Changing the Environment and the World

April 20, 2003

By Michael Jessen

Awareness is a key motivator for change. The more one knows about a problem, the greater the chance one will seek to find solutions.

The need to protect our environment from harm should be self-evident, but often we believe someone else is doing it. We forget that each of us can make a big difference.

April 22 is Earth Day, the one day set aside each year exclusively for thinking about and doing something to improve the environment. It is the day that can motivate a year's worth of action.

Environmental harm occurs through the activities of both individuals and companies. We all share the blame for not keeping the health of the Earth a priority in our daily behaviour. By making every day Earth Day in our personal and professional lives, we can accomplish positive changes.

Something as simple as relocating electric meters has influenced the behaviour of Dutch homeowners. When new Dutch houses were built with electric meters in the front hall where they were easily visible, instead of down in the cellar where they were normally placed, people began paying more attention to their electricity consumption.

These homeowners were able to see the connection between their energy use and their energy bill. Household electricity use decreased by one-third, which helped local communities meet energy conservation goals.

Joanna Macy (www.joannamacy.net) is an ecophilosopher grounded in Buddhism and living systems theory. She uses the term "The Great Turning" to describe humanity's current adventure -- the transition from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.

Little actions fit into a big picture. Thanks to the Earth Day Network (www.earthday.net), here are a number of actions in ten categories that you can do to participate in "The Great Turning."

1. Earth's biodiversity needs to be protected. Animal and plant species have as much right to the Earth as do humans. Acid rain is drenching Nova Scotia's salmon so thoroughly that 14 runs have already gone extinct. Send a postcard to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien asking him to commit to reducing acid rain pollution. You can find out more at the Atlantic Salmon Federation web site at www.asf.ca/acidrainns/acidalert2002.html. More actions to help the Earth's animal and plant species can be found at www.earthday.net/do_good/species.stm.

2. You breathe 70,000 times per day. Clean air is a necessity for human survival. If you use wood to heat your house, now is the time to cut wood for next fall's heating season. Wood dried for at least six months burns cleaner and produces fewer harmful air particulate emissions. You'll find further tips on how to Burn It Smart at www.burnitsmart.org/english/. Nelson Clean Air Protection action group was formed because the Nelson area has the seventh worst air quality among 35 Interior communities. The group has a web site at www.ncap.kics.bc.ca/.

3. With world automobile use projected to increase 3% a year, the total number of vehicles in the world will double in 23.3 years. Obviously, a more sustainable transportation system is required on the planet. Learn how to organize a car-free day (www.earthday.net/goals/carfreeday.stm) in your community at the Car-Free Cities web site www.carfree.com or the World Car-Free Day Consortium at www.ecoplan.org/carfreeday. Carsharing is a new way to own a car. People wishing to save money on their transportation costs join a co-op to jointly own vehicles with others. The Nelson Carshare Co-op and Nelson and Area Rideshare have a web site at www.nelsoncar.com/. The North American Car Sharing Network is at www.carsharing.net. The European Car Sharing Network is at www.carsharing.org.

4. Composting is seen as the next big step to reduce the size of the municipal waste stream. But compost needs to be usable and the chemical industry isn't helping. The composting industry is threatened by the increasingly widespread use of a class of extremely persistent herbicide products in turf and agricultural applications that can make compost products unmarketable. Plants grown in compost containing persistent herbicides can be damaged or killed by minute quantities of the herbicide. Dow AgroSciences is the manufacturer of the leading persistent herbicide, clopyralid, in products like Confront. You can find out more at www.grrn.org/dow/index.html.

5. There is no longer any debate about the reality of global warming. It is time to fund low-impact, renewable sources of energy in Canada. Visit the Pembina Institute's web site www.climatechangesolutions.com to find out how you can help. Reduce your car's carbon dioxide emissions by pledging to buy a hybrid gas-electric vehicle when you buy your next vehicle. Find out more at www.cleancarcampaign.org.

6. Oceans are a precious natural resource that originated life. The pro-resource extraction policies of British Columbia's current government has resulted in fast-tracking a review of a 1971 moratorium on off-shore oil and gas drilling. The petroleum industry is salivating at the chance to drill off-shore and unfortunately, many economically depressed coastal communities have joined the chorus to lift the moratorium. Find out more about what you can do at the Oil Free Coast Action Centre www.oilfreecoast.org/action.htm. Eating ocean-caught fish is healthy, but not if you eat the wrong fish. Check the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guide (www.mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp) to learn which fish are being sustainably caught.

7. From the very beginning of Earth Day in 1970, tree planting has been one of the most popular activities for people to take part in on Earth Day. Now Earth Day Network is spearheading a pair of campaigns to increase tree planting by local governments, youth groups, civic and garden associations, and many other types of organizations. In Earth Day Network's Global ReLeaf (www.earthday.net/goals/trees/releaf.stm) campaign, their goal is to help people around the world plant one billion new trees in the next five years.

8. Make sure all your consumption is responsible. Ever wanted to know who is behind your favourite breakfast cereal, toothpaste, beer, or clothing? Check www.responsibleshopper.org first and you'll find out who these companies are and what they are doing right and wrong. An excellent way to inform your consumption decisions. You can help turn the tide against consumption and learn simple steps to take toward an eco-friendlier lifestyle at www.newdream.org/turnthetide/.

9. Every year 130 million old cell phones are retired. Cell phones should not be disposed of in landfills since they contain various toxic materials that can harm the environment. By the year 2005 in Canada, there could be up to approximately 60 million stockpiled used cell phones weighing about 30,000 tons that could potentially enter our waste stream. Donate your old cell phone through the Charitable Recycling Program of Canada (www.charitablerecycling.ca/CA/home.asp). Your donated cell phone will be refurbished and put to further use. Refurbished phones are sent to emerging countries and areas in the Canada where there is an economic necessity for cell phones for both safety & communication. In the United States, donate a cell phone through the Cellular Telecommunication & Internet Association's Wireless Foundation (www.wirelessfoundation.org/).

10. Your body is 71 percent water and needs the constant replenishment of good, clean water. Learn about the "Water for Life" campaign, a two-year effort to highlight critical water access, health and usage issues, at www.earthday.net/goals/. About 20% of the world's water supply is used by corporations - at least half of that is wasted. Earth Day Network challenges the private sector to conserve water and reinvest in community development.

At a time of so much uncertainty and violence in the world, it is easy to be guided by our fears. But humans have always responded to the suffering of others with creativity and compassion. Earth Day is a time to remember how much the Earth needs your love. Nourish it by taking action this Earth Day and every day.

Michael Jessen is a Nelson consultant who specializes in helping companies and communities become more sustainable. He can be reached by telephone at 250-229-5632 or by email at Michael@zerowaste.ca. His business -- Zero Waste Services -- has an award-winning web site at www.zerowaste.ca.


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