When it comes to contributing to humanity, most of us would sincerely like to be better people, but aren’t.
Much like a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, we betray our loftiest resolutions – to vote in every election or stay abreast of complicated global conflicts – for pretty banal reasons: We lack the time, money or energy to keep them.
Being a good citizen of the Earth is no different: Few of us have the cash to buy a Prius, the time to hand wash our children’s cloth diapers or the energy to lobby our senators on carbon emissions.
Indeed, confronted with a congressional impasse on global warming and the grim conclusions of climate scientists about the planet’s certain demise, it’s easy for the average, well-meaning person to toss up her hands, leaving the Earth to more powerful, richer and less busy people to save.
But several people who work with Durango-based environmental organizations say sinners are not damned. In fact, there are small things even the laziest among us can do to reduce their footprint on the environment.
Save energy – and money
Teresa Shishim of the Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency, or 4CORE, said that minor, eminently achievable behavioral adjustments can yield environmental dividends and save money – including taking the trolley.
“There are three tiers of behavioral changes – things you change in your life to save energy and money.” Those tiers are no cost, low cost and “some investment.”
Taking the trolley to get around Durango falls into the first tier, she said, characterizing it as an extremely convenient form of public transportation that reduces gas use and costs almost nothing.
“There are free buses all the time in Durango, and we love promoting free trolley days,” she said. “Also, there’s walking and biking: You save money on gas and improve your health at the same time.”
Also in this tier: line-drying your laundry and unplugging your phone charger when you’re not charging your phone. (Or any charger you’re not using, she said, including your computer charger.)
A lot of people don’t even realize that unplugging not only helps save the environment but slashes your utility bill, Shishim said.
She said in terms of bigger steps that require “some investment,” air-sealing your house probably offers the best bang for your buck.
In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that, on average, homeowners can save an average of 15 percent of their heating and cooling costs by air sealing their homes by adding insulation in attics, floors over crawl spaces and basements.
“It really lowers your heating costs in the winter,” she said.
Jimbo Buickerood, public lands coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance, also said resigned under-performers could shake their dispiriting records of environmental defeatism by embracing easy-to-adopt practices.
“Basically, turn off the lights, turn down the thermostat, eat less meat and just reduce consumption. Those, I think, are the big ones,” he said.
Another tip: Don’t drink bottled water.
“Maybe in other countries, there’s a need,” he said. “But in this country, there’s absolutely no need to drink bottled water, ever, whatsoever. It’s mind-blowing.”
Kicking the Evian habit is easy: The trick is to always carry around your bottle or a travel mug, he said.
While Buickerood recommended eschewing Coca Cola products altogether, he allowed that this was somewhat more difficult.
“They own Odwalla,” the popular fruit-smoothie brand, he said.
For anyone who feels like they’re merely one person in a world with over 6 billion people, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and nihilistic about the politics of saving the world.
But San Juan Citizens Alliance Executive Director Dan Olson said there are simple things you can do to make a difference: first of all, vote.
“Vote for candidates who support environmental values you care about – that’s most important and probably trumps all others.”
Second of all, he said, environmentalism is a big political umbrella that encompasses many issues. Choose one issue – a topic that animates you, be it local, regional, statewide, national or international – and focus on that.
In America, getting effective legislation passed requires lobbying senators and Congress members and developing relationships with their staff.
“If you don’t have the time to do that, support organizations that do,” Olson said.
There are thousands of organizations across the country doing great work on behalf of the environment, and even if you can only afford to donate $5, every $5 helps.
Grow a garden
At La Plata County Extension Office, Darrin Parmenter said deadbeat environmentalists could change their ways by growing a garden in their backyard.
“The distance food has to travel from farm to table is 1,500 to 2,000 miles, so in other words, it requires 87 calories to transport one calorie of the food that we eat. Growing your own food is really a no-brainer,” he said.
He said it was easy to produce “some things that give you high vitamin content and relatively high mineral content,” and xeric gardening – growing plants that need little moisture – is “probably the best thing you could do to minimize your carbon footprint because water is probably our most valuable resource.”
To Durango residents who lack a backyard to populate with virtuous vegetation, Parmenter said, fear not: Patio gardens don’t take much space.
For $60 to $75 you can rent a lot from a community garden, and for no money, you can ask a propertied friend if you can borrow an 8- by 4-foot plot for a raised bed.
“Just that will produce a lot of food for you,” Parmenter said.
If gardening is altogether too much work, in Durango, even the most indolent environmentalists have options.
“You could just go to the farmers market or one of the natural food stores,” Parmenter said. “The food is still probably coming from within 100 miles away, and that’s pretty impressive.”