Awaken your inner Climate Hero in 2019

Six months ago, a relatively unknown young Swedish girl took a bold step – and almost overnight she became a global celebrity.

Grieved by our global climate crisis, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg decided to go on strike from school, saying, “What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts given by the finest scientists are ignored by our politicians?”

Soon she was joined by other students – then more, then more.  Then similar strikes started happening on the first Friday of each month at other schools and in other countries.  Last month, more than 20,000 students held strikes in at least 270 cities in over a dozen countries (including Canada).

In November, Greta gave an impactful TEDx Talk in Stockholm (spoiler alert: expect a bit of shame and a lot of motivation); in December, she spoke at the UN’s climate summit in Poland.  The movement she began continues to grow monthly, and the media and politicians are starting to take note.

I’ve always believed each of us has the potential for greatness, and Greta proves that’s true.  She’s also shown you don’t need to write a book or invent a gadget; you just need commitment and focus.  You just need to show up.

So if you’re a student of any age, why not make this your jumping-off point to greatness?  You can find complete info on how to organize or take part in an event here.

And if you’re not into strikes or activism, why not at least call or write your elected leaders to demand action?  Find your federal Member of Parliament’s contact info here.

It’s climate crunch time, and we need more people like Greta (regardless of age).  Why not me, and why not you?

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Renewed resolve

January 2, 2019

What’s your sustainability goal for 2019?

When it comes to climate change, 2018 was a pretty tough year.  Hurricanes Florence and Michael (neither caused by climate change, but both intensified by it).  The California wildfires.  A major report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that we will blow past 1.5°C unless global emissions are reduced by half in just 12 years.  A dire US National Climate Assessment report that was quietly released during the US Thanksgiving weekend.

Clearly, we need strong collective action – but individual action too, because each of us can make a much bigger difference than we realize.

So, if New Year’s is a time for resolutions and new beginnings, what’s your sustainability resolution for 2019?  Here are a few ideas:

My 2019 resolution?  That my family will be carbon neutral for our electricity and transportation by 2022.

I’d love to hear your 2019 sustainability resolution (just hit reply) – and I’ll keep you posted on my progress on mine!

Happy – and sustainable – 2019!

Choose an alternative to helium balloons when you celebrate

Like everyone else, I’ve watched helium-filled balloons bob up into the sky to the cheers of people celebrating some event or other – or to the cries of a young person who inadvertently relaxed their grip.  There’s something exciting about seeing them defy gravity and go up, up and away.

But what goes up must come down.  And since balloons are not typically biodegradable, they become pollution: often ending up in our oceans, where they can be fatal for turtles and other sea life that mistake them as food.  More on that here.

So what to do instead?  For celebrations, why not consider ribbon dancers, pinwheels or garden spinners?

Pinwheels

For commemorations, why not consider a native seed bomb, releasing floating (native) flowers down a calm stream, or blowing giant bubbles?

seedbombs

More creative plastic-free celebration ideas here.

Greetings of the season, and Happy 2019!  Thanks for being a Green Ideas subscriber.

carl

Alternatives to plastic toothbrushes

Most of us brush our teeth without thinking much about what our toothbrush is made of and where it ends up after we’re done with it.  But maybe we should.

Consider: most toothbrushes are made of virgin plastic; they’re unlabelled as to recyclability or they’re simply not recyclable; billions of plastic toothbrushes are used worldwide every year; and toothbrushes are one of the most common plastic items floating in our oceans or washing up on our beaches.

So what to do?  Alas, I haven’t been able to find a perfect eco-friendly alternative, but there are many things the average fan of dental hygiene can do:

  • BEST: a bamboo toothbrush with boar bristles: 100% compostable. However, you’re not alone if you find yourself cringing at the prospect of putting those bristles in your mouth; and they may be stiffer and therefore rougher on teeth than the average dentist may like.  Easy to find online if not available where you shop; one option here.
  • BETTER: a bamboo toothbrush with nylon bristles. The handle can be composted as long as you yank out the bristles first and trash them (they’re not recyclable).  A little work, but a pretty good result.  One option here; another here.
  • GOOD: a toothbrush with a replaceable head / reusable handle. At least not all of it gets trashed!
  • Small step in the right direction: seek out a toothbrush that is made from recycled plastic and is recyclable. (Call the manufacturer if recyclability is not indicated; enough customer concerns = change).

Happy brushing!

Choose not to be coerced by marketing and hype

From the Better World Handbook: “Everything you own owns you.  Everything you buy, you must maintain, store, repair, clean and perhaps insure.  Our stuff quickly becomes a psychological burden.”

Black Friday, the biggest shopping frenzy of the year, is upon us.  It’s billed as being great for the economy, but it’s a big source of clutter, waste and indebtedness.

So here are three questions to consider when you feel tempted by a ‘great deal’:

  1. Do I really need it? The honest answer is often no.
  2. Will it really improve my life? Or is that notion just clever marketing on the part of the seller?
  3. If I buy this, what will I need to get rid of to make space for it?

And here are two strategies to help you shop wisely:

  1. Take a shopping list, and stick to it; don’t fall prey to clever advertising, fancy displays or other bells and whistles.
  2. Avoid impulse purchases, because you’ll often regret them later. If you feel the urge, promise yourself you’ll buy it next week – if you still feel the urge.

