What more can I do to help the environment?
April 13, 2009 3:11 PM   Subscribe

I recycle, cycle, take the train, eat nearly no meat and don't buy useless stuff. But I know it's not enough. What can I do about environmental/consumerism issues that goes beyond that but doesn't involve chasing whalers on a tiny boat in the Sea of Japan? I'm especially interested about answers for things in the UK, but I'm academically interested in international things too.

So far, I'm looking at no2id, MySociety.org and its tentacles PledgeBank, TheyWorkForYou etc. Google searches have yielded the Guardian's "Get Involved" page, this guide at OneWorld and Wikipedia's page on anti-consumerism. MetaFilter itself has yielded 350.org. All in all, a fairly good haul.

But given the Hive Mind's great insight, I thought I'd also ask directly.

Note that the answers will eventually get digested and blogged about. Given the rather abstract nature of a lot of the pages above, I'm most interested in practical advice of the form "write letters to x", "go to y on Thursday afternoons" or "start a local z group".
posted by Zarkonnen to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
There's a blog I like called tiny choices. It might be a little NYCentric but they are thinking about the same things you are.
posted by overhauser at 3:17 PM on April 13, 2009

Don't reproduce.
The problem is not so much how we live, but how many of us are living.
posted by spasm at 3:18 PM on April 13, 2009 [5 favorites]

2ing spasm but I also find personal satisfaction in picking up litter.
posted by patnok at 3:22 PM on April 13, 2009

Get other people to do the things you are already doing. Having one person doing a lot is great, but having a bunch of people doing a lot is even better. Word-of-mouth has changed more minds than mass advertising ever will, I think.
posted by iarerach at 3:23 PM on April 13, 2009

Mod note: removed blog link, feel free to put it in your profile or add it to projects when it's fleshed out
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:29 PM on April 13, 2009

Response by poster: Re: jessamyn - I wasn't trying to stealth-link, I just thought the question of which blog it was would inevitably arise, so I'd answer it in advance. I'll put it into projects once it's grown up a bit.
posted by Zarkonnen at 3:35 PM on April 13, 2009

Best answer: Some of the big problems require collective action and political will. I'd pick an issue (climate change?), get involved with some local organization, and try to do the organizing and politicking that it takes to get a particular key decision made. For example, your piece might be to get Representative So-and-So to vote yes on Bill 1234. How could you do that? Maybe you just introduce Representative So-and-So to your aunt, who represents a key constituency that matters to the Rep and talks about how stopping climate change is so important to Soccer Moms, or maybe you have to organize some enormous rally in front of the Rep's house so s/he knows s/he'll get voted out of office s/he doesn't support the bill.

So, that's my advice: now that you've done much of what you can do personally, stop thinking local, stop thinking about the cumulative effect of innumerable small individual decisions, and start thinking about the big decisions and start figuring out how you can actually impact one of those decisions, likely in connection with a larger group creating a coherent political strategy.
posted by salvia at 3:40 PM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't reproduce.
The problem is not so much how we live, but how many of us are living.

No, it's really how we live, or more to the point, how a resident of a first-world nation lives relative to how someone living in a more unindustrialized nation lives. Questions similar to this one have come up a few times on AskMe, and there's always some snarky jerk that answers "commit suicide" or something similar, much as you've done. It's pretty tiring, and it's not entirely accurate. Taking that logic to the extreme, why not become a serial killer?

A rather large percentage of the world's population lives in developing nations, such as China and India, which until quite recently had an extremely small consumption of resources per capita. Sure, more people in countries like that will consume more resources, but not nearly as much as an additional person from an industrialized nation like in Western Europe or North America. Population is a part of the problem, but not the end-all be-all.
posted by LionIndex at 3:45 PM on April 13, 2009

No, it's really, really about not reproducing and encouraging others not to reproduce. When you have a kid, it's How You Live x 2. Zarkonnen is already working hard to live ecovirtuously and wants practical advice about doing more. The single best thing you can do is have no kids. The best organizations you can support are those who help others avoid having kids, too.
posted by gum at 4:27 PM on April 13, 2009

I am with spasm, but whether you find that line of argument compelling is going to depend on some value judgments that are up to you.

At least in talking with my friends, there are sort of two major camps that people who have spent any time at all thinking about the environment and the future of humanity fall into. On one extreme, you have anti-breeders, people who think that, essentially, the ideal future is one with a relatively small number of people living high-consumption lifestyles, which are indefinitely sustainable because there aren't that many people trying to do it simultaneously.

At the other extreme, you have people who think that there's no inherent problem with increasing the world's population to several or perhaps even many times what it currently is, as long as people learn to live with less: consume less, eat less meat, have a smaller "footprint," use resources more efficiently, distribute them more equitably, etc.

