Published on January 12th, 2020 | by Andy Miles0
How Can I Save Planet Earth?
January 12th, 2020 by Andy Miles
When people ask the question, “what could I do to help save the planet?,” it is all too often on the same level as the whiny kid being asked to take on some responsibility. Those of you who have had, or still have, teenage children will know the kind of scenario:
Up till now it is Mum and Dad who have done everything for them, and now suddenly Mum or Dad are asking them to do something for themselves, and then we get this kind of response — “Well, what you expect me to do about it?” (I’m just a little kid), or perhaps just a blank, perplexed look. I have seen it all too often before in comment sections, where an article is pointing out the catastrophe to which we are all headed, and that we must do something about it. Then in the comments are such statements as — “What about China, and India? When they start doing something about it, then we’ll start doing something about it.” Doesn’t that, just again, remind you of that whiny kid. “But Mum, Johnny didn’t have to tidy his room, so why should I have to tidy mine? ‘S-not fair.”
Well, it seems some people never grow up.
None Will Mourn Our Passing
As little kids with doting parents, we might get raised eyebrows, and the occasional sigh, but generally get plenty of second, third, and fourth chances to get things right, and meanwhile, Mum, and Dad are there to make sure that no harm comes to us. However, there is no Mum and Dad in the sky who are going to make everything right for us little kids down here on planet Earth who just won’t ever clean up after ourselves and are making such an almighty mess of everything. No one is going to sigh, or raise an eyebrow, and then come, and put everything right for us. We are not going to get any second, third, or fourth chances. We get just the one shot, and we either get it right or we are doomed, and no one in the entire universe is going to save us or shed any tears at our sad demise.
Time to Grow Up
So, as Greta Thunberg rather bluntly points out, if adults are going to act like little kids, then it’s the little kids who have to tell their parents to start growing up. The best thing we can hope for is a lot of big brothers and sisters willing to step forward, take responsibility, and offer some leadership. Unfortunately, one of the biggest whiny kids on the planet is at the moment occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and a similar buffoon is in residence at number 10 Downing Street. Hopefully, these encumbrances to progress will not remain much longer. The solutions are all there — we just lack the political will to go for them.
However, we cannot wait forever for our governments to wake up to their responsibilities, and we have to start looking at what we can do as individuals. We might feel helpless in the face of the sheer size of the problem. We might feel that it makes no difference, really, what we as little individuals do. It is what many individuals do that counts, however, and we each have to decide whether to be part of the problem, or part of the solution.
Of Milk & Water
There is a story I heard a while ago about a king who asked all the people in the city to bring a bucket of milk to the palace after nightfall and pour it into a tank. (It does not pay to ask too many questions about these old stories, as to just why the king would want a huge tank full of milk that would probably turn sour within a short time, but there we are, that is the way these stories go.) In the story, everyone comes along to the palace with their buckets and pours them into the tank. Lo and behold, in the light of the morning, it is crystal clear that the tank is full of water. Each person thought, “what difference will it make, in that great big tank of milk, if I bring a bucket of water. In the dark, no one will know.”
Isn’t that how we are today, with everyone thinking that it makes no difference whether they do the right thing or not: “Leave it to the ‘activists.’ Let those crazy Extinction Rebellion people get themselves arrested, I just want to carry on the same.”
“What difference will it make what I do when big countries like USA, China, and India produce so much pollution?”
If we all do the right thing it can make such a huge difference, and if none of us do the right thing, then, like the king, we just end up with that tank of water.
The biggest change we all need to make is in our own programming. We tend to be like pre-programmed robots, set in so many ways by our childhood conditioning. Much of our sense of what is “normal” comes from our upbringing. Adding to that is our exposure to marketing, advertising, peer pressure, and social norms that cause us to behave in certain ways, adopt certain priorities, and live a certain lifestyle. Few of us seem able to think our way out of all that conditioning. The old saying, “They couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag” could just as fittingly be, “They couldn’t think their way out of their cultural envelope.” But we have to do just that, ditch those whiny kid responses and start making the adult decisions. The whiny kid responses I hear to the challenge of catastrophic climate change are often something like, “get real, people are not going to go back to living like we did in the 18th century just because of climate change,” or, “I drive my diesel car because it’s more convenient, and I’m not putting myself out by driving some electric crap just because of what lefty eco-extremists say.” I am sure you have all heard similar statements to justify why it is absolutely impossible for those people to make any changes to their programming, and what they consider to be “normal.” Far from going back to the 18th century, they need to get their thinking out of the 19th or 20th century and start catching up with the 21st Century. Burning stuff for energy is plain primitive, and as outdated as rubbing 2 sticks together to make fire.
