- Food storage containers – Using reusable containers instead of plastic wrap is another option in some cases.
- Produce bags – Instead of using plastic produce bags at the supermarket, bring your own reusable mesh bags. Put fruit or vegetables in a mesh bag and then store them in the fridge.
- Shopping bags – Use reusable shopping bags instead of the plastic bags available at the store. Reusable shopping bags are sometimes offered for free at some stores or you can buy some. Another alternative is to make your own. There are a plethora of tutorials and videos available on how to make your own shopping bags.
- Shampoo – Consider using a shampoo bar or a combination shampoo & conditioner bar. These are sometimes available with no wrapping or with a paper, recyclable wrapping.
- Deodorant – Consider making your own or look for refillable products. There are a number of online tutorials on how to make your own deodorant.
- Use bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic.
- Use reusable mugs and water bottles.
- If using a straw is necessary, purchase a reusable glass or stainless steel straw instead of using plastic straws.
- If you have a baby or toddler who is still wearing diapers, consider switching to cloth diapers.
Reducing Hot Water Usage
- Use a low-flow shower head.
- Use a low-flow sink head or faucet aerator.
- Wash clothes in cold water.
- Lower the temperature of your hot water by turning down your hot water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 49 degrees Celsius).
Reducing Clothing & Textile Waste
The fashion industry, especially the “fast fashion” industry is a major contributor to environmental degradation, starting with the dying of textiles and the materials that are used. Polyester, which is a very popular synthetic fabric, is made of petroleum, coal, air and water. Cotton is energy intensive, requiring large amounts of land and water to produce it, and most of the crop is used by the textile industry. To add to all of this, the life cycle of garments has decreased dramatically since the days when most clothes were repaired, altered, handed-down to other family members or repurposed.
Here are a few tips for decreasing clothing waste:
- Refrain from impulse buying. Think about whether or not you really need something new before you buy it.
- Buy used. Check out the consignment and thrift stores if you need something.
- Swap clothes with family members and/or friends.
- Rent outfits for special occasions. Tuxedos are commonly rented, but this concept could be extended to other garments that will most likely only be worn once.
- Sell unwanted clothing. Try selling unwanted clothes online or through a consignment store.
- Donate. Give unwanted clothing to charities such as shelters, The Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc.
- Repurpose your clothing. Get creative! The more you do this, the more novel ideas will come to you.
– Tired-looking t-shirts can become pyjama tops.
– Unwanted skirts and/or oversized shirts can be made into aprons.
– Used garments can be cut up and made into quilts, rugs or rags.
– Tank tops can be sewn to make tote bags.
– Fabric from garments can be used to make cushions.
– Jeans or other types of ladies’ and girls’ pants can be used to make skirts.
– Pants can be turned into shorts.
– Men’s ties can be used as decorative trims for other garments, tote bags or cushions.Learn More (Additional Being Green Resources):
- 8:45 pm Oct. 25, 2019 – Shani Cairns – (Added and updated content sections and added links to new projects and the Berkeley climate calculator tool).
- 11:10 am Feb. 9, 2019 – Charles Gregoire – (Added “Additional Being Green Resources” section with David Suzuki Foundation link. Added the standard “work in progress” note at the bottom of the page).
- 10:30 pm Dec. 23, 2018 – Charles Gregoire – (Proof read the new content added by Shani and fixed up a few minor typos).
- 4:45 pm Dec. 22, 2018 – Shani Cairns – (Added graphics to the page and did some restructuring of headers and content to enhance usability/scan-ability of page content. Added some content around the necessity to keep doing this now more than ever, despite the fact that there are many are now increasingly saying it won’t stop CC).
- 9:30 November 15, 2018 – Heidi Brault – (Edited “Reducing Clothing & Textile Waste” section on “Being Green” page.)
- 4:00 November 14, 2018 – Heidi Brault – (Added subsection and added content to Reducing Clothing Waste on “Being Green” page.)
- 4:00 November 7, 2018 – Charles Gregoire – (Added many links to further describe and backup the actions one can take to Being Green including references to the “Drawdown” website/book).
- 10:19 October 30, 2018 – Heidi Brault – (Added content to “Being Green” and created sub-section on “Reducing Hot Water Usage”.
- 3:55 October 29, 2018 – Heidi Brault – (added content to “Being Green”)
- 3:40 pm October 29, 2018 – Charles Gregoire – (Changed the Title of the Page from “Personal Actions” to “Being Green”)
- 7:54 pm October 28, 2018 – Heidi Brault – (Added and started Reducing One’s Use of Plastic section)
- 6:41 pm October 28, 2018 – Heidi Brault – (Added and started a Transportation section)
- 1:08 pm October 26, 2018 – Charles Gregoire – (Revised the draft to include entries for Food and Energy considerations…still a long ways to go)
- 12:00 pm September 18, 2018 – Charles Gregoire – (Initial draft place holder added)
Note: This page is a work in progress as is expected for wiki pages which are constantly updated. It aims to inform the reader of opportunities to reduce one’s personal environmental footprint and become greener and hence the title “Being Green”. You will find specific references to the book “Drawdown” in many of the items mentioned in this article.