My Turn: Simple ways we can all impact climate change


Friday, September 08, 2017

Much media attention has been given to climate change, how dirty fossil fuel is adversely affecting it and green energy (wind, solar and hydro renewables) is slowing it down. This is positive and good “real news.” But conspicuously missing are discussions about our overly consumptive and wasteful society.

It is time to talk about all the stuff we accumulate and the impact it has on climate change. Let’s consider the five Rs: Resolve, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reclaim.

I have just finished reading two books: “Garbology” by Edward Humes and “Green Illusions” by Ozzie Zehner. Many of the facts in this article are taken from them, but much of the following ideas and observations are from my own lifetime obsession with waste.

From “Garbology”: on average each American in a lifetime will generate 102 tons of trash; there is a man-made floating island called North Pacific Garbage Patch that is conservatively estimated to be 20 million square miles (twice the size of Texas) composed primarily of plastic. Little fish are eating the tiny pulverized plastic pellets they’re mistaking for the krill they feast on, big fish are eating the little fish, then we are eating the big fish. Bon appetite!

From “Green Illusions”: just switching to alternative energy does not solve the climate change problem if society continues to increase its consumption of material goods, which is the underpinning of capitalism. Manufacturing, packaging, advertising and transporting goods all require using fossil fuels to a great extent.

Resolve: Ask yourself, do I really need to replace perfectly usable stuff because I’m tired of it and just want a change? Do I really need the latest gadget especially social media electronics just because it has updated apps? Does possession of things equate to a happier life or is my life “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go?”

It doesn’t have to be a drastic lifestyle change, just start to cut back a little at a time. Consider one example, food miles. We just finished strawberry and blueberry season when we all should just pig out on them and freeze the rest, then resolve to not buy fresh but tasteless berries in February from Florida or California, thousands of fossil fuel food miles away.

Reduce: For example, why have one cleaning product for only one task? Vinegar, baking soda, borax, lemons and bleach can replace scores of cleaning products and don’t harm the environment. Try rubbing table salt with a used lemon half to shine copper. It is magical what happens.

Consider buying in bulk like yogurt, chips or snacks, then put into small reusable containers for lunches. Bundle up on errands in the same trip instead of doing one at a time. Make an effort to car pool. Put on a bulky sweater and lower the thermostat in the winter. Pull shades down in summer and save air conditioning. Solar clothes dryer aka clothes line? By just hanging out bed sheets, bath towels and jeans, which take forever in a dryer, you use lots less energy. Turn power cords off; TVs, computers etc. still use electricity while in idle mode. A New York Times May 7, 2016, article states that one fourth of electricity use can come from devices in idle mode

Reuse: Over one trillion plastic bags are used annually around the world, so please use reusable tote bags. After emptying the groceries, hang the bags on the door knob so you can’t forget them when you next go to your car. And for heaven’s sake, put them on the passenger seat, not the trunk where you’ll most likely forget about them until you’re already in the store. Donate worn out towels and soft clothing to animal shelters for their animals to cuddle up in. Consignment stores are getting quite upscale. Nothing wrong with regifting: caution make a note who gave you the gift so you don’t inadvertently give it back to them next year! Store a hand towel in your desk drawer at work and use it instead of paper towels in the bathroom. Same with a coffee mug instead of disposable cups.

Recycle: Good but really not that much help for the planet. Quoting from “Garbolog”: “Recycling has long served as a balm and a penance, a way of making it okay to waste.” Some of recycled materials will be retooled, but most of it will unfortunately wind up in landfills. Try to compost food and plant waste, even if you only grow in containers.

Now a zinger to put things into perspective. The C-5 giants that fly out of Westover Air Force Base burn 7,000 gallons of jet fuel an hour. Unfortunately, there is no possibility of getting rid of the world’s military forces (that’s another topic). So it’s easy to ask why bother doing the small things I have suggested. Please consider by multiply one action by over 245 million adults in the U.S. alone amounts to a big step towards slowing climate change. And Mother Nature will thank you.

Reclaim: We all need to start doing our part to reclaim our planet. It has survived for millions of years and will continue on. But unless we change our habits, we won’t.

Reenie Grybko Clancy of South Deerfield is a lifelong environmentalist who grew up on a farm in Sunderland.