It’s 5:45 a.m. The cellphone, made of plastic, lithium and iron (and other mineral materials) sounds its alarm. The scent of coffee brought from some tropical country filters through the walls into the shower where I bathe daily before heading out. The 3 gallons of gas to go to work, the air conditioner in the office, the 100 computers running, the tons of processed food served at noon, the clothes I’m wearing (and the closet filled with new rags that I never use), the TV on until midnight… in short, all our activities are measured by an excessive consumption of energy from non-renewable resources that we use day after day without even noticing. Our landscapes are damaged. Our oceans and rivers are contaminated. The air is more polluted every day. How do we face all of this?
First of all, be aware that a product brought to us from the other corner of the world is not the same thing as a product made in or near your home town that you can purchase a few blocks from home. Local consumption is fundamental.
Secondly, is to measure our environmental footprint from our habits and what we consume. It’s a known fact that today the environmental footprint on a finished product has to be studied from its different stages of transformation (Sau-Fun F., Subramanian S.M., Yi Li & Patrick Chi-Leung Hui, 2013, 1796). The authors explain that the environmental damage is multiplied as every material is exposed to more and more sophisticated production processes for the creation of other products. The environmental damage impacts all sectors, from the fields to industry, commerce and consumers.
Environmental educator, Charles Swanson, explains that, “a first step to dealing with these issues is to target the worst polluting practices and support the available alternatives. For example, energy produced by fossil fuels (or any other source for that matter; renewable or nonrenewable) can be reduced by smarter designs of both the things we use like cars, appliances, energy grids, buildings etc.; but also, smarter designs of our cities, businesses and families”.
Among the other alternatives is awareness of food consumption. “Food and farming is also a big issue. Modern industrial farming is very energy intensive, wasteful and polluting. Alternatives such as agroecological forms of land stewardship can not only supply our food but also sequester carbon, bring water back into aquafers, be less wasteful of water and energy and bring people back to the land and right livelihoods”, comments Swanson.
The situation is exacerbated when we can see from our governments that it’s not clear how to handle environmental issues.
“The environmental situation in the United States these days is quite grave. Climate scientists for decades have been ringing the alarm about damages brought on by anthropogenic climate change and little has been done in this country. Leaders in both business and government for the most part have taken a business-as-usual approach when it comes to their CO2 emissions and other practices that impact the environment. It’s even gotten worse recently when you consider the expansion of oil and gas infrastructure and the systematic deregulation of the industries that harm the environment the most”, he commented.
Swanson insists that “we must become radically civic in our communities. Public officials are our employees and we must hold them to account when they’re not doing their jobs to our liking. And at times we must resort to civil disobedience. We are not going to get ourselves out of this situation from just buying the right things and biking to work”.
“The daily changes we can make in our lives is the low-hanging fruit we must all take advantage of to make a small change for the benefit of our environment. It also makes a larger influence in our family and community culture. To list a few things to start: walk, ride a bicycle or take public transportation; use reusable daily things instead of disposable or single-use items like plastic bottles, disposable diapers, take-out containers, plastic plates, cups and cutlery, napkins, bags etc…; Support farmers, ranchers and beekeepers that are local and that practice regenerative methods; spend time everyday around nature even if that means going to a park for a few minutes or growing herbs in a pot on your patio”.
Keeping in mind that this online forum is designed to contribute to the generation of parents that are aware of the environmental footprint that we produce when we start families and how our consumption changes, we ask Swanson, why is it important to be responsible for our environmental footprint from the early years and how can we guide our children to be responsible citizens of planet Earth?
“It’s important to imprint environmental awareness and environmental practices upon our young ones. Children learn by mimicking others so when they see you composting, turning off an unused light or making dinner with your garden vegetables they will grow up to do it quite naturally. We should, more than anything, raise our kids with an unshakable love for the natural world. Studies have shown that just giving children an intellectual awareness of environmental issues doesn’t guarantee they’ll step up to environmental injustices. Children need a connection to nature that touches their feeling consciousness; something that sparks a deep love and kinship for that which sustains us. We all need to spend quality time in thriving wild environments, so we really understand what is at stake in these uncertain times.”
So, this April 22 the entire Sun Sprout team invites you to become aware of our habits and what we consume from our children’s early years to our final days on the planet. It’s not a matter of being afraid and stopping what we’re doing but to make yourself aware, so you can actually decide whether the things you consume are necessary. Or how we can change our consumption patterns to habits that contributes to the implementation of better environmental practices.
“Earth Day was created in 1970 as an opportunity to focus attention on the environmental issues of the day. It started in the United States and is now celebrated around the world. In Tucson, and other US cities, there are public events where businesses and organizations that focus on environmental issues promote their efforts to confront these issues and highlight the initiatives and projects that are making the earth a cleaner, safer and more just planet to live on”, explains Swanson about this environmental holiday.
Do you celebrate it? – I asked him- “For me every day is Earth Day. Every day there are opportunities to learn about what is happening on the environmental front and ways to participate for a positive change”.
Happy Earth Day to the whole Sun Sprout community!
Charles Swanson is the co-owner of Sun Sprout Diaper Service. He has a master’s degree from the University of Arizona in environmental learning. Charles also is the garden educator at Tucson Waldorf School.
Frency Sau-Fun Ng , Subramanian Senthilkannan Muthu , Yi Li & Patrick Chi-Leung Hui (2013) A Critical Review on Life Cycle Assessment Studies of Diapers, Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology, 43:16, 1795-1822, DOI: 10.1080/10643389.2012.671746