Did you read the news about the “world scientists’ warning to humanity” a few weeks ago? It came out fairly close to American Thanksgiving as everyone was making pumpkin pie and perusing blogger’s gift guides, so it probably wasn’t at the forefront of conversation, but (in some ways) it deserves to be.
Here’s the summary:
- 25 years ago, over 1500 scientists signed a “Warning to Humanity” that basically said that “human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.” They predicted that we could run the human race into the ground if we don’t stop abusing the earth.
- What have we accomplished in the 25 years since? Not much. The human population has only moved the needle in a positive direction on ONE of their recommendations (shrinking the hole in the ozone layer). The others are all still in crisis with many getting worse.
- So this fall, 16,000 scientists (and almost 4,000 more endorsers and counting) signed a new warning. CNN and the Washington Post covered the story, but I think most people missed it because of the timing…or the doomsday feeling.
In another post soon, I’ll dig into 3 out of the 13 pieces that I disagree strongly with, but today I’m all about unity on the other ten.
If you read the full text of the warning you’ll quickly notice one thing: It’s not practical AT ALL.
My goal today is quite simply to save the world.
I’m going to translate the scientists’ recommendations into actual action steps that the average human being can not only understand, but DO without too much stress.
And if you feel like, “Dude! It’s December…I do NOT have time for one.more.thing right now,” that’s ok. I feel ya on that one, busy mom. We’re putting the finishing touches on something I’ve been wanting to do for a looooooong time, which is to provide our best 10 Monday Missions as an email series. That means that starting January 1, you can get one.practical.task every Monday for 10 weeks. Mission: Possible! Sign up now and we won’t bug you until after Christmas (except to let you know you’re in):
Ok, now let’s translate some science-speak, shall we?
Here are the 10 Recommendations from the Warning to Humanity:
These are all direct quotes…can you tell? Feel free to skim….
(a) prioritizing the enactment of connected well-funded and well-managed reserves for a significant proportion of the world’s terrestrial, marine, freshwater, and aerial habitats;
(b) maintaining nature’s ecosystem services by halting the conversion of forests, grasslands, and other native habitats;
(c) restoring native plant communities at large scales, particularly forest landscapes;
(d) rewilding regions with native species, especially apex predators, to restore ecological processes and dynamics;
(e) developing and adopting adequate policy instruments to remedy defaunation, the poaching crisis, and the exploitation and trade of threatened species;
(f) reducing food waste through education and better infrastructure;
(i) increasing outdoor nature education for children, as well as the overall engagement of society in the appreciation of nature;
(j) divesting of monetary investments and purchases to encourage positive environmental change;
(k) devising and promoting new green technologies and massively adopting renewable energy sources while phasing out subsidies to energy production through fossil fuels;
(l) revising our economy to reduce wealth inequality and ensure that prices, taxation, and incentive systems take into account the real costs which consumption patterns impose on our environment;
My turn. Let’s take this one at a time, in my own order:
1. Quit Wasting Food
The scientists says we can save the world by, “reducing food waste through education and better infrastructure.” The average person can only do so much with infrastructure (making sure the food we have gets to where it’s needed), and although we should do everything we can when it comes to politics and big worldwide issues, we can make the most change, the fastest, in our own homes.
- Serve appropriate portions to your kids.
- Tell kids to bring home uneaten lunch, at the very least so that you can tell how much they eat and pack appropriately. (Hot lunch is always a massive food waste issue. I just don’t have my kids eat it, but if you do, see what you can do in your school to serve smaller portions to smaller kids.)
- Buy what you will eat. Meal planning regularly will help you avoid finding mushy 2-week-old produce in your fridge, and working hard to eat leftovers for lunch or freeze (and eat) them helps too.
- In restaurants, try to get logical portions. Have your kids share. Bring your own containers to take home leftovers (and eat them).
- Learn how to preserve summer produce (and keep a list on your freezer so you use it).
