Most of us want to contribute in some way to a better world.  Unfortunately, all too often we feel powerless to affect change, especially in the areas where it matters most, such as climate change.  Very often, we simply feel powerless and don’t know what to do.  At least, that’s how I feel a lot of the time.  Also, many of the things I know I should do, I don’t.  For example, I need to get around to starting a garden, but I have a fear of dead mice being dropped into the garden by our cat.  My fear has slowed my progress in this area. 

What I have discovered is that no matter what our fears, or our resistances, there’s a lot all of us can do to help.  One of the big areas that we can all do to improve our environment is with our food choices. 

For a long time, it bothered me how Al Gore is Mr. Environment but he never mentions how important it is to stop eating meat.  He really needs to go there.  And I really need to make a garden.  We all have places where we can grow.

Meanwhile, much is being done by communities such as ours.  For one thing, most of us avoid cheeseburgers.  In fact, there are few things more out of touch with the world’s condition than a cheeseburger.  Here’s why.         

The greenhouse gases emitted from the production and consumption of cheeseburgers is roughly the equivalent of what is released by nearly 20 million SUVs. 

Belching and flatulent livestock produce 16 percent of the world’s annual production of methane, according to the United Nations Environment Unit on Climate Change.  In fact, the methane produced by cows when they burp and fart is 23 times more detrimental to the environment than the carbon dioxide produced by cars!  So every time a cow burps or farts, we’re all in trouble! 

But methane is not the only gas produced by live stock.  Those animals that we eat release 21 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide load that is attributed to human activity, according to the July 2005 issue of Physics World

Geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin from the University of Chicago said that changing one’s eating habits from the standard Western diet to a vegetarian diet does more to fight global warming than switching from a gas-guzzling SUV to a fuel-efficient hybrid. 

As Paul McCartney says ‘If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat.  That’s the single most important thing you can do.” (I’ve always loved Paul McCartney. He’s so cute, too!)

I know I am far from perfect and have not made a garden yet, but I can’t help but wonder how Al Gore can manage to ignore this inconvenient truth. 

Since most of our readers are already aware of the important contribution they are making to the planet every day, just by not eating meat and dairy, here are more ways to insure that our environment will be a life-supporting place for generations to come.

Here are some tips for spending your dollars or euros in every day ways that will make a difference to our world. 

  1. Avoid processed food. Most processed foods contain palm oil.  The primary source of palm oil is Indonesia and Malaysia, where the increased demand for processed food is causing more and more farmers to cut down tropical rain forests in order to grow and process palm oil.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and other consumer groups are asking people to boycott palm oil in order to save the rainforests.  Since palm oil is so prevalent in processed foods, here’s another good reason to avoid them entirely. 
  2. Stop drinking bottled water. Bottled water costs 500 times more than tap water and the industry emits thousands of tons of carbon dioxide each year. Also, now we are finding out that the plastic from the bottles is releasing estrogen-like compounds and other carcinogens into the waterways and soil around the world. 
  3. Buy fair trade food and drink.  When you buy food from oversees, make sure you buy fairly traded products, such as those Certified by Fairtrade. These products are grown with a conscience and it’s important to support industries that promote social justice, local economic development, and fair  prices.
  4. Buy organic. Organic farming uses no petrochemical pesticides or fertilizers.  Whenever you buy organic, you are contributing to an agricultural system that is far less energy dependent. 
  5. Buy sustainable fish. Over three-quarters of the world’s fishing grounds have been so over-fished that they are now below sustainable levels. Avoid orange roughy, Chilean seabass, swordfish, and caviar from Iran, Russia, and Turkey.  All of these fish are endangered and, in the case of the caviar, may contain high levels of pollution.  Fish that are still abundant and are good ecological choices include tilapia, Pacific halibut, Pacific sole, and summer flounder.  Your local fish monger can help you make ecological and safe fish choices. 
  6. Reuse glass jars as storage containers and also bring your own bags to the food store. Whole Foods sells really nice bags now, and you can reuse them every time you go to the grocery store.  Sometimes I leave them in the car, and forget to bring them in (which kind of defeats the purpose) but I’m working on getting better at this one. 
  7. Buy locally grown food. The closer the farm that produced your food is to your house, the less fuel is needed to transport it. 
  8. Choose as many foods as possible that are in season and fresh. Anything that will not grow in the current season needs to be transported long distances. This takes energy for transportation and also storage. Eating locally and in-season reduces the energy needed for delivery, storage, and packaging.

These are just a few things we all can do to reduce greenhouse gases right now and contribute to the change in the economic conditions that perpetuate the high production of methane and carbon dioxide.  Let’s start by giving up the cow, in all its parts, and then do better with a lot of other small choices.  Meanwhile, I’ll work on my fear of dead mice and try getting into the garden next spring.