On Earth Day, you are probably going to be overwhelmed with advice on how to save the planet. You’ll hear things like:
  • Plant a tree
  • Recycle your plastic, cardboard, and aluminum
  • Use reusable grocery bags
  • Take shorter showers

These are fine suggestions. They help to limit our negative impact, and perhaps more importantly, they help us train ourselves to be mindful of our choices.

Now, some more adventurous sources will have suggestions like:
  • Downsize your home
  • Carpool
  • Reduce the amount of your lawn that is grass
  • Buy less, and buy used when you need to buy

These tactics are even better. They make a larger reduction in our impact, and are the types of changes that cause us to reorient our lives in enduring ways.

But what if you are really committed to harm reduction? What if you want to make a difference that could be orders of magnitude larger? Do you think it’s possible?

Let me suggest that there are four areas that make an incredibly large and lasting impact on the earth.
  • eating meat
  • driving and flying
  • waging war
  • having children
I imagine some of you are already shocked and recoiling at at least one of the things in that list. “This is necessary!" Bear with me.

Meat consumption is a huge drain on the earth’s resources, diversity, and health. Whether it be the clearing of forests, the runoff from farming, the allotment of a huge portion of our crops to animals that go to slaughter, the quantity of fresh water that is used, or one of many other factors, farming animals has many large and negative impacts on the earth.

We all know that driving and flying are problems. We know about how they affect the atmosphere, about the environmental costs of extraction and transportation of the fuel and parts, and of the massive infrastructure that is dedicated and maintained for these personal modes of transportation.

Wars, too, are incredibly damaging, and not just from the conventional sense. The war apparatus (especially from the perspective of the USA) requires a huge portion of material resources, of transportation resources (see above), and is sustained by bases in hundreds of locations all around the world. This is, of course, compounded by the fact that these vast resources are not used to build, but to destroy. Much of them are literally wasted.

And finally, let’s talk about children. This is the most painful topic to consider, but also the most evident: another human being is a whole new life’s impact on the world. At least, that is, until we learn sustainable ways to live. Let’s turn to that next.

None of these are easy areas to consider. If they were, we’d hear much more about them. But let’s see if there are ways we might be able to orient our lives differently in these areas. Here are some things we can consider:

Meat:
  • go vegetarian or vegan
  • drastically reduce meat consumption
  • only eat meat that is hunted or caught on private land

Driving & Flying
  • go carless: walk, bike, & skate
  • live close to work, work close to home, or telecommute
  • only use one car per family
  • videoconference instead of flying for business
  • use shared transportation only

War:
  • advocate for policies that defend the nation, instead of policies that expand the attacking of other nations
  • support troops in the best way possible: return them home
  • refuse to support politicians that continue to expand war budgets

Children:
  • have fewer children
  • adopt
  • inspire and support children as they strive to build a sustainable future

Can you do any of these? Do you have other impactful ideas?