Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Contributor's Panel: Simple Steps

EcoBlog is very fortunate to have contributors who are quite knowledgeable on issues of environmental ethics and sustainability. To take advantage of this expertise, I've decided to start a new feature for this site called "Contributor's Panel." The idea is to pose an interesting and topical question to our contributors and let them share their insights.

The first question that I posed was something of a "softball" just to get the conversation rolling. My question was: "What are three simple steps that everyone can take to live more

And here are the responses from our panel:

Frank Morris  [Ecological Advisors]

1. Get Informed.  Human Societies are driven by 4 main variables -- Policy, Investment, Competition, and Education. Present societies were born of past policies, past investments, past educational decisions and the competition between local human sub-cultures and the greater nation-state.  Global Sustainable Society represents different policies, investments, and education-and a culture of sustainability will need to effectively compete with a presently dominant culture of exploitation. The 1987 BrundtlandReport -- Our Common Future -- developed the initial framework for global sustainability.

2. Get Connected. There are many groups involved with Sustainability. Even the Catholic Church has called for an ecological conversion in the cause of sustainability. Millions of Americans, and citizens around the world, belong to environmental organizations. What's missing presently is an aggregation of those members, and a clear game plan to drive policy, investment, and education to engage the present dominant culture of exploitation. By connecting, individuals within sustainable society can aggregate and demand policy, investment, and education in sustainable solutions. And those solutions will need to compete with a culture of exploitation.  

3. Get Motivated. Sustainability provides without pollution. Sustainability effectively engages a culture of exploitation. Sustainability represents realistic hope for a better life for Earth's global citizens. Sustainability is great stuff.

Demosthenes Maratos [Sustainability Institute]

1.   Go vegan. It has never been easier. There are alternatives in virtually every grocery store in North America, Web sites, discussion forums, books, magazines, videos and more all available to help you make the transition. It’s better for your health and for the planet. Most important, it’s the morally right thing to do.  Being vegan is your everyday statement that things are not right as they are, that you are one more person who is standing up to be counted in opposition to the exploitation of animals. It is a refusal of a system that produces enormous profits at the expense of animals who are just as sentient as the family dog or cat.

2.  Resist the cultural cues to desire unnecessary things. Consume less. Ask yourself: "Do I really need it?" Learn to be happy with less, you just may find that so many possessions were only complicating your life. You may find that fewer (but more special or unique) things trump many ordinary things. Sure, some material objects do make our lives easier, but they can't bring us happiness. That must be found from within.
"We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered. A nation can flounder as readily in the face of moral and spiritual bankruptcy as it can through financial bankruptcy." (Dr. Martin Luther King, April, 1967)
3. Understand finite resources and look beyond yourself. Consider the sustainability of your everyday activities. Sustainability as defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, (and perhaps the most popular definition) is "meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs". Know with confidence that your daily actions, choices and decisions pass muster.

Nicole Giambalvo [Activist]

1.  If you want to go green, go vegan.  Or, at least limit your consumption of animal-based products. A plant-based diet isn't just good for animals and your health--it also has a positive impact on the environment. Reducing or eliminating animal-based products is one of the most powerful ways you can reduce your carbon footprint. Farmed animals and their byproducts are responsible for 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, according to

2. Share.  The amount of food products discarded by supermarkets and restaurants in the US is astonishing. There are locally based organizations that make a point to share discarded food products with those in need. The reflexive relationship between food waste and the social, economical and environmental oppressions within our society can be addressed through individual awareness and actions to eradicate poverty within low-income communities.

3. Recognize your accountability. Support reproductive justice.  Industrialized countries with 20% of the world’s population are actually responsible for 80% of the accumulated carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere while Africa was only responsible for 2.5% according to Supporting safe and ethical reproductive health options in the Global South is important when addressing issues of world population increases. However, laying blame on nations which are much less responsible for carbon-dioxide buildup eschews the US and other industrialized nations' environmental responsibility.

Edward J. Thompson [Founder, Sustainability Institute]

1. Use a non-pesticide weed killer/fertilizer for your lawn. This saves money, promotes deeper root systems (which save water) and doesn't dump poison into our groundwater.

2. Stop buying bottled water. The plastic bottles are made with petroleum and are then shipped around the world using more petroleum.

3. Give more, expect less. With this motto, you will derive happiness from life itself, and not from consumption.

Peter Fallon [Professor, Media Ecology]

1. Humility. The overwhelming majority of what we consume, we don't really need. We eat more than we need. We buy things we don't use. We use things to fulfill "needs" that never existed until created and suggested to us by advertising. We throw things away rather than repairing them. We want a lot but even as we get what we want we want more. Our advertising industry puts us directly at the center of a very small universe created in our own image. We are Gods. And we should get over this.

