Turning the Tide In Nine Acts

December 21, 2001

By Michael Jessen

"I wanted to change the world," wrote author Aldous Huxley. "But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself."

With that thought in mind, the Center for a New American Dream has recommended nine steps individuals can take to make the world a better place. The New Dream Action Network (www.newdream.org/turnthetide/) is actually an interactive program that allows you to see the cumulative effects of your individual actions and those of other program participants. The nine actions are:

Skip a car trip each week. Transportation, overwhelmingly in automobiles, is responsible for about a third of North American greenhouse gas emissions. Skipping a weekly 30-kilometre trip represents less than a 10 percent decrease in the average person's driving and can reduce your weekly carbon dioxide emissions by more than 8 kilograms. If only 1,000 of us take this action, we will prevent nearly half a million kilograms of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year!

Eat one less beef meal each week. Meat production is extremely resource-intensive - to produce a kilogram of grain-fed beef, it takes, on average, 10 kg of grain and 680 litres of water. An equivalent amount of land can feed six times more people eating a plant-based diet than people eating a meat-based diet. If only 1,000 of us take this action, we will save almost 32,000 kilograms of grain, 32,000 kilograms of topsoil and over 100 million litres of water each year!

Don't eat shrimp. Today, nearly 70 percent of the world's fisheries are fully fished or overfished, and about 60 billion pounds of fish, sharks, and seabirds die each year as "bycatch" - animals caught accidentally as a result of wasteful fishing techniques. If only 1,000 of us stop eating shrimp, we can save over 5,000 kilograms of sea life this year alone.

Declare your independence from junk mail. The world's forests are feeling the strain of unsustainable demand for wood and paper. By weight, paper products also comprise nearly one-third of all waste going into North American landfills. Bulk mail, a substantial chunk of our paper waste, is especially troubling because it is often unsolicited and thus leaves citizens to dispose of materials they did not choose to consume. If only 1,000 of us succeed in halving our personal bulk mail, we will save 170 trees, nearly 21 kilograms of carbon dioxide, and 265,000 litres of water each year. Stop unwanted direct marketing offers through Canadian Marketing Association's online service at www.the-cma.org/consumers/dnm_reg.html.

Replace four standard light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). Electricity production is a large source of greenhouse gas emissions and lighting accounts for about 25 percent of electricity consumption. If only 1,000 of us each replace four standard bulbs with low-mercury CFLs, we can prevent the emission of more than two million kilograms of carbon dioxide and reduce our electricity bills by more than $100,000 over the lives of those bulbs.

Move the thermostat three degrees Celsius. Heating and cooling represents the biggest chunk of our home energy consumption. Just by turning the thermostat down three degrees in the winter and up three degrees in the summer, you can prevent the emission of nearly 227 kilograms of carbon dioxide annually. If only 1,000 of us shift three degrees, we will save almost half a million kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions each year!

Eliminate garden and lawn pesticides. North Americans directly apply more than 32 million kilograms of pesticides to home lawns and gardens each year and, in so doing, pollute our precious water resources. If only 1,000 of us stop using pesticides on our gardens and lawns, we'll protect the environment from 430 kilograms of toxins each year.

Install an efficient showerhead and low flow faucet aerators. Of all natural resources, water is the most essential. But available supply is diminishing rapidly as human populations swell and inefficiently drain precious aquifers. If only 1,000 of us install faucet aerators and efficient showerheads, we can save 30 million litres of water and prevent over 200,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions each year!

Convince two friends. There's an easy way for you to triple the positive impact you are making with these nine actions and that is to convince two friends to join you in your effort!

If 1,000 of the Kootenay Development Region's 159,500 residents take these nine actions, over one year they will save a collective 184 million litres of water and prevent the emission of 1.8 million kilograms of climate warming carbon dioxide.

As the sixth century BC Chinese poet Lao Tsu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, "A journey of a thousand miles begins by taking the initial step."

ONE SMALL STEP - What we do, matters. Small basic acts can accumulate to have a powerful impact. You can start taking responsibility for what's going on around you by following the Center for a New American Dream's nine actions. They will change the way you consume, improve your quality of life, protect the environment, and promote social justice. You can sign up to receive Step By Step, a series of monthly actions on the Center's web site at www.newdream.org/tttoffline/sbsfaq.html.

All columns archived here are copyright © 2000 by Michael Jessen, all rights reserved. If you wish to print an individual column for your own use, please do so. If you wish to publish any of the columns in either print or electronic format, please contact the author at toenail@netidea.com to arrange appropriate payment.