Choices we make in one area of our lives can strongly affect others.
For example, a desire for the typical "American lawn" of perfectly even, bright green, single-species grass can negatively affect our food and water supplies.
Around 7 billion gallons of water are used daily in the United States to irrigate our landscaping. Non-native species, which are the typical choices for these spaces, require more water than native species which are better adapted to the area's rainfall levels. This excess use of potable water can mean water shortages and drought.
Mono-cultures also provide little sustenance to local wildlife, particularly pollinators. Huge amounts of available land are tied up and offer little for bees, butterflies, or birds, whose populations then suffer. The alarming decrease in pollinator populations, especially honey bees, is well documented and threatens the continued production of a wide variety of food stuffs such as apples, blueberries, pumpkins, almonds, and tomatoes.
The use of heavy fertilizers and insecticides to keep those lawns looking "perfect" can cause nitrogen runoff that is toxic to aquatic animals downstream and kill non-targeted species of beneficial insects and pollinators through contact.
So what to do?
First, we can try to break the association in our minds that a "perfect lawn" is the goal. Try to think about how a yard can be a healthy place, for ourselves and native wildlife and how it can contribute to a better overall environment.
Look into turning yards "wild" with a variety of native plants that are well adapted for their location. Local Audubon chapters often hold Local Plant sales giving a great opportunity to build up native species.
Use compost to fertilize rather than store bought chemicals, and research which plants can be planted near each other to help discourage pests. Try applications of cedarwood oil to the yard to help control mosquitoes, ticks and ants, rather than heavy insecticides.
Hold off on mowing. Waiting a bit longer in between lawn care gives pollinators a chance to feed off of blooms before cutting them down. It's less work for us and gives our local hardworking critters a much appreciated boost!
As we get more information on how our actions affect the world around us, we can start making changes to try to bring our lifestyle more in harmony with our environment.
Growing our own food can benefit us in many ways.
Homesteading goes a few steps further than just growing fruits and vegetables in the back yard. It can involve livestock, large scale food production, and near total self sufficiency. This approach is not for everyone, but for those who strive for independence and want to reconnect with the land and our place in it, it can be a very appealing lifestyle!
Some sustainability changes are big and may have to be saved up for, or planned for over a long period of time. Big, infrequent purchases should be thoroughly researched to see what the most responsible choice is since they don't come along often.
Installing solar panels is a great move towards decreasing carbon emissions and cutting monthly utilities bill. Doing research before hand is crucial though, as the size of system, amount of sunlight the house receives, and what kind of battery backup (if any) is chosen can drastically change the outcome of this upgrade.
When looking to buy a car, choosing an electric car can be a great way to decrease carbon emissions. However, if the electricity grid it charges from is mainly powered by dirty energy such as coal then if may not end up being as "green" as we'd hoped. Electric car batteries also use large amounts of rare earth minerals that are sometimes mined with child labor. Researching where these materials are sourced before hand is important in making this decision. Public transit or a hybrid/ high mileage gasoline powered car may be a decent alternative.
Passive Heating and Cooling
Buildings can be designed to maximize heat retention in the winter, and heat dissipation in the summer, decreasing the need for additional heating or cooling systems.
Tiny Home/ Downsizing
If looking to move towards minimalism, downsizing one's home, or even moving to a Tiny house, may be the right move. These tiny homes decrease utility costs, land usage, and have the option to be taken off grid through a combination of solar power, rain catchment, and composting toilets. Not for everyone, but a really amazing option for some!
If traveling abroad, try to research and support responsible eco-tourism, where costs will go right back into preserving those amazing locations and wildlife.
Sustainability changes at the personal level are important, and can influence others to make personal changes as well.
But large systemic changes in our society often need to be implemented at the federal, state, or local level in order to make an impact.
Voting for candidates who make sustainability and responsibility part of their platform is one way to help us move toward a better, healthier world. After voting, it's important to keep in touch with your representatives: letting them know where you stand and which of their actions you do and don't agree with. This holds representatives responsible for the actions they take (or don't) once in office.
Corporations are some of the biggest perpetrators of crimes against sustainability. Since so much of what companies do is based on the bottom line, if a company thinks that its consumers don't care about things like carbon emissions, disposable products, and plastic waste, then they most likely will not make that a priority. Consumer awareness and strategic support or company boycotts tell companies what is important to us. We can contact customer service and tell them how we feel. Received a package with a ridiculous amount of non-recyclable packaging? We can tell them that it's not acceptable and look for another company whose values align more closely with our own.
Look to support companies that put sustainability at the forefront of their business model. Our dollars vote for the kind of world we want to live in. Let's all make it a good one!
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