Over the past two days I've shared about my growing understanding of the impact our lifestyle choices make upon our environment and our own health and raised questions about the response (or lack thereof) on the part of a significant portion of the Christian community. Today I want to tell about some of the steps my family and I have taken in response to what we are learning.
Before I do that, I want to state clearly that I do not intend our responses to be prescriptive for others. Each family and individual lives in a unique set of circumstances and what is a reasonable and wise step for one person may not be possible or reasonable for another. I do encourage each person to consider what changes she or he may make that would change the negative impact of our lifestyles on ourselves and our planets. No single one of us can change everything, but each of us can take concrete steps that together can have a significant influence.
After reading about the damage chemicals do to our environment and our bodies, we decided to look for alternatives to using toxic chemicals around our home. We do this in order to have a positive impact on the larger environment, but even more so because we don't want our home to be a place that poisons us. My son and I both suffer fairly strongly from sinus allergies. If we can change things in our home to reduce those effects, that alone would make it worthwhile.
This past month we started replacing our household cleaning products with products from a company I am very excited about: Seventh Generation. (www.seventhgeneration.com) At the moment I am very enamored with this company. I love that they strive to make products that are naturally-derived and which reduce or eliminate the toxic impact on the environment. I like that their products allow me to not worry about touching any residue left behind after cleaning. I also like that they are seeking to develop sustainability throughout their supply chain. They aren't perfect yet, by their own admission, but they are starting with the right goal in mind. We currently use their bathroom cleaning supplies, their dish detergent (both for hand-washing and dishwasher) and their laundry soap. Given our son's negative reaction to many ingredients in most laundry detergents, we are very hopeful and optimistic that Seventh Generation's “Free and Clear” line of products, free of all dyes, perfumes and masking agents, will work well for us. In addition to ordering on-line through the company's website or through Soap.com, I've found their products at our local Target, a local whole-foods grocery store and I've even heard that some of their products are available at Wal-mart! We are also using their recycled paper products for our bathroom and cleaning.
Before sharing the next step, I must confess that I have Prius envy. More accurately I should say I had Prius envy. I really wanted to buy a Prius so that I could have a more environmentally-friendly car. This desire arose not only from a concern about greenhouse gases, but even more from a simple economic reason—with the price of gas climbing steadily, I want a car that's going to get good mileage. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, even a used-Prius was beyond our price range, so we settled for the most fuel-efficient vehicle we could reasonably afford—a Ford Focus. I look forward to the day when I can improve on its fuel efficiency, but I'm grateful for what it has. In the meantime, after some discussion with my brother, who is a resource economist, and with others, I've lost my shine on the Prius and other electric vehicles. I love the idea of getting away from petroleum-based internal combustion engines, but when I looked at the Prius and other such vehicles in terms of their life-cycle impact on the environment, I realized that they are not nearly the environmental champions they are marketed to be. The production and disposal of their batteries raises significant environmental concerns, concerns that the companies do not yet seem to be addressing. So the current electric car model does not strike me as being a sustainable, long-term option, although it may be a step in the right direction.
One of the biggest challenges is responding to the flood of plastics in our world. I would, in my idealistic perspective, like to rid my life of all plastics. But this is not really feasible. Even the director of the film I referenced doesn't claim that it is. So I must ask myself how and where I can eliminate plastics from my life. One small step I took was to stop buying beverages in disposable plastic containers. (Though even this is not a hard-and-fast rule. If I have no other viable option in a particular situation I will drink from such a container. But I will do all I can to put it in the recycling stream afterwards.) Each member of our family now has a stainless steel water bottle for taking drinking water with them. These bottles should last far longer than plastic, are safer for our health and can be more easily recycled at the end of their lifespan. It's not a world-changer, but it's a small step in the right direction.
I don't really think of myself as an environmentalist. I don't live off the fruit of the land. I don't even grow my own garden. I'm not terribly inclined in that direction anyway and living in southern Arizona gardening is a particularly tough challenge. I enjoy a good can of cola/pop/soda (pick your regional variant) and yes, I do even eat at McDonald's or other fast food places sometimes. I will continue to look at ways I can live with a smaller, healthier impact on my environment, but as I said at the outset, we cannot change everything.
How about you? What steps have you taken or could you take to reduce your impact on the environment and create a healthier world for yourself and others?