I might as well come clean here by stating that I am not an environmentalist.
Many people have referred to me as one, and perhaps I might be considered an environmental activist for some of the work I do, but… I do not think of myself in those terms.
It’s too constricting for me. And because of the dogmatic attitude prevalent in many groups (‘you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem’), I get really turned off by most ‘-isms’.
So I’m not an environmentalist, but I am:
- A man who is tired of seeing so many ‘green’ bandaids attempting to deal with the consequences of our actions, instead of addressing the root of the issues. More ‘green’ stuff we don’t need is just more stuff.
- A father who wants to leave his children a healthy world, not one in which toxic chemicals are labeled as safe, and unpronounceable substances are considered food ingredients.
- A naturalist who wants to see wilderness preserved for my grandchildren, not sold to the highest bidder.
- A person of integrity who wants to see corporations and the people who run them or invest in them held accountable for the results of their operations, just as we as individuals are held accountable for our actions.
- An independent thinker who wants to see people question everything in their lives. Everything.
- A skeptic who thinks partisan politics and blind patriotism help people to to get away with thievery and murder, from our genocide of Native Americans, up to our present day military industrial complex which is awash in greed and violence.
- A logical person who is sickened by the wasteful attitudes in our world. Waste not, want not.
- A Westerner who thinks that the rape of our natural resources is a travesty, from grazing animals on public lands, to selling timber, water, and mineral rights to companies so they can turn a profit.
I’m a bit cynical when it comes to events such as Earth Day, as it has become an event used to sell more so-called ‘green’ products. I understand why people like to celebrate Earth Day, but I don’t see the correlation between people attending it and radical change being made. Sure, it’s fun to go and listen to free music, drink beer, and pick up a bunch of free swag from the booths, but does that translate to people taking action when they get home, or the next day?
After years of being involved with organizations that show up for Earth Day events to try to educate people, I’ve found that unless it’s easy and free, nobody’s really committing to changing their life for something as vague as ‘saving the Earth’ (I say vague, because how do we know when it’s saved, and how do we measure our efforts?) We may donate some money to a non-profit, but for the most part, we aren’t willing to donate our time or our energy to something without immediate personal benefit. Is that pessimistic? Perhaps. Is it realistic? I think so.
With that in mind, I came up with my list of truly radical things we can do to make every day Earth Day. They aren’t necessarily easy, and they aren’t for most people (or ‘mostpeople’, as e.e. cummings puts it), but they are definitely achievable with some work, and will also translate into saving money.
Radical Changes to Make Every Day Earth Day:
- Build and use a humanure toilet, composting all your bodily wastes and returning it to the soil. You can leave your current stool in place and just not use it, or reserve it for guests only. Think of how much water is wasted with every flush of the toilet, and add in all of the energy and chemical inputs to treat and clean that water again once it’s used.
- Turn off the hot water to your washing machine. Use cold water water only, and choose a biodegradable laundry soap. Your clothes will get just as clean without having to burn coal or gas to heat the water.
- Run your washer drain hose into a section of your yard, creating a mini-wetland and treating the graywater at the same time. Note: don’t do this if you’re using conventional laundry soap, as you’ll probably do more harm than good.
- Unplug your clothes dryer and install a clothesline. Yes, your neighbors might have a cow because they will see your clothes (and see you saving money and energy), but think of it as an educational opportunity. Clothes feel better and last longer when they don’t get spun around at high heat with a fragrance-infused dryer sheet.
- Purchase a plastic spray bottle, such as is used as a plant sprayer or household cleaner sprayer. Fill it with water and add some drops of lavender or rosemary (or both) essential oils. Instead of turning on the tap to wash your face or hands, simply spray on and wipe off – you’ll be able to wash up with about a tablespoon of water.
- Don’t take a shower every single day. There are probably some occupations where this might seem necessary, but for most of us, it’s just overkill. If we stink after one day, it may be that we need to look more at our diet and lifestyle instead of showering more. The same thing goes for washing hair. If you use a lot of hair products like gel or hair spray that need to be washed out every day, consider changing your hairdo.
- Build or buy a solar hot water heater. The easiest method for personal use is to purchase a camping solar shower (3 to 5 gallon capacity) and use that for your showers. Fill it with water, place in the sun for several hours (depends on the weather), and then hang up in your shower when ready to use. We used one of these for about 6 years, and a 5 gallon shower would last for two adults and one or two children.
- Refuse to buy products that are over-packaged. Buy in bulk when possible, and always keep a shopping bag with you so you don’t need a disposable plastic bag.
- Build a tiny house out of scrounged and scavenged materials. Consider living in an alternative manner, such as in a camper, a tipi, or a tent. Alternatively, close off or rent out part of your house, living as simply as possible and saving money on utilities at the same time.
- Park your car, unhook the battery and hang up the keys. Buy or rebuild a used bicycle and use that for your transportation needs. This may mean changing your habits or where you live, but it will save money and resources while keeping you fit at the same time.
- Purchase as much of your food as possible from local growers. Supplement that by growing as much of your own food as possible, whether it’s just sprouts or greens or a full-blown garden.
- Don’t buy shit you don’t need. Period. Instead of purchasing cheaply made items, and lots of them, buy quality items made with pride by craftsmen or artisans. Shop at thrift stores, yard sales, or make your own.
- Forget ‘Free Tibet’. Leave the bumper stickers alone and actually work for change in your community instead. Free your mind, meet your neighbors, and be the change you want to see.
Please don’t leave here thinking that I believe I’m better or greener, or more ‘anything’ than anyone else. I’m just tired of seeing half-assed solutions to problems we’ve created, and I think it’s high time we changed our ways.
Image: AndYaDontStop at Flickr