And finally, here’s one guaranteed way to happily get by with less stuff: borrow things you’ll only need rarely, like tools, movies or trucks.  Get to know your neighbours and your library.

Hear comedian George Carlin’s take on stuff in this classic routine (language warning) – and happy, Green Friday!

Six painless things you can do to reduce plastic waste

Arg – plastic: it’s the best material ever, for all the amazing uses it has.  And it’s the worst material ever, for it’s persistence in our environment.

Plastic never breaks down; it just breaks into tinier and tinier pieces, and much of it washes into our oceans – and now we’re seeing it show up in food chains.

As with most things environmental, prevention is better than cure – so here are six painless ways you can reduce plastic waste:

  • Give up plastic shopping bags and resolve to use only reusable bags or boxes
  • Skip straws, plastic plates, foam cups and other disposables
  • Avoid bottled water; use your own refillable water bottle (and start saving too!)
  • Choose products with the least plastic packaging when you shop
  • Recycle everything you can. Globally, only 18 cent of plastic is recycled; why not do your part to help improve that?
  • Don’t litter

Check out this National Geographic article for more about plastics.

Make fuel efficiency a priority when you rent

Has this ever happened to you?  You show up at a car rental counter and learn that the model you booked isn’t available – so you’re offered a larger model instead.  They call it a ‘free upgrade’.

Alas, in the car rental business, such ‘free upgrades’ may mean bigger vehicles with more space, but they also mean worse fuel efficiency – and that’s an added cost to both the renter and our environment.

So the next time that happens, why not ask instead for a vehicle that’s more fuel-efficient instead of less – let’s call it an ‘eco-upgrade’?  (And if you happen to get an incredulous look, maybe it’s a great opportunity for a gentle educational moment on the importance of fuel efficiency in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.)

(True story: the above scenario happened on our family’s vacation last summer, and, after asking, we ended up with a Ford Fusion hybrid: luxurious, roomy and very fuel efficient!)

The downside of home delivered meal kits

Perhaps you’ve noticed a recent trend in food marketing: home-delivered meal kits.

The concept is simple: you go to a website, browse a menu, pick a gourmet meal for your family, order and voila: a box shows up at your door days later with all the ingredients you need to prepare that meal: the main course, veggies, sauces, spices and more.  All you need to do is open the box and follow the preparation instructions.  What could be simpler for today’s busy consumer?  No wonder home-delivered meal kits are now offered by dozens of companies via the internet.

But before you sign up, consider:

  • Meal kits come with a lot of packaging. They’re usually shipped in insulated boxes (which may not be recyclable), often with ice packs to keep things cold in transit.  Ingredients inside the box are usually further packaged as well.
  • Many meal kits originate quite far away, so they have a significant transportation footprint (including that delivery van to your door)
  • If a meal kit you choose is coming from afar, you can be pretty certain there’s nothing local inside it

So instead of succumbing to the allure (and expense!) of a meal-in-a-box, why not just shop your local farmers market, co-op or food store – for lightly-packaged local food with a small transportation footprint?

“Less”

If you’re like me, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the distressing environmental news we’re hearing lately, from heatwaves to hurricanes to plastic in the oceans.  All symptoms of a planet straining under the burden of more and more humans consuming ever more resources of every kind, seemingly oblivious to physical limits and boundaries.  And through it all, we’re counselled to keep consuming, because it’s good for the economy.

So what to do?

One of the learnings from a leadership course I took years ago was this: true leadership means not being afraid to periodically challenge or question well-established processes, paradigms and beliefs.

So maybe it’s time to question an economy founded on ever more consumption, and reorient toward an economy founded on sustainability and happiness.

And maybe a first action step would be to simply try to consume less of everything – from gas to plastic to clothing to imported food.  For sure, the planet will benefit – but in all probability so will your wallet (and your mental health).

And two more things:

  • Read a great definition of minimalism here (and, interestingly, the long list of benefits doesn’t even include ‘saving the planet’!)
  • Check out Radical Simplicity and Your Money or Your Life, two great books about living happily on less

Consider buying carbon offsets

If you think being ‘carbon neutral’ means having to have an array of solar panels to run your home and charge your electric car, think again.  Carbon offsetting is a far simpler – and quicker – alternative.

Carbon offsetting involves compensating for the greenhouse gases you generate by voluntarily paying to reduce emissions elsewhere – for example, by helping fund the construction of renewable energy sources.  If you prevent the same amount of emissions elsewhere as you produce in your own life, you are technically ‘carbon neutral’ (because the planet only cares about total emissions, not where they come from).

For example, even though my own home draws electricity from the local power grid, I pay an additional small amount for every kilowatt-hour we consume, and that goes toward supplying more green energy into the grid.  So our home’s electricity is technically carbon neutral, even though we don’t have panels on the roof.  (My supplier is Bullfrog Power, a leading Canadian company – and it only took minutes to set up*.)

Sound complicated? It is, sort of – but this TVOntario article explains it well.

And – the principle of ‘buyer beware’ definitely applies to carbon offsets; there’s plenty of snake oil out there.  But this David Suzuki Foundation article offers great guidance on what to look for and what to avoid.

For the record: I do hope to eventually have my own solar panels.  But until that happens, a carbon offset is a pretty good alternative.

*I have no interests, financial or other, in the company.