- Lori’s awesome steps to reducing food waste (and a glimpse into exactly what the scientists were talking about when it comes to infrastructure)
2. Appreciate Nature
This is possibly the easiest one: “increasing outdoor nature education for children, as well as the overall engagement of society in the appreciation of nature.”
- Get outside. Go to parks. Let kids look at bugs.
- Donate to local nature centers.
- Attend their events with your family!
3. Preserve Nature (Waste Less!)
The scientists call it, “maintaining nature’s ecosystem services by halting the conversion of forests, grasslands, and other native habitats.” Don’t go chain yourself to a tree for this one though. It can be as simple as changing some habits.
- Quit wasting paper! Print on both sides. Use your kids’ schoolwork to print recipes on (or just read them off a device). Write notes on the backs of used envelopes.
- RECYCLE, especially paper.
- Buy grassfed beef BUT check with the supplier to make sure they’re not cutting down forests in other countries.
- Try wrapping gifts with reused options (bags that you save each year, packing paper, comics, calendar pages…)
- End magazine and newspaper subscriptions that you don’t read.
- Stop junk mail. I just did these 4 efforts because I’m so tired of recycling 90% of my mail before I even get into the house!
On a larger scale, you can be active in your own community when farmlands or other native habitats are changed into subdivisions. Let your voice be heard.
4. Put Back What Used to Be There
Our earth needs a little restoration, because we haven’t done so well at #3 over the years. This line is, “restoring native plant communities at large scales, particularly forest landscapes.”
- Plant a tree. Every one counts!
- Try to keep your own yard full of native plants (even weeds) and hang onto trees whenever you can.
- Realize that the fertilizer and pesticides/herbicides you apply to your own lawn and gardens have an effect beyond your yard. Think green!
- Watch for companies who are planting trees and supporting native ecosystems. Support them with your purchases!
5. Decrease Fossil Fuel Consumption
This one is huge! You’ll see more in part 2, but the scientists put a lot of weight on this one (albeit possibly inadvertently). They say it’s important to focus on “devising and promoting new green technologies and massively adopting renewable energy sources while phasing out subsidies to energy production through fossil fuels,” quite a mouthful! It’s a tall order but still one that can have small steps.
- Turn off your vehicle when you’re waiting. Think school pick-up lines! You can do this, America, even when it’s cold out. #mittens #betough
- Conserve fuel by carpooling, combining trips for errands (do them all in one day), and being very cognizant about your fuel use.
- Turn off the lights when you’re not in the room.
- Run appliances efficiently – fill empty freezer space with jugs of water, run full loads in washer/dryer/dishwasher, don’t pre-heat the oven too early or turn it on for one tiny thing, make chicken stock and dry beans in your Instant Pot or slow cooker instead of the stovetop.
- Ask your power company if they have greener sources – many do, and it often doesn’t cost more!
- Look for EnergyStar appliances when you’re in the market for new.
- Avoid petroleum-based personal products too – even though this is minimal when compared to gasoline and energy, it’s also not good for your skin, and a non-renewable resource (fossil fuels) needs all the conserving we can give it! Here are some great natural options. (Most conventional lotions and creams, for example, use petroleum in the ingredients.) Even food dyes are made from petroleum!
Do what you can to speak up about large-scale renewable energy options too, although be cognizant about the fact that some of them cause further problems to natural ecosystems. Wind turbines, for example, can change the climate and topsoil in an area and contribute to deforestation. (Nothing is simple!)
6. Don’t Participate in Extinction
I had to look up the word “defaunation” in this one. It means the loss of animals from ecological communities, and part of the warning explains that we may be living in the sixth mass-extinction event, which means three-quarters of all species could disappear in the coming centuries. So this is a big deal! Their language is, “developing and adopting adequate policy instruments to remedy defaunation, the poaching crisis, and the exploitation and trade of threatened species.”
- Avoid tricolosan like the plague, something I’ve been saying for a decade+ now and recently the FDA finally said that its toxic and will phase it out. (Look for it in antibacterial soaps and other products.) It’s neither safe for the environment nor for the humans in your house. I’d throw bleach in that category as well.