A Tale of 2 Choices
The reality is that we have two choices — we either respond fully to the demands of climate change, doing absolutely everything that is needed to prevent catastrophe, and do this voluntarily, or we will be forced to survive in circumstances much worse than just “living like we did in the 18th century” as people imagine it. That is the adult choice: we fully understand the situation, we see what must be done and the part that we have to play, and however hard that is, we know it will lead to a better outcome than if we carry on as before pretending that nothing is happening (like little children playing make-believe games).
Those of us who are capable of thinking our way out of our own respective cultural envelopes need to lead the way and show everyone that there are alternative ways of life. These alternatives are perfectly comfortable, acceptable, also sustainable, and do not lead to the disastrous outcome to which we are now all headed if we do not fundamentally change our ways.
How do we Help to Solve the Environmental Problems?
How we get about can be thoughtful, with more than half an eye on the environmental consequences, or just entirely oblivious, with our only concern being our short-term convenience and gratification. The first question should be whether we really need to go where we had planned. Whatever the purpose, could that purpose be met by going somewhere closer to home, or even be met at home? So, in commuting, for example, we could get a job closer to home, or a home closer to our job. If going to a meeting, the wonders of video conferencing mean that we can have a meeting without going anywhere at all. Most meetings are a waste of time in any case. Send an email to everyone with the agenda items inviting comments, collate the comments, and send those to everyone by a 2nd email, and so on – job done.
If it’s a leisure purpose, why not explore more local delights. If travel we must, then the first choice should be walking, cycling, a sailboat, or something electric, such as an electric bike, car, taxi, boat, bus, tram (streetcar), plane, or train. Undoubtedly, one of the most convenient and comfortable is an electric car of one’s own. The train is one of my favorite ways to travel, but in the UK is ridiculously expensive. Anything that produces CO2 and pollution is to be avoided at all costs, so ditch the fossil-fuelled car, shun the diesel-powered public-transport options, and avoid flying — like the plague.
2) Home Climate Control
Adopt a different attitude toward domestic heating and cooling systems. The purpose of heating and cooling is to prevent our homes from becoming uncomfortably hot or cold. If energy was abundant, as it might well become using renewable energy, and did not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, then we could have our homes just as hot or as cool as we choose, every hour of every day of the year. Currently, that is not the case, so we all need to adopt a different attitude, where it is understood that heating is set so the house is not cold but not hot either, and cooling is set so the house is not hot but not like an ice box either. The tendency is for people to keep their homes like tropical hothouses in the winter and ice boxes in the summer.
In the UK, we don’t need to worry about air conditioning too much, as it rarely gets hot enough and most houses have a gas heater which heats up water to be circulated around the house in pipes to radiators that give out the heat. The radiators normally have a thermostat to control the heat output, but it amazes me how many people do not understand how to use them. When temperatures plunge, people turn them up to the top setting, as if that were going to make them give out more heat. They don’t seem to understand that the radiator gives out the same amount of heat at setting number “1” as it does at number “5” — the difference being that when a certain air temperature is reached, the radiator thermostat switches the radiator off, and that is a lower temperature at “1” than “5.” If they actually need more heat, they need to turn up the thermostat on the water heater, as higher temperature water gives out more heat from the radiators.
At my house, I pay for a mixture of bio-methane, and fossil gas covered by carbon offsets. At my next house, I am planning to go all electric from 100% renewables. Conscious that my burning gas is giving off CO2, I try to minimize its use. My radiator thermostats are mostly set at “1,” some at “2” or even “3” in the rooms being used. My choice is definitely “not cold,” and never “hot.” For the most part, I only have the heating on for an hour in the morning while I am getting washed and dressed, and then turn it off for the rest of the day. The house stays perfectly warm enough, until the evening when I just use local heating where I am rather than heating the whole house. (It would be different for a family.) In the depths of winter, I sometimes have to put the heating back on again for a while if the house gets chilly. I never have heating on at night.
3) Hot Water
I confess to loving hot water; it is a great luxury — but I try to use it responsibly, as it is heated by gas in my home, and water is a limited resource, so I try to limit its use in the house. The marketing people have everyone obsessed with “personal hygiene” so that some have 2 or 3 showers every day, in addition to hot baths, and are generally complicit in a huge use of water and heating.
Personal hygiene can be adequately addressed by 3L (.79 gal) of hot water in the wash basin. Showers are incredibly wasteful, so I have given them up. In the winter, I have an occasional hot bath, perhaps once in 2 months, and use the water for flushing the upstairs loo, rather than pouring it down the drain.
