You’ve heard the same eco-advice over and over (and over) again… But it’s never too much to talk about this because everyone should be involved in caring and saving our planet. Here are 6 environmental issues to really wrap your brain around:
#1 Buy local honey…
A staggering 75 percent of the Earth’s plant species depends on insect pollinators, of which bees are the most important. “Without pollinators, the planet would soon collapse.” Sadly, the number of bee colonies has declined by roughly 50 percent in the last 70 years—and is still falling.
What are the biggest threats to pollinators? Pesticide use and habitat destruction. “Don’t use pesticides on your lawn or garden, and consider planting a pollinator garden with organic flowers that bees like, such as sunflowers, rosemary, geraniums, lavender or poppies,” says Jacobsen. Buy local honey to support beekeepers in your area, or, even better, start a hive of your own; check out the American Beekeeping Federation (abfnet.org) to learn how.
#2 Limit your carbon footprint
Microscopic phytoplankton—which are the foundation of the entire aquatic food web, feeding everything from small krill to big whales— perform a staggering one-half of the Earth’s photosynthesis. Fewer phytoplankton means less food for fish higher on the food chain, as well as less oxygen for us to breathe.
Limit your carbon footprint on a daily basis to help reduce global warming (for simple acts to do every day, see “A Doable To-Do List” below), and donate your time and money to the National Marine Protected Areas Center (mpa.gov) to help support and sustain crucial habitats and marine resources.
#3 Certified organic cotton is better
Conventional cotton farming uses less than 5 percent of farmland in the United States, but utilizes more than 15 percent of the country’s chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Pesticides can kill beneficial insects and soil microorganisms, as well as contaminate the surrounding ground and surface water, says Paul Towers, media director at the San Francisco-based Pesticide Action Network, which promotes alternatives to pesticides worldwide.
Look for goods made with certified organic cotton. “Buying organic sends clear signals to the marketplace that Americans want healthier cotton farming,” says Towers. For more information, check out the Sustainable Cotton Project (sustainablecotton.org).
#4 Reduce wasted food
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), nearly 20 percent of all edible dairy and meat (and a whopping 44 percent of farmed salmon) ends up in landfills. About 20 percent of the total emissions tied to these foods—from production to transportation to disposal—can be attributed to the amount wasted.
The solution comes down to simple planning. Don’t buy too many groceries ahead of time, don’t let food go bad in the fridge and serve yourself only what you know you’ll eat.
#5 Be green even after you’re gone
Each year, approximately 104,300 tons of steel and 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete (in addition to 1 million gallons of toxic chemicals) are buried in the roughly 22,500 U.S. cemeteries, says Joe Sehee, founder of The Green Burial Council in Santa Fe, N.M., which promotes environmentally sustainable funeral services. The goals of eco-burial, available in 41 states, are land preservation, lowering the waste and carbon emissions generated by the use of steel and concrete, and reducing the use of toxic chemicals.
Spread the word. “Tell your family, friends and your local cemetery this is what you want: a better end-of-life ritual for both you and the planet, rooted in ecological responsibility,” says Sehee. Get started at greenburialcouncil.org.
#6 Cities need trees to stay healthy
Aside from sequestering more than 100 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, trees in urban areas (defined as 10,000 people or more) can lower city temperatures by up to 10 degrees, reducing the concentration of ground level ozone (an air pollutant), says Greg McPherson, Ph.D., research forester with the Urban Ecosystems and Social Dynamics Program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service in Davis, Calif.
Plant trees on your own property, or join local organizations that plant trees in public spaces. While McPherson agrees that it starts with planting, he stresses the importance of stewardship. “Trees must be watered, pruned and cared for correctly so they grow to be long-lived, high-performance plants that give back,” he says. For tree-care 101, visit the Arbor Day Foundation at arborday.org.