We've been in an "exceptional" drought here in SW Colorado and Finn is standing at the outdoor spigot filling up dump truck load after dump truck load of water and depositing them on the other end of the lawn. "Just one more load mom, pleeeeaaasee." Five years ago I would have shuddered and probably made some harsh judgments about the un-environmentally conscious parenting that was going on. Now I know, or I try to start with the assumption, that we are all doing the best we can. I know that I cannot single-handedly stop the climate from changing (even though I do feel like I wear a cape with an "S" on it some days), but I can join millions of people who are daily making sustainable choices that feel important to us and thus making the world a better place. As author Robert Swan says "the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” So with many years of experience in the sustainability field under my belt and a busy four year old running around with a hose, these are some things that I have prioritized at my house to live as sustainably and eco-guilt free as possible.
And yes, mom-ing is a thing. Take a look around next time you're at the grocery store or other public place. Yep, moms are almost ALWAYS in action, doing something, usually for their children. In fact I think mom-ing deserves a place in the dictionary.
Eat Your Greens
It's true, by eating your veggies and cleaning your plate, you can help save the planet. Not wasting food and eating a plant-rich diet are the top three and four solutions to solve climate change identified in the book Drawdown by eco-pioner Paul Hawken. According to their research, the food we waste is responsible for approximately 8% of global emissions. A plant-based diet is not only healthier for us ( potentially saving $1 trillion in annual health-care costs and lost productivity) but a vegan diet could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70%. And get this statistic- if cows were their own country, they would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. Holy cow!!
The promise of saving the planet may prove to be a persuasive tool to get those picky kiddos to finish that kale.
A vegan diet isn't for everyone, but I figure if I can at least switch out a few meat or dairy based meals a week, that's a step in the right direction. My go-to for easy, delicious and kid-friendly vegan meals is Oh She Glows, a fantastic blog recipe site by Angela Liddon.
If you have a toddler who often decides they don't want to eat after a single bite of the delectable meal that you just spent an hour preparing for them, backyard chickens are a good option for waste management. Chickens eat leftover food, make eggs (and meat if you're so inclined), create great compost and help with pest control. They are also pretty entertaining creatures and, in our neighborhood where seven families share the care of our coop, they've helped build community.
Finally, if you're like us and are always finding some morsel of leftover food tucked away and forgotten in a back corner of your refrigerator, composting is another way to turn your waste into a product. Whether it's in your backyard or through a local composting service, it's something that even families with picky children can do to ameliorate our impact.
Turn Off the Faucet
At our house there is a constant stream of laundry, tea parties, water experiments and a green lawn, all of which uses way more water than I think we should. Yes, we have a lawn, and yes, I do have eco-guilt about it. I'm doing the best I can here, no judgement please.
According to a 2014 report, 40 out of 50 state water managers expect water shortages in some portion of their states over the next decade. If you look at our water footprint, which includes water used to produce consumer goods, Americans use a whopping 2,200 gallons per person per day. Compared to the Chinese who use 775 gallons per person, or Bangladeshis who use 575 gallons per person per day, we've got a water problem! I think us Americans can work on getting off the sauce fairly easily. Just by installing high-efficiency fixtures and appliances we can reduce our domestic water consumption by 20% and save almost $400 annually. It is true that agricultural and industrial uses are more significant than the amount of water we use at home, however that isn't a good reason not to act, in my book anyway, because we each have the power to reduce our own consumption. Water shortages in our kids' future and saving money is pretty motivating for me, so here are my suggestions:
Inside- Replace your toilet, retrofit your faucets with aerators, or replace fixtures with Watersense labeled ones. I know, replacing a toilet sounds yucky and hard but my dad and I replaced our broken Toto Aquia Dual Flush toilet with a Niagra Stealth ultra-high-efficiency toilet in about 1.5 hours. It's been six months and it works stunningly well, using only .8 gallons per flush (compared to 1.6 gpf or 1.28 gpf in most high-efficiency toilets) and costing about $150 (compared to $350-ish for the Toto- do not buy this toilet, it's bad news). I still don't understand why we are using drinkable water to flush our toilets, but that's a conversation for another day.
Outside- Use water-wise landscaping techniques such as planting native, drought tolerant xeric plants and water them with drip irrigation which is 60% more efficient than sprinklers. Rainwater harvesting is another option that you can use to collect water from your roof and use it where you need it. Grass alternatives such as wood chips or pavers create "softcape" areas that don't need water and require minimal maintenance. Over time, I've replaced roses with Yarrow and a soaking hose with a drip irrigation system (or the dump truck irrigation system shown above). Once we got the valves installed and the controller set up I did the rest myself and if I can do it so can you!
Build Community I know that I keep coming back to this (see there is a theme here Mona!), but after working for over 15 years in the sustainability field and trying to convince people that efficiency and clean products are good for them, I've come to a place where I feel like the authentic, grassroots, bottom-up change that I'd like to see in the world is going to start for me in my neighborhood. There is an element of naivete to this statement, I know, but if we aren't all motivated to make the world a better place by the things that truly matter to us as individuals, then I don't know if it will ever happen. As we are working to intentionally build community in our neighborhood, I get to watch curious, intelligent young people like Emily, age 7, who put a "Wish Jar" in front of the little library this week with the purpose of making people's wishes come true. This is a beautiful thing and it is the very magic that I believe we must foster and pull into adulthood so that we all believe and know in our hearts that we can make our wishes come true.
Here are a couple of recommendations for building your community:
Host a Jeffersonian Dinner. The purpose of a Jeffersonian dinner is to have an intimate whole-table conversation about a selected topic over a lovely meal. In our neighborhood, we gathered nineteen neighbors, many of who didn't know each other, in an 1890's milking barn and took turns telling our "Animas City" stories and what we'd like to see in the neighborhood. It was really fun. I can tell you that sitting around a table listening to each other makes me appreciate each neighbor's perspective and what they bring to the community. Now I know that not only does Nick have a wicked mustache, he also is willing to loan out his lawnmower. Pretty handy.
Start a farmers market or create a local gathering spot. This one is definitely not on the list of easy, low-commitment strategies, but it does have super high potential for community-growing. Some incredibly motivated folks in our neighborhood started the Animas City Farmers Market and Night Bazaar this summer and, while there have been some rough patches mostly due to a raging fire 10 miles away and its aftermath, the market is truly bringing the community together. What they did is start a non-profit, recruit vendors, market it like crazy and work their tails off every week to pull it all together. My hat is off to this amazing crew!
Wait there's more!
I won't get into the details, but the book Drawdown has ranked the solutions for solving climate change in terms of metric tons of carbon dioxide reduced and the associated cost. It's empowering to know that there are solutions to our wicked problems, we merely have to implement them.
I'm including the ranked list here so that you can see just how possible some of the solutions really are:
Refrigerant management- using alternative chemicals in our air conditioners and refrigerators and disposing of them properly when they've reached the end of their useful life.
Wind turbines (onshore)
Reduced food waste
Tropical forests- protecting and restoring them.
Silvopasture- a fancy name for the practice of integrating trees into grazing pastures.
See, we can all be part of the solution! Now go forth and do the best that you can do, I promise not to judge you.