I recently read a book by the Union of Concerned Scientists "The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices ".Written in 1999, the practical advice and suggestions offered in this book make sense more than 10 years later.
Here are my take-away messages from reading this inspiring book.
First some high-impact activities that should be avoided:
1. Limit use of unregulated off-road transportation. Off-road engines (boats, ATV, dirt bikes) are frequently less regulated than cars and trucks,so their per hour emissions are much greater. Look for opportunities to limit use of these and replace old, unregulated engines with cleaner and more efficient choices
2. Reduce use of gasoline-powered lawn equipment. Like off-road engines, gasoline powered tools are often overlooked as sources of air pollution. Use these tools sparingly and choose cleaner options when possible.
3. Replace old wood burning stoves with cleaner/more efficient models. Regular fireplaces and older wood burning stoves are not very efficient and can contribute to air pollution. (The EPA provides more information http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/woodstoves.html and http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/woodstoves.html.)
4. Stop using hazardous chemicals, cleaners, and paint. (Choose less toxic or hazardous products wherever possible. This includes pesticides and herbicides!)
5. Avoid products made from endangered/threatened species. (This is very obvious so to that list I would add non-sustainable products)
The authors also recommend practices that consumers should do to help the environment. These are common sense steps and practices that are worth reviewing:
Transportation. Drive less: combine trips and walk/bike/mass transit/carpool more. When replacing an old car, choose a fuel efficient model (think in terms of gallons per hundred miles, rather than miles per gallon).
Food. Eat lower on the food chain (less meat, more veggies). Buy local or organic whenever possible.
Home and Office. Make your home as efficient as possible (insulate and prevent air leaks; install programmable thermostats; use low-flow shower heads and toilets; maintain your heating system; and consider upgrading heating system or appliances to more efficient model if more than 15 years old). Choose an energy supplier that offers renewable energy.
Give special attention to major purchases. Major purchases (automobile, home, appliances, energy offeror, etc.) are your opportunity to make a larger difference and drive the marketplace to offer more environmentally-responsible choices. You are voting with your dollar whenever you choose to buy products that are better for the environment.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Think about the items on this list and focus on those. Then try to do more (reduce/reuse/repurpose/recycle), but don’t stress if can’t or forget. For example, if you forget to bring a reusable bag when you shop, just reuse/recycle the bag you receive. Don’t beat yourself up about it!
Get involved. What can you do to help spread the word about how you feel and what you have learned? You may want to be a leader in your community, be a grassroots member (contacting elected representatives and other people), or teaching young people or adults formally through after school or continuing education programs or informally to your family, friends, and neighbors. These will also put you in touch with like-minded people from whom you will learn about other things you can do or try.
I know it can be daunting when we read the news and research reports concerning the environmental problems. However, we can all make changes to turn things around. I choose to see this as a series of opportunities to make a difference, rather than an impossible mountain that must be overcome.