- Buy fair trade chocolate and coffee (you can even find good coffee at ALDI and Costco!).
- Don’t litter! But also try hard to reduce your waste in general. Buy reusable bags and reusable water bottles. Use real dishes. Invest in toys and appliances that will last instead of needing to be replaced every couple years. Use glass storage instead of plastic bags or cheap storage containers that will be thrown away soon. All these things fill up the earth and oceans and we just don’t even understand the global impact on animal (and human) populations.
- Buy organic produce and avoid conventional corn and soy products. The fertilizers used on commodity crops is running off into the Gulf of Mexico and causing the largest dead zone ever measured. Nothing can grow there. #eek
- There are also common pesticides that are killing honeybees in droves, which has detrimental effects on our food supply. Here’s what you can do to help.
7. Spend a Little More on Quality Goods
I think the scientists were targeting countries and corporations, but why not “divest monetary investments and purchases to encourage positive environmental change” on a personal level?
- Buy local to reduce your food’s carbon footprint.
- Buy organic clothing (did you know cotton generates some of the highest pollution of all crops???) Our Christmas presents often include organic pajamas, above, since those also have the largest positive effect on my kids’ health.
- Buy sustainable products, recycled paper, etc.
- Buy grassfed beef, which has less of an impact on the environment than feedlot beef. (Same for other animal products) Did you see I’m writing about commercial grassfed beef soon?
- Support charities that save the earth (but do your research to make sure their values match your own).
8. Support Nature Reserves
This one is hard to make close to home: “prioritizing the enactment of connected well-funded and well-managed reserves for a significant proportion of the world’s terrestrial, marine, freshwater, and aerial habitats.”
But you can still Google “nature reserves” to find some near you to both visit and support via donations. There are plenty in every US state, as well as the UK area and beyond. Watch for opportunities to continue to create and preserve them, and of course if you get to visit, leave no trace and don’t disturb the natural ecosystem.
9. Help Put the Animals Back
Each of these last 3 are bigger initiatives, including “rewilding regions with native species, especially apex predators, to restore ecological processes and dynamics.”
Apex predators are at the top of the food chain, and nothing else – other than humans – kills them. We CAN take at-home measures to protect those that are still inexistence, but most of that is covered in #6. To get them back, support local zoos and conservancy programs working to repopulate animal ecosystems humans have already disrupted. Sustainable and appropriate fishing and hunting practices are also important.
10. Vote for Eco-Friendly Incentives
Most us can’t take a decisive role in “revising our economy to reduce wealth inequality and ensure that prices, taxation, and incentive systems take into account the real costs which consumption patterns impose on our environment,” but we can watch for opportunities, even at the local level, to vote (with dollars or ballots) for incentives that would push business (and individuals) to waste less, conserve more, pollute less, and clean up more. Many decisions are made in city and county government that impact the environment.
Should taxes be raised on gasoline to help promote sustainable solutions for public transportation, for example? Maybe. These are often big topics that take research, but it’s good to keep the whole world in mind at all times.
Is it Really “Mission Possible” to Save the Earth?
I get it – something like using cloth napkins and swearing off paper towel seems like a BIG step, not a baby step. But you can still reduce the number of napkins you throw away by 50% just by trying to use a napkin at two meals instead of throwing one away every time you eat. It’s as simple as that. And once you’re used to reusing, it just might turn into a bigger habit, like it did for us. (Those are our baby blankets turned into hankies, above) It even saves you money, which you can redirect toward more sustainable options at the store.
I’ll walk you through small changes that will REALLY impact your family’s health/nutrition, your budget, and the environment without taking a ton of time, starting in January:
If you’re curious about what I’m writing about in the next post in the series, I don’t agree with the scientists on these 3 points:
- promoting dietary shifts towards mostly plant-based foods
- further reducing fertility rates by ensuring that women and men have access to education and voluntary family-planning services, especially where such resources are still lacking
- estimating a scientifically defensible, sustainable human population size for the long term while rallying nations and leaders to support that vital goal.
We’ll talk about those soon! For today: