I recently gave an interview on The Jefferson Exchange public radio program where a listener called in to ask what a typical person could do to reduce their ecological footprint without moving off the grid. It was a good question. Most people can’t or don’t want to live the kind of life I had in Taos. Yet plenty of people want to lessen their impact on the earth and achieve a similar reduction in expenses. What can they do?
The list is long, the choices many. Every individual is different and must decide what makes sense for him/herself. Can you drive less somehow? Can you make improvements to the energy efficiency of your home? Can you switch to locally-grown, organic food? Any choice you can make that will save you money will usually reduce your usage of the earth’s resources as well.
But what if you are already spending as little as possible? Or what if the usual suggestions don’t apply to you? For instance, adequate public transportation doesn’t exist where you live, so you are forced to drive to work every day. Or you rent your home and your landlord refuses to install better insulation or energy-efficient appliances. Or there is no farmer’s market/community garden/natural foods store nearby, and a mainstream grocery store is your only option.
If you have exhausted all individual solutions, then you need a good community solution. You and everybody else. This is the real answer.
I brainstormed the following list of ideas to get us started. (If you can think of some more, I would love to see them.)
- Public utilities that provide electricity and heat from renewable resources
- Tighter energy efficiency requirements for any appliance that consumes energy
- Regulation of public water supplies to ensure adequate quantity and quality for the future, plus enforcement of the regulation
- More community garden spaces
- More parks and trees in urban/suburban centers to help clean up air pollution and keep temperatures cooler
- Recycling bins next to every garbage can in all public spaces
- Home recycling at no greater cost than garbage pickup
- Requirements for manufacturers to use less packaging in all their products
- Convenient, affordable public transportation, ideally powered by renewable energy
- Safe, convenient pedestrian and bike paths
And how do we put these ideas into practice? By asking for them. For example, ask your city council for more community garden spaces, parks, and trees. Lobby your state representative for higher renewable energy requirements for public utilities. Pressure your federal representative for changes in manufacturing laws to tighten energy efficiency standards for appliances or to use less packaging material for all products. When all else fails, call a local newspaper or television reporter and ask them to investigate the quality of the water supply in your area, or the level of air pollution and how it affects public health, or why the bus system isn’t used by more people.
Part of the beauty of living in America is that an individual can effect change simply by agitating for it. And that doesn’t have to involve angry picket signs: it can simply be a letter to your congressperson. If enough of us demand it, change will come.