It is also unnecessary to pollute the water with all these products in plastic bottles the marketing people convince everyone to buy. I mainly use just water for washing, and use a little organic soap, as necessary.
4) Efficiency in the Kitchen
A little thought in the kitchen can save lots of energy. Firstly, of course, an all electric kitchen is best. Dump the gas hobs [stoves] and ovens as soon as you are able. Induction hobs are very efficient, as all they heat is the saucepan.
After that, think of more efficient ways of cooking things. I have a steamer tower, which has water in the bottom and two steamers above that. Steaming preserves nutrients and flavor, but is also efficient. I can cook all the different vegetables for dinner in the steamer tower, taking only 15 minutes from when the water starts boiling. Those needing more cooking go at the bottom, and those needing less go at the top. The water can be used for making sauces. Once everything is under way, the heat can be turned down, too.
I also have a stainless-steel pressure cooker, which is great for legumes of various kinds and cooks more thoroughly in shorter time.
A microwave cooker uses around 700 to 1000 watts and cooks things in minutes, whereas an electric oven will be around 2 kW, at least, and takes 30 mins or more.
When boiling water for a drink, why boil an entire kettle and then leave most of it to go cold? Just heat the amount needed. I keep a thermos flask in the kitchen, and then any boiling water, left over, goes in the flask for next time.
5) Washing Clothes
I have a system of plastic boxes for my washing, each of which holds a full wash load. I have one box for whites which require a hotter, longer wash, and one for everything else, washed at 30°C (86°F). I used to have more boxes to pre-sort them out into different colors, until I realized that temperatures higher than 30°C are mostly unnecessary and at that temperature the colors do not run, and even white items can be freshened up in the same wash. I also found shorter washes using less energy to be sufficient in most cases. My box system ensures the machine is full, which is more efficient than running it twice, when half empty. Whatever routine you use for washing clothes, think about how to create the most efficient routine.
I also try not to contaminate the water with chemicals, and just use a little liquid soap, which seems quite sufficient in most cases.
When it comes to drying, I do not use a tumble drier, since they use a huge amount of energy. I am fortunate in having a laundry room in my house, and I have rigged up a pole all along the ceiling. The washing comes straight out of the machine, onto plastic hangers, and straight up onto the pole to dry. Once dry, those same hangers hang up in my dressing room, without ironing, which is another waste of time and energy. I have a drying rack for all the small clothes, and bigger items like bath towels and sheets go to dry outside on a washing line, weather permitting.
6) Buying Stuff
Some people seem to think happiness comes in a plastic bag, or a cardboard box, that happiness comes from buying something new and exciting, some new gadget or whatever. People pep themselves up by buying new clothes, shoes, or accessories. It seems part of the curse of materialism, and certainly leads to huge energy use for goods transport, storage, packing, and manufacture. When such ephemeral happiness wears off, the packaging all thrown away, the now old items are discarded or stored away somewhere and the cycle of buying stuff we don’t need is repeated.
Only buy things you really need to buy.
Just to add food in this section: the same principle applies. People buy wagon-loads of food, and throw half of it away. For myself, I never buy any food on a might-need-it basis, but know precisely what I am going to eat in the next few days, and know what I need to have stocked to achieve that, and no more. I hardly ever throw any food away, and try to store everything in the best way possible for longevity.
So, plan ahead, be conscious, avoid waste, and you will do better.
Also, we could all do with cutting down on meat or giving it up altogether. There is no actual need for it in our diet; killing animals for food is morally suspect, and environmentally damaging. Much deforestation is to create either pasture land or land for animal feed crops. We need the forests. We do not need the meat.
7) Waste Disposal, and Recycling
It would be good to buy less unnecessary stuff, but also to make choices that lead to less waste. Choose products with less packaging and better quality items that last longer, and which can be repaired. Waste less, recycle more. The EU is introducing laws requiring everything made or imported into the EU to be repairable, which includes a clamp-down on built-in (planned) obsolescence. You can buy smartphones these days where the case cannot easily be opened and the battery is hardwired into the circuit board, so when the battery goes, the entire phone and all of its components are scrap. That is good for corporate greed, but bad for people and the planet. That is why we need regulations. Governments can introduce regulation, but we as individuals can boycott unethical products.
On my street, people put out a giant wheely-bin brimming over with their rubbish every 2nd week, where I put my wheely-bin out for emptying only 2 or 3 times per year. In addition, in the weeks in between the bin collections, they put out their boxes of recycling, often 3 or 4 boxes overflowing with stuff. I put out what would be about half a box, but distributed between 2 boxes, as they like everything presorted to save them time. I think my neighbors must spend half their lives buying stuff, unpacking stuff, and throwing the packaging away. No wonder the Earth is sinking beneath the detritus of consumerism.
