Saturday, October 05, 2013

Beginner's Guide to Going Green, Part 2: Big Ideas To Keep In Mind

Welcome to "A Beginner's Guide to Going Green," a 2-part blog series about living more sustainably, no matter where you live or what your budget is!

BEFORE I START, A CAVEAT: So, a lot of people disagree that our planet is in crisis. I'm not really interested in debating that here. I've done a lot of research and have come to my conclusions based on careful studying of the issues and prayerful thought. If you're not interested in changing your lifestyle or disagree with those who want to change theirs, I invite you to read something in another corner of the internet. I'm continually researching global warming and environmentalism, and I invite you to do that research on your own as well.

Okay, now that's out of the way.

Look, something you can pin to Pinterest! If you're into that sort of thing.

So let's say you want to live greener. You want to live more sustainably. You want to exercise better stewardship over the earth. But then you start to think about all the changes you would need to make and get totally overwhelmed.

Don't worry. That's common.

The thing is that we're so used to our high standard of living that we assume our lives will have to change DRASTICALLY in order to save the earth. But those drastic changes don't have to happen all at once, and even if you only make one or two small, non-drastic changes, that helps!

In Part 1: 15 Easy Ways to Save the Planet, I gave you a few concrete tips on how to live more sustainably. If you're already doing those things and want to do MORE, or if you're confused about the reasoning behind some of those tips, here are a few big ideas that govern green living...the "why" behind the "what." Knowing these things will help you make greener decisions.

I'm kind of giving the "reader's digest" version of all of these concepts, so feel free to do some of your own research if you'd like. These are the basics. (A warning: you'll probably find a lot of controversy surrounding a lot of these ideas. Of course you're welcome to make your own conclusions.) 

Greenhouse Gas
So the earth is surrounded by an atmosphere that protects it from the hazards of space...things like meteors and certain wavelengths of UV light. The atmosphere is made up of a handful of gases, and some of them are what we call "greenhouse gases." These gases let energy from the sun IN, but don't let them back OUT. Normally, this is a good's what keeps our planet warm and makes life possible. But when there's a LOT of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, it traps more heat, warming up our planet. The earth naturally goes through periods of being colder or warmer, but when it happens too fast, it can get pretty hairy. Right now, there's a LOT of greenhouse gas...way more than there should be. All that gas is trapping a lot of heat on the earth right now, which melts ice caps, affects weather patterns, raises sea levels, and disrupts every ecosystem on the planet.

Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels come from decomposing organisms from thousands of years ago, and include oil, natural gas, petroleum and coal. They're bad for the environment for two reasons: first, the process of mining them takes a big toll on the environment, destroying biodiversity and leaking chemicals into the ground. Second, their use releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. See above. But fossil fuels don't just give us gasoline...we use fossil fuels for EVERYTHING. They're often burned to give us electricity and to create plastics.

Travel Footprint
Buying stuff that was grown or made far away takes a big toll on the environment, because of all the fuel used to get it to wherever you are. This is one of the big things to keep in mind when you're shopping, especially for food. (You may find some organic, wholesome, all-natural jam at the grocery store, but the grapes came from France and you live in Idaho. In that case, it's probably better for the earth to just buy the non-organic local jam.)

Organic Products 
Organic products are grown and processed without the use of irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, genetically modified organisms, or hormones. (Now you're thinking. " food was processed with SEWAGE SLUDGE?!) The USDA has pretty strict standards when it comes to what they certify, and their organic program's mission is to preserve biodiversity and protect resources, so most of the time, organic is a good way to go. But be careful...if it doesn't have the USDA seal, it wasn't certified through the government and might not be TRULY organic. Look for this on things you buy:

Humane Treatment
This applies mostly to food and cosmetics. When it comes to food, chickens, cows and pigs often live in cramped quarters, without room to move, and a lot of them die from their living conditions. Look for phrases like "cage-free" and "free-range" on your eggs, chicken, beef, and pork. When it comes to cosmetics, look for labels indicating no animal testing. Sadly, animal testing is STILL going on in the United States for more than just medicine. Giving animals good living conditions does a couple of things for the earth...number one, it's just good stewardship. Number two, large industrial farms with poor living conditions release a ton of carbon dioxide and methane, just from processing.

"Dirty" Companies
There are a handful of what I call "dirty companies" out there...companies that have bad reputations for environmentalism. Some of them include Tyson, Monsanto, and the Koch Brothers (who own LOTS of other companies). Learning about "dirty companies" takes a LOT of research, and you have your own standards of what you will and will not stand for.

Fair Trade
This one is sometimes not as much about environmentalism as it is about stewardship. It's also something to keep in mind as you're shopping. There are a handful of products that are in such high demand and make so much money that they're often manufactured in third world countries in dangerous conditions (child labor, long hours, bad pay, etc). Sugar and cocao (chocolate) are two big culprits. "Fair Trade" labels indicate that the product was manufactured without those bad conditions.

I guess I shouldn't say "chemicals," because technically, chemicals are in EVERYTHING. But there are a lot of harsh chemicals that can be easily avoided. Cleaning supplies often contain lots of harsh chemicals that get into the groundwater, rivers and streams, destroying biodiversity and disrupting ecosystems. Most of the time, you can find "green" cleaning supplies at any store, or just use household alternatives like baking soda and vinegar. When using chemicals like paints, solvents, and anything that goes in a car, be sure to dispose of them properly. Just throwing them into a dumpster can release them into the wild. Take them to your local garbage disposal instead.

Whew! That's a lot to take in, I know. This list of things can feel a little overwhelming, more than the list in part one. If you're feeling overwhelmed, you can try to incorporate one item at a time into your shopping habits. For example, for one month, you'll focus on buying organic. Another month, you'll focus on buying local. After a while, you'll find a balance of what works for you and your family. If you'd like to incorporate all of these ideas at once, here's a handy checklist for your shopping!

Sometimes when you research "going green" and environmentalism, you can start to feel a little hopeless. Things are looking pretty rough for our planet right now, and it's easy to feel like the things you're doing aren't making a difference. But think of this. If EVERYONE did just a little, it can make a HUGE difference. And there are lots of people out there trying to live a little more sustainably. You aren't building the Colosseum single-handedly. There are lots of people carrying bricks, and the more people who carry bricks, the more we can get done. So spread the word! Be the change you want to see in the world. Research. Find the truth and form your opinions. Decide what you can do and do it! It sounds cheesy, but together, we really can make a difference.

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