As the presidential election dominates the news, the global scarcity of oil and the advent of climate change manifest in bloody conflicts in Iraq and Georgia, and unstable weather patterns and extreme storms. Movies like An Inconvenient Truth, books like Field Notes from a Catastrophe, and special news reports have sounded the alarm about the unintended consequences on our environment and our lives of a 150-year-old fossil-fuel world economy.

We face a comprehensive crisis. Although our civilization and our very existence depend on a healthy planet, we are causing potentially catastrophic damage to the planetary web of life that sustains us. To thrive we need clean air, clean water, healthy soil, healthy ecosystems, and sustainable sources of food and energy. We must change course or join the dinosaurs in extinction. To find a better way forward we must define progress and well-being in new ways.

In his recent book, Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken says, “In the chaos engulfing the world, a hopeful future resides because the past is disintegrating before us.” Our crisis includes both danger and opportunity. Things can get worse but they can get better, too. The net direction of change depends on the decisions we make and the actions we take. There is a movement toward a more sustainable future that is not in the headlines. Hawken’s book describes the emerging global movement for social justice, indigenous rights and environmental responsibility. Worldwide there are more than 1 million citize nonprofit organizations addressing these issues. Click here for further information.

Activism is a key part of the global movement for change. Action on a personal level is also essential. You can make a difference. The transformation can begin with each of us as individuals and flow outward through our families and our communities to create a better world. Environmentally friendly choices that are more sustainable than other products and services are called “green.” Now that almost everyone is claiming to be green we need to distinguish between what seems green and what is truly green. How can we learn to make the best choices?

Here are six easy ways to turn everyday habits that seem green into actions that truly make a difference:

1. Since paper shopping bags are biodegradable they seem green, but they take four times more energy to manufacture than plastic bags. True green is bringing a cloth or mesh tote to carry purchases wherever you go.

2. Clothing made from bamboo seems green since it comes from a renewable resource, but turning it into clothing-ready fabric is energy intensive. Classic, timeless pieces made from quality fabrics are true green. Cashmere, silk and linen can be produced in an eco-friendly way and the longer you wear your clothing, the further the investment goes.

3. Redecorating your home with a new eco-friendly sofa seems green. True green is upgrading furniture you already own or find in a thrifty local vintage shop. This saves 95 percent of the energy required to make a new piece of furniture.

4. Recycling your disposable plastic water bottles seems green but less than 15 percent are actually recycled and bottled water usually isn’t any purer than tap water. True green is sipping tap water from a safely reusable metal bottle.

5. Crackers, chips and puffs made from organic ingredients seem green, but these processed treats still require huge amounts of energy to produce, pack and ship. True green is snacking on organic whole foods from a local source.

6. A hybrid SUV seems green because it is more fuel-efficient than a regular SUV but a compact hybrid is about twice as fuel-efficient. Cutting your carbon emissions and gas costs by slashing the miles you drive with car-pooling, biking or walking is true green.

To learn more, attend the free “Seeking the True Green” class presented by The Sustainability Project and SBCC Adult Education in October. In four weekly sessions at the Santa Barbara Public Library‘s Faulkner Gallery, 40 E. Anapamu St., local experts will explore options for lifestyle, food, money and community. The sessions are 5:30-7:30 p.m. Oct. 9, Oct. 16, Oct. 23 and Oct. 30. Click here for a complete schedule.

Can the old slogans “Think Globally, Act Locally” and “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” be applied now? Can we move toward a locally based community that meets our needs and the needs of future generations? Join us to learn how everyday decisions can make you healthier and happier while making the world a better place.

Architect John D. Kelley is a founding member of The Sustainability Project.

John D. Kelley is an architect, writer and
community organizer. He is the leader of the Santa Barbara chapter of Citizens Climate
, a national grassroots volunteer organization. The opinions expressed are his own.