Nine Ways to be a Better Friend to the Planet

We focus a lot on relationships — relationships with our lovers, our brothers, ourselves, our gods. This article is about another, often overlooked relationship — our relationship with our home. I don’t mean our house, where we store our things and hang our pictures. I mean our home in the big sense, as in Earth, this planet that supports us.

Most articles on taking care of the environment include things like turning off the lights when you leave the room and recycling your pop cans and beer bottles. These are good things and everyone should do them but the bigger bang for the buck actions are less politically correct.

They may make you uncomfortable but, surprisingly, many of the actions we can take to stop trashing the environment may also bring pleasure and peace into our lives.

  • Stop buying crap you don’t need. It is very difficult in this culture not to base our sense of self worth on how much stuff we have. But all that stuff comes out of the Earth one way or another. It is mined, logged, mixed up in toxic chemical plants, etc.

Not only does it take a toll on the planet, but the constant drive to buy, buy, buy also keeps us in debt and struggling even harder to pay bills and make ends meet. It may surprise you how liberating it is to simplify and reduce the amount of stuff in your life. It may also surprise you to learn the beauty and peace in valuing who we are instead of what we have.

  • Get a grip on reality. The reason we are bombarded with messages to buy stuff we don’t really need is because big business, mainstream economists and politicians tell us that the economy has to keep growing all the time to be healthy. This means constantly increasing our consumption of natural resources. But here’s the part of reality they gloss over — we live on a planet of finite natural resources! Right now humans are consuming 1 and ½ Earths-worth of natural resources every year, basically overdrawing our natural resource bank account.

Rascally western novelist Edward Abbey once pointed out, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” What good is the economy if we don’t have a habitable planet? A colleague of mine has written an important book titled, What’s the Economy For Anyway? The book is great. The question is critical.

There is a burgeoning New Economy movement striving to create muscular healthy economic alternatives. You can learn more at

  • What you do buy, buy local. Products made locally usually require far, far less fossil fuel to reach store shelves, which means they produce far less pollution. This is especially true of locally produced food. Many communities, including Central Oregon, have growing Locavore

In addition to being gentler on the Earth, buying local creates jobs for people right in our communities and provides opportunities to build community as we get to personally know the farmers growing our food, the sewers making our clothes and the brewers crafting our beer.

  • Eat less meat. According to some sources, production of meat, especially beef and pork, is contributing to global warming even more than driving cars. For you big-time meat lovers I’m sure this feels like a major sacrifice but cutting meat just one day a week is good for the Earth and for you – reducing the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.
  • Drive less, consume less electricity and purchase renewable energy. Plain and simple we are going to have to commit to moving beyond fossil fuels.   It’s doable and many entrepreneurs are already making lots of money creating and providing post-fossil fuel alternatives. As a side benefit reducing energy consumption will save you money on energy bills and perhaps give you a bit more exercise.
  • Have fewer children. I know this rankles some, but the truth is we have both a human population challenge and a resource consumption problem. Each new person adds to both problems. Another uncomfortable truth is that on average each child born in the U.S. does far more environmental damage than a child born in a developing nation because of the huge rate of consumption in the U.S.
  • Just think you’ll be doing something great for the planet and you’ll spare yourself immeasurable hassle, heartache and expense! OK, OK, just kidding – I couldn’t help myself!
  • Get ‘em outside. For the vast majority who feel children are just to magical to forego, be sure to get them outside early and often immersed in the miracle of Nature so that they can learn to love rivers, and forests and wild creatures. Then they too will want to help protect and restore the richness and beauty of our natural world.
  • Kids are naturally enthralled with the wonders and adventures of nature. Making the commitment to give them those opportunities will keep them more active and physically fit, which is a growing challenge in our sedentary, video screen-saturated lives. It will also get parents out moving and exercising.
  • Show a little humility. We humans like to think we are the be all and end all. It is startling to consider that all humans could disappear from the face of the planet tomorrow and the planet would go on just fine, probably even better given how we’re treating it. However, if bees or earthworms were to disappear, taking their pollinating and soil conditioning services with them, Earth’s food web would crash and countless species would vanish. We push back against racism and sexism. Why are we so blasé about speciesism.
  • Broadening our sense of community to include other species doesn’t diminish us as human beings. Just the opposite. It adds rich new layers of connection and wonder. We see beauty in new places.
  • Celebrate our successes. It’s easy to feel that environmental problems are too big for us to do anything about but in fact we’ve had many huge successes when we’ve focused our collective minds and hearts. We came together and put a global ban on chemicals that were eating a hole in the ozone layer and now it is beginning to heal. Due to recovery efforts once-endangered gray wolves, bald eagles, and brown pelicans are now growing in numbers. Just last year the Oregon Chub became the first fish species to have recovered enough to be taken off the endangered species list. Nature heals when we give it a chance.

It’s a lovely planet. It’s our home. Instead of a battle it could be a love affair.

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