There's obviously room for lots of perspectives that aren't at either extreme, but I think it's hard to decide what's good or bad if you don't have some idea in mind of what the goal is. When you do decide what that goal looks like, suddenly you may find what you should do today to help humanity get there (and what organizations you should find and contribute to or participate in) much more clear.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:32 PM on April 13, 2009

Best answer: It sounds like you're doing really well with the personal-lifestyle-choice type things, so I would suggest the next step is to get involved with some sort of advocacy organization. I'm in the US, so I have no idea what the groups are in your area - though I used to work for Greenpeace USA and I know they are quite active in London, and there are a lot of opportunities to work with them that don't involve chasing whaling ships. But I bet with some research you could find a local group working on some environmental issue you're passionate about - maybe something to do with renewable energy?

You can always blog about these issues, with an aim towards getting your readers involved, but I would recommend getting involved in some offline stuff - it can be incredibly powerful.
posted by lunasol at 5:20 PM on April 13, 2009

Best answer: I'm trying to make similar choices to you. Arguments that we should just not reproduce concern me (I don't have kids, but most of my friends do). I think if you raise children in a responsible way that has to be better than someone like me who recycles, walks, doesn't have a car etc but who also flies too much, ruining all that good work.

Friends of the Earth (UK) have good campaigns regularly such as the Big Ask. Lots of letter writing and practical tips etc.

Another idea is to get involved with a gardening co-op/permaculture initiative. I know there's many like this in the UK. You can work with community gardens to grow herbs, fruit and vegetables and share the results with other members. Satisfying, food mile reducing, and tasty!
posted by wingless_angel at 6:01 PM on April 13, 2009

Homegrown Evolution is a blog i recently discovered with some pretty cool ideas. One idea I like is greywater.
posted by aniola at 6:58 PM on April 13, 2009

Get involved. This idea that we can consume, or underconsume, our way out of environmental disaster is a product of the problem: consumption as the end all and be all of modern human existence. The problem with merely "shopping right" or "not reproducing" is that it removes the other actors from the equation. I used to live across from a mega-polluting factory. There is nothing I could've done, or any of my neighbors have done, to live cleanly that would've balanced the belching toxins from that machine running (almost typed "ruining") 24/7.

Activism doesn't mean chasing whalers off the coast of Japan, that's a strawman. It does involve organized people working in a systemic way to change our larger society. Anything less is well-meaning, but ultimately not all that helpful. That goes for the "just make one more person like you" to the "oh, just inform people by [...]."

The title of Howard Zinn's biography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train," sums it up perfectly. Even if you were to not reproduce, or convince another person to start walking to the back of the train with you, you're only fooling yourself. We've got to change the direction of the train. Individual people and actions can't: even organized people have trouble with it, but it's the only realistic option. Everything else is just a sales pitch.
posted by history is a weapon at 7:20 PM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

A friend and coworker is heavily involved in workplace "green" effort. Its bigger than just one person but at the same time it is of a manageable size. Coworkers get to see good behavior modeled and there are some real tangible things that can be measured (e.g. x amount of stuff was recycled over timer period y).
posted by mmascolino at 9:29 PM on April 13, 2009

Interesting question. It seems like the the typical thought is to do something mundane and easily achievable.

Want to save the world? Invent a better solar cell. Viable LED lighting. Dramatically more efficient desalinization technology.

Honestly, if the first world needed more people to pick up trash, sort recyclables, build green housing, etc, we could import them from somewhere, AND give them a better life, so you can put what education I assume you have been given to a much higher use.

I agree people need to consume less crap. Less food, less trinkets, smaller cars. Unfortunately, being humans, we're going to keep expanding until even the bottom of society understands that we can't sustain our lifestyle (which would probably require drastic planetary change or an increase in the average intelligence of humanity), or until our resources become relatively limitless and we can do all sorts of neat things to save the planet, like with Wall-E's and things.
posted by mhuckaba at 10:14 PM on April 13, 2009

Best answer: 1. Pretty much every environmental non-profit has a page on their website called "Get Involved" or "Take Action". They usually have suggestions that range from one-off actions like letter-writing and making donations, all the way up to becoming a volunteer for specific projects or on an ongoing basis. I'd be looking at Greenpeace UK, Oxfam UK or any local groups in your town.

2. Raise money for a cause by cycling across the UK or doing some other physical feat and getting people to sponsor you.

3. Writing letters and meet with MPs or ministers in person to discuss an enviornmental issue. It adds your voice to the growing chorus, which gives the topic more importance in the mind of someone who has the power to make big changes but is usually more concerned with getting votes. Plus you can do it on a project-by-project basis, rather than taking 6 months to sail on the Sea Shepherd or whatever.
posted by harriet vane at 4:23 AM on April 14, 2009

Nthing advocacy issues. You need to get more people on board. Organized groups are really good for this, but don't be afraid of bringing up these issues at parties. Don't be overbearing about it, but don't shy away from it either.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:31 PM on April 14, 2009

« Older I want to make pasta like an Italian grandma   |   How do I convert impedance to this weird... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.