What is a sustainable lifestyle? And with our already overwhelming lives, how do we make commitments to incorporate change in this direction?
By definition, sustainable means harvesting or using a resource without depleting or permanently damaging it. Living a sustainable lifestyle in our industrial world would have to be a conscious choice, made after careful consideration. The good news is it is doable, and is not only good for our environment but for our own health as well.
Santa Barbara City College’s Adam Green is director of the school’s Center for Sustainability. The assistant biology professor and environmental studies program coordinator believes the first step in living sustainably is to understand our own individual “ecological footprint,” the biologically productive areas that are required to produce the natural resources we consume. To determine the size of your footprint, he recommends a visit to the Web site, myfootprint.org, for a quick test. The results may be sobering; if everyone lived like me — someone who doesn’t even need to commute to work — we would still need 2.5 planets.
Yet recognizing our environmental repercussions makes the challenge of changing our lifestyle a more clear and immediate priority.
So what are these changes that can really have an impact? According to Green, we need to make life choices that go beyond recycling or changing our light bulbs — although such positive steps don’t hurt. The main changes he suggests are ones that are actually quite basic: Eat less meat, drive less, and shop at an organic farmers market or produce stand that sells locally grown food. If we collectively ate less meat, and made the choice of only eating meat that was organically grown and was pasture-raised instead of corn-fed, Green says, the greenhouse effect from raising cattle could drop, there would be less or no need for antibiotics, and there would be a dramatic decrease of toxic runoff into our water supply.
If we all drove less, of course, there would be a reduction in the air pollution that produces both short-term and long-term consequences, decreased loss of wildlife habitat and less poisonous runoff from roadways. The basic ways to reduce our driving are obvious: Carpool, combine errands into one trip, walk or bike more, and use public transportation.
The Environmental Protection Agency says that refraining from driving just two days a week will reduce greenhouse gas emissions about 1,600 pounds per year. The EPA has a couple of suggestions: Buy smart (check out the agency’s Green Vehicle Guide before buying a new or used vehicle); Drive smart by going easy on the brakes and gas pedal and avoiding hard accelerations, and tune your ride because a well-maintained car is more fuel-efficient.
Meanwhile, buying your produce — and nuts and honey and other locally produced items — at area farmers markets and produce stands helps support both your health and the environment. According to the Sierra Club, the average American meal travels more than 1,500 miles to land on our plate. If we buy from local organic farmers, we are not only supporting the local economy, we are decreasing atmospheric pollution and the pesticides and chemicals circling our planet — and inside our bodies as well. Green recommends reading Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, to gain a better understanding of how to eat better for yourself and the environment.
There are many other things we can do to live a more sustainable lifestyle, such as buying energy-efficient appliances, weatherizing our homes, using green building standards, and just becoming more aware and active as consumers. Green advises people to start questioning where their food and clothes come from. He also emphasizes that we need to look closer at the bigger picture. For instance, does the use of corn ethanol as an alternative fuel really help our environment? According to Green, it’s a short-sighted choice because the real life cycle of creating it takes fossil-fuel energy, vast amounts of agricultural land, and toxic chemical output.
We must make both private choices to live a sustainable lifestyle but also voice and support our government in the long-term importance of such basic ideas as saving sustainable farmland, subsidizing better public transportation, and building cleaner vehicles and power plants.
Note: Coming this fall is an Adult Ed class, Join the Green Revolution, which offers education on living a sustainable lifestyle.