By Brian Clark Howard
After the grill is cool, the beach towels put away and the parades dispersed, take a few minutes to reflect on what Fourth of July could stand for. Certainly, it commemorates the forward-thinking optimism and sacrifice of our country's forefathers. It could also signify your own forward-thinking optimism on making a positive difference for the environment. This year, work toward declaring your own independence from:
- Oil The black stuff has been on a lot of people''s minds the past few years, with rising gas prices hitting consumers hard, instability and war in the Middle East, financial support for terrorism and the looming threat of global climate change. Learn about those working for nationwide energy independence here. (LINK) Congress' recent raising of the corporate average fuel economy is one step in the right direction. Save money and cut back on your own oil use by carpooling when you can, combining errands, opting for mass transit and hitting the pavement with your own two feet, bicycle or scooter. Instead of drive thrus, walk up for services. Make sure your vehicle is tuned up.
- Waste Observers abroad have long criticized Americans for excessive waste, and it's a good time to clean up our image. Buy products in bulk when possible, reuse coffee mugs and water bottles, complain to companies who use too much packaging and make sure you donate unneeded goods instead of tossing them out. Compost your table scraps instead of using the garbage disposal, which can add unneeded nutrients into waterways. And don't forget to recycle! The recovery rate for PET plastic bottles has inched up only slightly in the past few years, to an unimpressive 17-18% from 10%, according to the Container Recycling Institute.
- Industrially Processed Foods Food is one of life's true pleasures, but it is also one of our greatest impacts. Commercially raised meat, for example, uses eight times the fuel in production as plant-based foods. This year, discover the joys of great vegetarian cooking (you don't have to swear off animal protein entirely, just try out the occasional meatless feast or quick bite. You might like it). Try to buy foods that are locally sourced and in season. That also will help decrease the risk of potential contaminant problems in China and elsewhere. Choose organics as much as possible, and check out biodynamic and the slow food movements. For great recipes and other food information, check here.
- Toxic Chemicals There are many ways to solve common problems around the home without reaching for toxic chemicals. Oxygenated cleansers can replace bleach. Vinegar works great to clean windows. Baking soda is a powerful scrubbing agent. You don't have to always mix your own agents though, because more and more non- and less-toxic products are showing up on store shelves across the country, even at big box retailers. Read labels and try to stick with safe ingredients you wouldn't mind spilling on your skin. For most ordinary surface cleaners, avoid products with triclosan or other antibiotic chemicals, which really aren't necessary and can lead to antibiotic resistance. Even at the height of revolutionary fever in colonial America, there were still many people who declined to help the patriots, or even opposed them. The founding fathers knew that all it took was a tipping point to turn the tide. That means changes can really add up, and by taking another look at some easy things we can all do, we can approach independence from environmental bad habits.
The Daily Green's Guide to the Fourth of JulyTips