©Kat Morgenstern, March 2007, all rights reserved.
The environment is under threat - not just in far away and exotic places, but right here on our doorstep too. Many sensitive habitats are threatened by logging companies, miners and developers who see the value of the land only in terms of it's economic potential for exploitation. Such attitudes have shaped our landscapes for far too long and in many locations have left deep and sore scars on the face of the earth.
Those of us who appeal for sensible use of the land i.e. sustainable resource management, are often simply ridiculed as dreamers. 'You can't turn the wheel of time back' or 'what, do you want, go back to living in caves?' or 'sustainable management means decrease in profits for industry and thus loss of jobs' are just some of the extremely short-sighted arguments one might hear.
The political will for change is progressing slower than slowly - in fact, at present it is attempting to turn back the wheel of time. The small progress that has been made in recent years regarding international agreements for environmental protection to slow down the pace of habitat destruction or expansion rate of the ozone holes is being all but annihilated. Not that people don't care, in fact a growing number of concerned citizens do, but all to often the interests of corporations is placed first and environmental concerns are all too often simply wiped off the discussion table.
Environmental interests and human interests are pitted against each other. The 'quality of life' that apparently is at stake, is the convenience lifestyle, centered around the car and high energy consumption technologies that are supposed to make life simpler. But human interests are far more closely aligned with ecological interests that are based on the integrity of the whole web of life and the health and well-being of nature, of which, after all, we are still a part. Our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being is directly related not to the availability of a drive throu fast food joint in the neighborhood, but to the quality of the local environment, including the quality of such basic 'commodities' as air and water, not to mention accessibility of green spaces.
The connections between corporate interests, environmental degradation and social exploitation are so obvious, yet over the years corporations have become very clever at glossing over their 'dirty laundry'. Not surprisingly, since they have all the tricks of the marketing and advertising industries at their disposal, they have long since become very adept at using such tools to their own best interest: maximum profits.
The fact that government policies are directly related to corporate interests is no secret. Publicly available data on campaign funding tell the tale for anyone to see. Local pressure groups are often sadly ineffective in influencing even local policies, let alone national policies. Yet, if there is any power for the people to claim, it is through grassroots activism and personal direct action. As long as money is the bottom line, such activism starts with consumer and lifestyle choices. There are many things one can do:
Each and every one of us has the power to vote for social and environmental change with our checkbook. By choosing organic produce and products, we can protect not only our own health, but also encouraging farmers to grow more organic food, which in the long run helps to heal the poisoned and depleted soil. Better still, if you have a garden, grow your own organic vegetables and start a compost.
Try to eliminate toxins from your personal environment, find alternative non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning materials for the kitchen and bathroom. Some are available commercially; others can easily be made at home.
Many building materials are toxic, too. Remember that you will have to live with whatever you are putting on the walls, doors and floors. Find the least toxic materials available and demand that your local hardware shop stocks them. Choose water-based paints and finishes, read the labels and try to determine the heavy metal content of products such as paints and varnish. Remaining with the subject of building - if you use wood try to determine how and where it is produced. Don't buy tropical hardwoods unless they carry a certificate of sustainable harvest practices. Being a responsible shopper can go a long way towards not only making your own home a safer and more environmentally friendly place but may also help raise the awareness of the purchasing personnel at your local stores and protect the heavily threatened tropical forest environments.
Conserving natural resources of cause is the key to preserving the environment. This includes an awareness of energy consumption. CO2 emmissions are one of the largest contributors of green house gases that are currently destroying the protective layers of the upper stratosphere, thus creating the ozone holes, which are still growing at an alarming rate. You can cut down electricity use by exchanging your regular light bulbs for energy efficient ones and only buy appliances that have a low energy use rating. You will not only help to reduce the CO2 emissions, but cut down on your utility bill too. Leaving your car at home and using a bicycle instead or walking if possible is not only beneficial for your personal health and fitness but also benefits the environment and saves on your gas bill.
Paper is one of the most wasted and wasteful materials on the planet. 23000 tons of news print is used every day in the US to produce 65 million newspapers. A bumper edition of the New York Times clears about 400 hectares (990 acres) of trees. Multiply that by 52 weeks in the year and how many mega Sunday papers...? Not to mention the wastefulness of paperwork - 2 trillion pieces of paper accumulate in offices ever year, 120 billion that are filed will pack 5 million filing cabinets! Every person in the US uses about 290kg of paper a year, that's approximately equal to 0.8 cubic meters or 25 cubic feet of wood. It is surprising that there are any trees left at all. The paperless office is a myth, but at least we can make sure we only use recycled paper and likewise recycle all the office wastes. A good move would be to locate tree-free paper sources. Traditional newsprint is lead-based. While soy-based lead-free inks are available, they are not widely used - yet.
Remember the three R's: reduce, reuse, recycle. Before you buy any new items, think about whether you really need these things, whether you might be able to buy them second-hand or refurbished. Right now computer components are becoming a big problem in terms of garbage management. With technology changing so quickly people replace their gear every few years and the old systems end up piling up in landfills at an alarming rate... Buy things with 'reuse' in mind, for both the container/packaging as well as the item itself. Don't buy one-way items if you can avoid them, or if you do, at least make sure that they themselves and/or their packaging are recyclable. Become creative with your recycling and reusing ideas. Some of the greatest arts/craft projects can be done with recycled materials.
These may all just seem like small steps and when considering the monumental problems that are facing the environment globally today, they might even seem insignificant. But in this task everybody's efforts count and many small steps eventually result in big leaps. The change has to start somewhere, and since we all have an impact on the environment, like it or not, we have to start by taking personal responsibility where we can - in our own lives.
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