Thursday, January 7, 2010

Individual efforts towards a greener planet

I have written a few posts criticizing the lack of meaningful scientific debate and transparency about climate change - indeed, I am concerned that much of the discourse has slid down the slope towards a "global warming monologue". As a journal editor and researcher, it offends and worries me to learn that the peer review and scientific publishing process, not to mention the political and academic debate, has been perverted for what appear to be economic and power / control reasons rather than protecting the planet.

Am I a climate change denier? Um, no, but I am skeptical about what I read and hear.
Am I a greenie eco-activist? Um, no, but I am skeptical about what I am told to buy and do.

I do commit many small green acts.
I do attempt to be responsible about my impact on the planet.
I am raising my children to be aware of the beauty of the world around them and our collective ability to make good choices about our impact on the world.
I believe there are a number of individual / family actions that can contribute to a healthier planet.

Grow a garden - check
Compost green and brown organics - check
Conserve water - check

Ever since my sweetie and I started dating, we have recycled the usual bottles, cans and containers. At our house, we keep a green bucket under the sink for organic waste that gets redirected to our compost pile. Food for worms, I delight in saying to my children - and not just because I am a Shakespeare fan and a bit of a dirt fanatic [I love carting the rich black loam from the bottom of my compost pile around the yard in a wheelbarrow and blessing my garden and shrubs with it - heaven]. This year, I want to install a few rain barrels so we can collect and use the run off in our garden.

Recycle / redirect household waste - check
Walk or bike instead of drive - check (if and when possible)

Each year, my husband and I add one or two new strategies to our households habits in an attempt to be more green and to reduce our carbon footprint. We have four tubs in the back entrance in which we collect cardboard, newspaper / colored paper, plastics, metal, glass, electronics, and returnables (bottles and cans on which we have paid a deposit). Our city has a great recycling program and central depot, and a two bag a week limit for trash. We rarely, if ever, put out more than one bag - even when our kids were in diapers [yes, I recognized the apparent irony].

Our kids love going to the recycling depot. Sort, haul and tip: the kids cheerfully sort #1, 2 and 5 plastics into bins, haul boxes of cardboard to the warehouse where the bobcat operator scoops them away to the crusher, and tip tubs of newspaper into the back of the trailer that hauls them away. There is even a book exchange that is well supplied and regularly used by citizens. Last year, I hauled a few boxes of books to the exchange, and carted a few bags of books to various members of my family; I realize that it is time to cull my book collection again.

Program thermostat to optimize efficiency - check
Redirect or reuse gently used items - check

We donate gently used items to the thrift store, we pass along clothing and household items to family or friends, we take recent magazines to leave at the doctor's office, we sell items of some small value in garage sales or online, and in general, we try to limit what gets sent to the landfill.

We buy less and think carefully about what we do buy. We buy or bake or prepare several items in bulk and create our own lunch / portable snacks in re-usable containers instead of throwing away piles of "convenience" packaging.

Buy locally produced food - check

We visit farmer's markets to buy local produce and sometimes visit the local butcher to buy locally raised protein. We buy local produce and dairy items at the big grocery store - I love that yogurt from Lacombe. We use a blanket or throw on a hoodie rather than ratcheting up the heat in the winter; we change the filter every month on the furnace; we have almost completely switched over to more energy efficient light bulbs, and we shut off the water when brushing our teeth. We hope that each of these small efforts helps to reduce our footprint, and at the very least, balances out the many things that we do that are unhealthy for the planet [drive two vehicles, heat our home, wash our clothes, eat meat, buy apples from New Zealand and tea from China, etc].

At work, I have a personal recycling bin for paper and cardboard, and carry bottles and cans to the hallway bins. I aim to do more of my work electronically rather than printing paper copies and throwing tones of photocopies away. Students have picked up on my garbage picking habits after class when I rescue a juice box, pop can or bottle from the trash and carry it to the recycling bin. I keep a few plants in my office to contribute to air quality and aesthetic pleasure.

My point, in this post, is that each year, we try to do more "good" things, and fewer "bad" things, for the planet; we try to adopt more green strategies and habits to replace wasteful or harmful practices. In the bigger picture, I am an optimist and have observed signs of this greater awareness and commitment to acting greener for the greater good happening in my community, in my city, and yes, even in my country. Can we do more? Sure! There is always more that we can [and probably should] do.

In addition to recycling and making greener choices in the home, individuals can become more involved with the bigger economic, scientific, political and social issues that surround the health of our planet. Much more complicated and intellectually demanding than sorting plastics and paper, it is important that all of us attempt to understand the complex issues that surround concepts like climate change when we think about and act on the health of our planet.

Act locally - check
Increase awareness - check
Engage in the political process and vote - check

The issues are multifaceted and complex and deserve our attention as well as our skepticism as we wind our way towards better choices and solutions for our planet. I attempt to become informed by reading perspectives, calls to action and scientific studies on BOTH sides of the debate; I attempt to make sense of the plethora of information about what people, families, cities and countries in the upper and lower hemispheres can and should do about the health of the planet. I point out inconsistencies and inconvenient truths on my blog for my reader (thanks, Mom!).

As citizens we can choose to make changes in our own homes, to take action in small and large ways at work, and to become more aware of the issues that are being discussed and decided upon in our communities, our province, our country and internationally. We can choose to become engaged in the political process by increasing our understanding of the scope and magnitude of the climate change issues and take action by engaging in the debate, sharing information on both sides, and voting.

The point is that in a country like Canada, we can choose - some people celebrate the civil liberty and take seriously the civic duty to contribute to a greater good. Some people bemoan our individual freedom to choose as irresponsible and want to increase government controls on citizens, cities and countries that force them to do more about climate change and to do it faster [i.e., Copenhagen Summit]. There are others who do not recycle (gasp!), who do not care, or do not even believe there is a problem.

For now, we can still choose. I choose rationale acts of green followed by a healthy dose of skepticism.

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