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Environmental Choices Start with the Big Stuff

For Earth Day, we asked BBR staff member Greg Caplan to summarize his thoughts on how each of us can contribute to true environmental solutions. This is his advice.

To benefit the earth for your children’s and grandchildren’s sake, the most effective actions are those that address the largest scale issues of climate, social equity, and population. Therefore, the most important things to do for Earth Day and every day are in the context of social, environmental, and political activism. Thousands of organizations welcome your participation at the local, state, national, and global levels.

When it comes to the character of your physical lifestyle and how you can make that express your caring for the world and fellow beings, a good guide is the Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices published by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Borrow it from your local library if you’d like to read it in full.

Insulation helps create a tight building envelope to minimize energy used for heating and cooling. Photo by Jesus Rodriguez | Flickr Creative Commons

Insulation helps create a tight building envelope to minimize energy used for heating and cooling. Photo by Jesus Rodriguez | Flickr Creative Commons

The primary message of this book is: Don’t focus on the small stuff. Be prepared to make big decisions in a way that benefits the environment. Focus on making the best decisions when the big or long-term things come up. For example:

  • When selecting a home, prioritize environmental attributes such as proximity to work or school, walkable location, modest size, and energy efficiency.
  • When a home needs a new roof or siding, make it an opportunity for a deep energy retrofit. Funding programs are available to support this.
  • For space heating and cooling, first, reduce the need by upgrading the building “envelope.” Then match the mechanical system to provide comfort.

Also, to make a real difference:

  • Reduce the size and number of properties you maintain and/or occupy.
  • Go car-free, or the closest you can come to it.
  • Select the most locally produced renewable electrical power your utility or municipality’s contracts offer, i.e., Mass Energy’s New England Wind Power.
  • If possible, install solar electric and/or solar hot water generation.
  • In the area of diet, prefer vegetables, grains, and fruit over meats and dairy, particularly red meats. For excellent protein levels, try modern meat substitute products made from pea and mushroom and other vegetable proteins. As Michael Pollan formulates: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
  • Share resources by donating on a continuous basis to organizations that promote environmental justice and balance and social/economic equity.

In a subsequent volume titled Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living, UCS also emphasizes the essential role of community involvement and activism in acting for true benefit of our posterity.