Simple Steps To Living A Greener Life

imgres-1Last night I watched An Inconvenient Truth as penance for my environmental sins, for which I have many and am now more ashamed of than ever before.

My worst nightmare is facing a green tribunal headed up by Al Gore, flanked by Carol and David Suzuki with Prince Charles bringing up the rear.

I take the car more than I should. I use plastic baggies when I could just as easily use a reusable container.  I don’t consider my carbon footprint when I book our family vacation and I am guilty of purchasing inexpensive, disposable clothing from big box retailers.

To be truthful, I considered myself environmentally conscious before last night’s education.  I dutifully separate my compost from recycling and garbage, I only do the laundry and run the dishwasher at off-peak times, we have high efficiency appliances and our house is kept temperate with the help of a timer.  I try to pack waste-free lunches but on occasion a juice box makes it way to the school.  Supporting local growers, artisans and businesses is something that we make a habit of in my home but regular runs to Costco happen too.

A hipster or greenie I am not.  I don’t make my own soap and I refuse to pay triple the price of something just because it is “craft” or “artisan”.

But do I have to?

An Inconvenient Truth had been on “my list” for quite a while but I could never find a convenient time to watch it.  Last night the timing was fortuitous.  Al Gore was on the screen detailing the dramatic rise of green house gasses, the earth’s skyrocketing temperature and increasing wind speeds that together are a tempest of destruction.  Just then my iPhone buzzed to life with a message from my neighbour appealing for relief on behalf of families living in the Philippines ravaged by typhoon Haiyan, a storm that killed thousands, and left behind mass destruction in its wake.  The worst of its kind ever recorded in history.

For decades Al Gore has been riled by proof from leading scientists around the world that human beings can longer be oblivious to their actions and the impact it has on the planet.  At the time of this documentary Gore warned that we were entering the era of consequences – hurricane Katrina had just decimated New Orleans.

We can longer rest on our laurels and debate the validity of global warming.  It’s happening and the hundreds of children orphaned by Haiyan is all the proof that I need.

An Inconvenient Truth ends on an optimistic note and encourages people to continue to make simple changes in their daily living.  Suddenly the problem doesn’t seem so overwhelming, so out of my hands.

I have learned so much about living a greener, simpler life from Carol.  In fact, just this week I added soapberries to my grocery list.

From Al Gore, I learned to pay closer attention to what environmental policies our elected officials are passing, championing or ignoring.  I learned that with my vote, comes my voice.

I now know better, so I must do better.

Resources:

What You Can Do

 Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

Take Action Now

Canada’s Action on Climate Change

Nature Canada

Earth Day: Small Changes

You know the expression, “Look after the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves”?  I kind of feel that way about green living.  It’s not a perfect analogy since the earth also needs some very big changes, and some of these may require some serious dollars.  But on an individual level, living with a light footprint can be achieved by making small changes, none of which is so momentous in itself, but which cumulatively can really be impactful.

Making even small green steps still takes intention though, and especially if they take time they have to be put on the agenda to materialize.  So I was glad to participate a couple of years ago in One Small Change, an upbeat (if short-lived) online challenge seeking people who would commit to make one small earth-friendly change a month from January to April (and presumably some would continue on from there).  I chose as my four commitments:  caulking our drafty house, learning to make yogurt, baking my own yeast bread, and making my own laundry detergent.

How did I do?  Well, my husband (I didn’t help) did a not bad job caulking the house (there’s more we could do).  I made a single batch of homemade yogurt and baked a single loaf of bread.  I had some difficulty finding the ingredients for the laundry detergent so I didn’t make it.  My performance was very average, and it was a little undignified how I raced to accomplish my challenges just shy of the deadlines.

And yet, every little movement we make in one direction helps to create momentum.  I didn’t know it at the time of my mediocre small change outcomes, but two years later, I am making almost all of the organic yogurt my family eats.  We avoid a lot plastic tubs, and the money that then stays in my pocket I can direct towards the more earth-friendly purchases.

And last week, I went to do the laundry and discovered our detergent tin was empty.  Five minutes later, I had mixed together a double batch of homemade detergent with natural supplies from the closet with my kids in tow, and then I went back downstairs to put on a load.  Just safe biodegradables into the water stream and minimal paper packaging.

Have we caulked the rest of the house or do I bake all our bread from scratch?  Nope.  But there was still positive movement from that voluntary online challenge, and I’m glad I tried it even though it was hardly a wild success at the time, because each green action we take lights a spark.  Not long ago, yogurt and laundry detergent making once seemed daunting and kind of “out there” to me but now I know the recipes by heart and making them is a matter of course.  And these small changes ready me for more.

Which leads me to a couple of new green ideas to implement in the next couple of months.  First, I’ve got to do something about the bread.  What we buy from the store is made from whole grains but has a million ingredients and I’m annoyed every time I get it because I don’t really know what  I’m buying and yet I’m supporting it with my money.  My foray into baking yeast bread showed that I don’t (yet) enjoy it enough to make my own, but I’m close to buying a breadmaker or at least eating less bread in favour of other whole grains.

There is also a fresh jar of yeast in the cupboard that I want to use for making our own pizza dough because I’ve been buying that too but don’t want the preservatives.  My boys would enjoy making it and I love cooking with them, so I’ve got some incentive on making that work.  Who could argue with homemade pizza?

And I’m going to start buying these eggs laid by hens that are raised humanely at a local farm.  And by the way, this sweet cafe that sells them has the best croissants and scones in Toronto, I swear.

Do you have one small change you could make this month, or maybe next?  Pray tell.  Here’s a list of possibilities if you need some inspiration.

And Happy Earth Day to you.  Wishing you a great weekend.