You’ve probably heard by now about the Bush Administration covering up evidence of melting icecaps.

20,000 musk oxen starved to death in the arctic because of a phenomenon called a “rain on snow event”. Rain falls on snow, turns to ice. Oxen come by and try to dig with their hooves for the grass under the snow. But they can’t break the ice. So they die.

Meanwhile, New England is having one of the coldest, wettest summers ever. There’s mold growing in my closet and I can’t get the moisture out of the carpet. And I live on the third floor.

And around me all I hear about how it’s too much work to change people’s habits, and we’re all screwed anyway ’cause nothing we do will take effect for another fifty years, and we don’t live in the arctic or the tropics or a third world country, so why bother.

So! It’s time for another big long ranting list of stuff I really hope I can get you to start doing to reduce your environmental footprint, in hopes of preventing myself from drowning in impotent rage and guilt. Fun!

Compost. It’s not that hard. You already learned how to recycle. It’s just one more container. Corn husks, banana peels, apple cores, carrot stubs, coffee grounds, tea leaves, untreated paper, eggshells, etc., etc. Keep it in a sealed tub; when the tub fills up, empty it in a heap in the backyard, in the same place you put your leaves and grass clippings. Aerate it once in awhile with a shovel. In a couple months, you’ll have some fine, fertile dirt. No, animals won’t get into it–not if you don’t try to compost bones or meat. No, you don’t have to lay off during the winter. Cold slows down decomposition, but doesn’t stop it. Decomposition produces heat!

You can even compost if you don’t have a backyard. Learn about vermiculture. It is super cool.

Consume less. For example:

  • Get ice cream in a cone instead of a cup. Ice cream cones taste good and are fun. And then you don’t have to throw away the cup and spoon.
  • Stop buying bottled water. Filter your own water, and drink it from a container you’re not going to throw away when it’s empty. Recycling isn’t perfect, and chances are you’re just paying them to bottle tap water anyway. And ship it to you from Fiji. Expending fossil fuels in the process.
  • Stop buying coffee. See above. I don’t care if it comes in recyclable unbleached paper cups now. Make your own. Then you don’t need a recyclable unbleached paper cup.

Recycle. Learn the rules of recycling in your town, and follow them, for real, all the time. If you work in a different town than you live in, learn those rules too. Hassle your co-workers about it. If they see you picking their plastic and aluminum out of the trash enough times, they’ll quit throwing it away out of guilt. I’ve seen it happen. No, you should not feel guilty for making other people feel guilty. Guilt is the only thing that’s going to get anybody to change. Why else do you think Bush covered up those satellite photos?

Reuse. Brew beer like me! Then you don’t even need to recycle. Drink out of the same glass bottles over and over until they break.

Buy food grown locally. Tomatoes shipped to your megamart from a thousand miles away taste like cardboard. Local tomatoes by comparison are a revelation on the tongue, and nobody had to spray them with chemicals or burn a lot of gas getting them to you. The same is true of pretty much everything else you can get at the supermarket. If you can buy something locally, do so.

Grow food. It’s not hard. You have a window. Get a window box. Plant herbs.

Read labels. Don’t just accept that because your dishwashing detergent now comes with green dye and a tree on the label that you’re allowed to feel better about yourself. Repackaging the same horrible stuff and trying to pretend like it’s environmentally conscious is just as bad as trying to cover up the satellite photos of the receding arctic ice.

Educate people. If any of what I am saying is getting through to you, try to get it through to somebody else. Even if it pisses them off. Think of it this way: not trying might keep them happy, but it pisses me off.

Suck it up. Do without.

Trade in your gas guzzler. I’m doing it. Obviously it’s not for everyone, but if they’re going to throw money at us, might as well try and catch some of it. If you have a big old car, trade it in for a little new car. Doesn’t have to be a hybrid or anything. Just a bottom-of-the-line, sensible hatchback.

I could go on. I still feel guilty and filled with impotent rage. But I’ve probably alienated you by now anyway. And I’m not sorry.


  1. None of these things are even that hard to do. New Englanders used to be arbiters of thrift and economy, which included things like reusing stuff until it was completely worn out (the old joke about how you know if you’re a true New Englander: You have a box in the attic labeled, “String too short to use”), then fixing it and using it more; and gardening and bartering in order to not have to supplement groceries. It’s sensible generally, and now it’s even more sensible and has even more beneficial consequences (which it always did, we just know what they are now).

    Also, do you mind if I send you a link to something I think you might enjoy? I think I still have your email in my address book.

    1. Yankee ingenuity! I totally agree. It’s not like we’re being asked to do anything radically new. Just getting back to our roots.

      That is a great old joke.

      Yes, please send a link—I think I still have my email in the contact page?

  2. Thanks for the reminder, Mike. I wax and wane with this stuff. It’s especially difficult when traveling. I’ve all but eliminated disposable cups from my regular use — my coworkers look at me like I’m crazy when I run for the kitchen to get a travel mug when they talk about going for coffee — but the growing food stuff I still need a better handle on, and I’ve gotten lax about buying local since we moved to SF. And all of this very stupidly falls out of my head for some reason when I’m not at home. Biking into Berkeley I have done twice, and once it didn’t even nearly kill me — I hear they have a much better farmer’s market. Our quite strange most local one seems to sell only carrots, tzaziki sauce, and bread.

    I think the way to get people to change is to support those who are trying, which means giving each other a kick in the head periodically. Your example always goads me into better behavior.

    Have you seen this book? I have it but am not very far into it yet.

    1. It looks like a great book. I do really wish I had more wise old agriculturalists to learn from. Most of my gardening efforts and attempts to prolong the resulting bounty through winter yield variable results at best. But I get better slowly.

      This summer I’m doing better as a forager than a gardener.

      How can SF not have a good farmer’s market. That is saddening.

      Hey–it’s illegal not to compost there now, right? Do you compost? I know it’s like not recycling being illegal in Boston–the law doesn’t work on everybody because it’s not enforced. But in Boston it seems like, over time at least, the law has gotten more people to recycle. Which I hope happens in SF with composting.

      The benefits of composting are so readily noticeable and satisfying (not just reduce trash volume, but make your trash smell less bad thus allowing you to wait longer to take it out–to say nothing of the resultant nice jet black dirt) that I can’t believe I haven’t been doing it longer, and I actually talk excitedly about it at the drop of a hat.

      I haven’t tried vermiculture, by my sister lives on Comm Ave in boston and has composted successfully in her tiny apartment. She grew some nice jalapenos in her window too. Cities are good for warm-weather plants because they increase average temperatures year round.

      But I’m rambling now. I will look for this Kingsolver book.

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