Recycling as such is not an individual action, as it requires our national and local governments to set up the recycling requirements and schemes to contribute to, and they have to take responsible action and not just put it in a ship to export it somewhere else. Where schemes exist, then we all have a duty to conscientiously participate.
8) Invest in Energy Efficiency and Home Energy Generation
Obviously, this depends on having resources available. If having to take out loans with interest payments, it might take a long time to recoup your investment. This is where governments can help a lot, with grants and interest-free loans to assist individuals to make the right decisions for the environment. Insulation of outer walls, floors, and ceilings is one of the cheaper measures, and keeps the heat you have paid for in the home, rather than your home being like a leaky bucket that you can never get filled up, or conversely keeping the heat out and the cool in. Highly insulating windows and doors are more expensive, but equally important. When I moved into where I currently live, replacing all the windows was one of the first jobs, along with insulating the ceilings beneath the roof space. Luckily, the walls were already insulated. I would also like to have solar panels, and a small wind turbine, but I have no south-facing roof, so intend to move soon to somewhere better suited. I have a wood-burning stove and gather wood from adjacent woodlands. The wood releases CO2, but would do anyway, as it rots down, so I might as well get the warmth from it, and it is not fossil CO2.
The good people of the UK just passed up a golden opportunity to change things for the better. They could have voted in a government with the best green plan of any government, and which would have kept us protected by EU safeguards for citizens and the environment, and might have given us the opportunity to vote to remain in the EU. They could have rid themselves of a neoliberal government supporting the interests of the fossil-fuel industry and big money, but for reasons beyond the reckoning of mere mortals, they decided to vote for those whose record in all aspects of our national life has been utterly abysmal and who are pathological liars and cannot be trusted to keep any of the promises they were elected on. In other words, the people of the UK had their voting-for-Trump moment.* Like the US voters, it will be a case of act in haste, repent at leisure.
It is as if people do not live in the real world on the real planet Earth but live in a dream world created by their own perceptions, beliefs, and misconceptions. They may be isolated from reality in their mind, but the reality still remains. The consequences of voting for people who will continue to promote the use of fossil fuels and fail to take the necessary steps to stop the catastrophe of climate change will be dire indeed, and their stupidity will bring about their doom, or the demise of their children.
Voting for progressive parties with strong environmental programs and who can be trusted to carry them out is probably the most important step any individual can make, because without strong government intervention, what we can do as individuals is limited, not coordinated or enabled, and not incentivized.
* Editor’s note: Americans voted against Trump by almost 3 million votes. He was selected by the anachronistic, anti-democratic Electoral College, which is the only reason why he’s president.
10) Raising Consciousness, and Discarding Materialism
Poverty will make people miserable, but riches are no guarantee of happiness, especially if you sell your soul to get them. Happiness is a state of mind. We need to discard materialism, to find happiness in something deeper and more substantial. Mental and spiritual well-being need to be valued and pursued more, and materialism pursued less. We must not sacrifice our sense of well-being and wholesomeness for the sake of money and making it.
Possibly, a change of consciousness would be the most important step people could take, because, from that one change, all the other steps would follow, naturally. As human beings, our consciousness allows us not only to be aware of everything around us, but aware of ourselves being conscious, and being in the world. In some ways this is a false construct, just like the borders of nations, where there is no real boundary. There is no “internal,” where we are within our self, and external, beyond our skin. The reality is continuous without any such boundaries.
Our existence depends on the existence of the ecosystem. A desire to protect the ecosystem is simply a desire to protect ourselves. In many aboriginal societies there is much greater recognition of that. We have grown arrogant, thinking that we are independent, relying on our science, and technology, and our bank balances to exist. The reality is that our science, and technology, and the pursuit of money is destroying the ecosystem, and therefore ourselves. We are conscious, but not conscious enough, it seems, as we have lost touch with our true reality.
Catastrophic climate change is a result of our folly and our delusions, but is also perhaps our redemption, as it forces us back into awareness of what is real. That reality is that it is not a case of preserving our “environment,” as if that were something peripheral, but it is a case of preserving ourselves. We need to recognize that when we cut down a tree, we are cutting off one of our own limbs, and when we poison the Earth, we poison ourselves. We exist as part of the ecosystem, much like individual cells exist in our bodies. Those cells cannot exist on their own, and in some cases the body cannot exist without those cells.
When we nurture and care for life, we nurture and care for ourselves.