The ups and downs make the path to sustainable living feel like a roller coaster ride. One day, there is bad news, more evidence of the growing consequences of the take-make-waste approach to living, and the next, startlingly positive news about the pace of investment in renewable energy that could lower humanity’s impact dramatically, but only in the long run. Let’s make 2024 the year we — all Earthlings — take strides to reduce our environmental footprint by 50% before 2030.
Why 50%? To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the United Nations urges society to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030. The United States is targeting a 50% reduction in emissions by the end of the decade compared to 2005. So far, the evidence suggests these emissions targets will be missed.
It is up to each of us to take action to cut wasteful consumption and start the circular reuse economy in our communities. Cutting personal impact by 50% will be the focus of Earth911’s editorial calendar in 2024. We hope you’ll join us in sharing steps to end food waste and single-use packaging’s torrent of trash and drive changes in demand for oil-, gas-, and coal-generated electricity.
Small Changes Add Up
After almost six years at Earth911, from which I have learned so much, my waste profile has changed dramatically. Our household now produces one-fourth of the trash it did in 2018, and our recycling has tripled in volume as we found new local options for various materials. Thank you to all you readers who have shared ideas over the years — it has helped me and many other Earthlings take essential steps toward a low-impact life. Simply becoming more engaged in where the stuff we buy comes from, how it is made, and the durability, repairability, and reusability of products creates the awareness from which meaningful changes spring.
We need more action in the face of another hottest year in human history. My journey will take me to a new home a third of the size of our current house, with a garden and greenhouse for growing more of our food. This month, we’re moving to a sustainably built home in the country. I intend to solve as many sustainable living challenges as possible while stewarding the land to preserve native flora and fauna, becoming indigenous to the place my family lives and passing that knowledge along.
We aim to lower our household’s impact by 70% in the next five years. I’ll share what I learn about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, the aging electricity infrastructure, wasteful industrial food systems, and the myriad other changes a family can accomplish. All of these layers of the complex and unsustainable economy we have today can be reinvented over the next decade — if people call for that change through their spending and giving.
Some choices are expensive — not everyone can afford to move, and mine was possible only because it involves radical downsizing — but many are practical changes and small investments that can lower anyone’s impact.
A Word On Choices
There are billions of ways to live sustainably, each built on a unique mix of choices. Every decision comes with a local context and Byzantine connections to the rest of society and nature that we must understand to act as a steward of the environment.
Each of us can find our way, choosing trade-offs that contribute to lowering our overall environmental impact. When we become intimate with the stuff we use — where it comes from, how it was made and where, by whom before the product was shipped to the U.S., if it did not come from a domestic source — we begin to take seriously the impact of our buying, efficiently using, reusing, and only when no further resuse is possible, recycling the product and its packaging.
I’m older and feel obligated to leave the world better than I found it. My generation delivered the worst environmental performance in human history. There is much work to do. Yet, climate change requires a multi-generational solution that I can only help inform because I will not live to see the end of anthropogenic atmospheric warming. These realities shape my choice of where and how to live.
We’re moving to an existing house in the hills of southern Oregon, well off the beaten path in a region prone to wildfire and flooding. According to RiskFactor.com, our location faces high wildfire and flood risks. We chose a country home to understand how to bridge the urban-rural divide and achieve a comprehensively sustainable society. So, the risks from our perspective are tolerable.
I would not have built a house here, adding to the erosion of the human wilderness interface. Instead, the prospect of preserving the native ecosystem, becoming indigenous to the place, its flora and fauna, is appealing to me, as is growing more of our food. By contrast, choosing a low-lying community prone to flooding due to rising sea levels seems just as risky over the 30 years or so I expect to live.
You will make your own choices. I hope that by sharing mine, we can make progress together.
Make Your Life 50% Better
Sustainability is not a sacrifice, it is a contribution to your wellbeing, neighbors and nature. Buying less but better made, repairable products is a step up. Giving up fast fashion in favor of well-made, timely clothing will help you look stylish all the time, not just until the next inventory turn at Shein.
Your sustainable life might revolve around different poles, such as traveling and working remotely while accumulating less stuff. Or you might create a zero-waste household and enjoy local, walkable interactions with nature close to home instead of traveling. Different trade-offs are involved in these lifestyles, and many ways of living can be sustainable.
The ideas we’ll share in 2023 and continuing improvements to the Earth911 platform will help our community find more reuse, repair, and other services necessary to living a circular, low-impact life. More ideas do make less waste; now it’s time to reduce our impact by 50 percent.
And A Favor To Ask
Please consider adding your financial support to help Earth911 grow the most comprehensive reuse and recycling information source. Your backing will help support our local listing research team’s daily work. Thank you for joining us for another year of progress toward living in harmony and restoring nature.