How To Go Green At Home and At Work

Devastating storms? Harsh droughts? More diseases? Polluted air and waterways? Contaminated food? Some of the key causes are global warming and a loss of biodiversity caused by humans’ excessive use and abuse of the Earth and its resources.

Complex global problems all, so what’s an individual to do?

Environmental researchers and activists in the United States are calling on individual citizens to adopt more sustainable and healthy lifestyles and urging political leaders to begin thinking in terms of a “wartime mobilization” as a gesture of respect for Mother Earth.

“Sustaining progress depends on shifting from a fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy to a renewable-energy-based, diversified-transport, reuse/recycle economy,” said Earth Policy Institute founder Lester Brown in a statement released ahead of this weekend’s celebration of Earth Day and adapted from his new book Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble.

“Our twenty-first century civilization is not the first to move onto an economic path that was environmentally unsustainable,” said Brown, who the Washington Post has called “one of the world’s most influential thinkers.”

As people worldwide observe Earth Day this weekend, two other U.S.-based environmental groups have made a list of “10 things to do” that they believe can effectively contribute to the efforts to recover the planet’s health. (See links.) “So how can we live lightly on the Earth and save money at the same time?” asks the environmental guide prepared by the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, DC-based independent think tank, and a youth network for sustainable development called SustainUS.

The first step they suggest is to walk or bike to work and save money on gas. It will improve your cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of obesity. If you live far from your place of work, explore the option of telecommuting or move closer, they say; even if it means paying more rent, it could save money in the long run.

Noting that “purchasing habits have a real impact, for better or worse,” the groups recommend buying used furniture, appliances and other items; avoiding bottled water when tap water is clean; and shopping locally whenever possible. Buying from thrift stores, garage sales, and farmers’ markets conserves fossil fuels that would otherwise be used for transportation and production costs and bolsters local economies.

A little creativity can go a long way too. According to the groups, making your own cleaning supplies from common household products like soap and vinegar can save money and time and improve your indoor air quality. Composting food scraps can reduce waste and improve your garden, and at birthday and holiday time, think about “gifting green,” they say.

Other recommendations include recycling electronics–like cell phones–favoring the library over bookstores, bumping the thermostat up and down at opportune moments, and eating one meatless meal per week.

While Worldwatch and SustainUS focus on what individuals can do, Brown focuses on the need for governments to do more to promote environmentally sustainable lifestyles.

“The good news is that we have the technologies needed to build the new economy,” said Brown, saying that the beginnings of change can be seen “in the wind farms of western Europe, the solar rooftops of Japan, the growing fleet of gas-electric hybrid cars in the United States, the reforested mountains of South Korea, and the bicycle friendly streets of Amsterdam.”

Citing the vast economic restructuring that took place during World War II, Brown’s statement called for “a wartime mobilization to save the environment and civilization.”

The great issue of the current era, according to Brown, is how to move the global economy onto an environmentally sound path.

“The question facing governments is whether they can respond quickly enough to prevent threats from becoming catastrophes….We need a national political leader to step forward, an environmental Churchill, to rally the world around this effort,” said Brown.

Haider Rizvi and Jeffrey Allen