Sunday, June 28, 2015

Helping the Earth for my Grandkids

I began to become concerned about the long term environmental sustainability of human behaviours before I reached my teens. I remember doing a science project when I was about 11 or 12 or 13 in which I implemented several rules at my household that involved reducing, recycling, and reusing. This was long before awareness of environmental issues was a common thing, and before these words had become a mantra for us all. This was around 1969-70. I can no longer remember all of the environmental rules I presented to my family, but I do remember two that "stuck." I created a compost bucket for kitchen vegetable waste, and I put concrete blocks into the tanks of our two toilets to reduce water usage. My family was somewhat bemused but went along with it. It was one of my first lessons that one person's actions can influence others' beliefs and behaviours with respect to big social and environmental issues. 

Some 45 years later, I am still concerned about environmental sustainability, and I still compost and try to use water wisely. I am far less sure, however, that my small actions are enough to make a real difference. Although I am am quite diligent in many small environmental actions, I am uncomfortably aware that some of my large actions are many magnitudes more damaging to the environment than the little preventative things that I do to increase sustainability. A list of some of my environmentally reponsible behaviours follows.


- Grow some of my own food in a backyard garden
- Garden organically
- Use square foot gardening method (intensive rotated plots)
- Compost vegetable waste and yard waste
- Use compost to build the soil
- Avoid the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and inorganic fertilizers
- Use the least amount of water necessary in the yard and garden
- When possible, choose food grown locally, humanely, and organically
- Buy groceries in smaller quantities and use leftovers to reduce food waste
- Bring leftovers home from restaurant
- Choose items with less packaging
- Use reusable cloth shopping bags
- Recycle cans and plastic and glass bottles
- Take newspaper and cardboard to recycling depot
- Take paints and other chemicals to recycling depot for proper disposal
- Donate used clothing and household goods
- Bring my own mug or water bottle
- Reuse plastic bags and glass jars
- Choose environmentally sustainable household cleansers (e.g., Citrus cleanser)
- Cloth diapers rather than disposables as much as possible
- Plant trees
- Use short cycle on washing machine if possible
- Turn off lights and electronics when not in use
- Eat less meat
- Reusable lunchbag
- When possible, choose glass, metal or paper over plastic
- Installed water cooler at work to reduce staff use of bottled water
- Use the items I have until they wear out, and avoid shopping unnecessarily (eschew materialism)


- Water by hand or with soaker hose
- Water in the morning or evening, not under the hot sun
- Have planted drought tolerant perennials 
- Choose wild salmon, not farmed salmon
- Purchased low flow toilets
- Purchased hot water on demand system
- Wash in cold water
- Wash full laundry loads rather than a few items
- Don't run the tap when brushing teeth, or only a trickle
- Do not use the garburator


- Do not use air conditioning in my home
- Turn the thermostat down at night and when away
- Chose a smaller more fuel efficient car over a larger gas guzzler
- Sometimes walk or bike rather than drive
- Carpool when possible, e.g., to social or work event
- Live relatively close to work so don't have to commute far
- Have natural gas furnace and fireplace rather than oil, coal or wood
- Do not purchase aerosol cans
- Do not use motorized "toys" for entertainment (quad, motorboat, motorcycle, sled)

These are strawberries that I grew in my garden.

However, there are other bigger things that I do that are not very sustainable. I fly in airplanes far too much, both for work, and to go visit my grandchildren as often as possible. We own two cars, and one is a big truck and camper rig that is not fuel efficient. We live in a house that is much larger than we need. We have not invested in household systems that are more environmentally friendly, such as solar panels, a grey water system, or energy efficient new windows. We had begun doing this in our previous house, but not since we moved here. My house is not close enough to my workplace that I can walk or bike to work. Much of my pension funds are invested in energy funds and other big corporations that are engaged in non-sustainable practices. Rob and I like to go on long driving/camping holidays. We have backyard and camping bonfires. I eat sushi that is made with farmed Atlantic salmon. 

I feel conflicted because some of my behaviours are not aligned with my beliefs and values. I guess it is still worth doing the environmentally conscious things that I do. But I know there is a lot more I could be doing. Those remaining things are the hardest kinds of behaviours to change, however.