2. Awareness. It is far too easy to be -- and to remain -- completely oblivious to the rest of the world in the information environment we've created for ourselves. It is too easy to be ignorant of both the suffering, exploitation, and deprivation of the developing world, and of our role in the creation and maintenance of that suffering. In order to become and remain aware it is necessary that we achieve a certain level of disconnection from the digital distractions and electric entertainments of our culture of commotion, confusion, and chaos.

3. Give a shit. The world's resources are not infinite. They are not evenly distributed across the Earth. Human societies have not developed at the same rates for reasons not necessarily of a given society's choosing. Powerful societies can, have, and do exploit weaker ones. People do suffer as we lead pretty fat and happy lives. Think about that. And let it bother you. Because it really should.

Sara Kline [Environmental Activist]
1.  Support Campaign Finance Reform.  Real environmental change is impossible as long as our government is being hijacked by corporate interests.  But as long as our elected officials need to raise millions of dollars to run an effective campaign, they will continue to sell their votes to the highest bidders—and that usually means multinational corporations like Exxon and Monsanto that have a vested interest in blocking environmental legislation.  Unless we remove the corrupting influence that big money has on our election, everything else that environmental activists try to do will be in vain.

2.  Eat fewer animals and animal products.  I’m not saying that we all have to go vegan, but even if we all made the pledge to eat less meat and dairy (Meatless Mondays, anyone?), the benefits to the planet would be extraordinary. 
3.  Teach Your Children Well.  If future generations don’t have the experience of actually being in nature, they’ll never come to an appreciation for protecting natural resources.  That’s why I think that one of the most important things we can do is get urban children in particular out of the house and into the wild.  And you don’t have to take them to Yellowstone or Yosemite either.  Start by finding a local preserve or state park and bring your kids there for a hike; or take them on a camping expedition for vacation instead of to Disney. 

Elyssa Hopkins [Environmentalist]

1. Reuse/Upcycle everything. Avoid food packaging when you can, but when you can't, find other uses for it. For example, keep sauce jars to store leftovers instead of buying tupperware, and keep the plastic containers that salad greens and strawberries come in to bring baked goods to the next friend or family get together.

2. Invest in reusable shopping bags. Come on, they're less than a dollar and they pay for themselves in no time since most grocery stores give you a discount for using them. You have no excuse not to. Make the transition away from plastic!

3. Buy used. Furniture is a great example of something you can buy used. It'll be cheaper and even if it's not in perfect shape you can say it's "antique" or "rustic". You'll be conserving numerous resources, and if it's a wood piece it most likely has outgassed most of the formaldehyde that most wood furniture contains.


  1. There's one thing that all of you have forgotten (or perhaps you're just afraid to say it): Most of our ecological problems stem from the proliferation of one species -- homo sapiens. Unless we bring our total human population down to more sustainable levels, the planet is doomed.

    I would also add that the easiest thing for people to do is never vote for any candidate who denies that global warming is real and caused by human activity. In practice this means never voting for a Republican, since most of them are fanatical global warming deniers. How simple is that!!!

    1. The world is not overpopulated. We just consume too fucking much. If we reduced our consumption, the planet could sustain twice out human population.

      The real need is for people to embrace voluntary simplicity and reject American consumerism. The best thing that anyone can do for the planet, as far as I'm concerned, is to stay the hell away from shopping malls.

  2. You guys have hit all of the big issues right on the head. In order of importance, here's my own list:

    1) Move towards a plant-based diet. It's great for your health and great for the planet. This is probably the most significant change that any individual can make.

    2) Reject the lure of consumerism as much as possible. Before you buy anything, ask youself do I really need this or is it just a passing fancy?

    3) Support at least one reputable environmental advocacy group and get involved in what they do as much as possible. I personally like NRDC and PETA best of all, but I also support the World Wildlife Fund.

  3. No one can force a vegan diet on the entire population. We can find better diets to supplement or other ways to dispose food waste. We can also find a way to promote hybrid cars and somehow get the price to be cheaper. This way less gas will be consumed and we won't be as dependant on it. We can educate the community on how to make houses green like getting solar panels. There are some companies that do it free of charge and most people wouldn't have known that. The biggest thing is education and small changes if possible.

  4. I think education is the most important aspect. When people are educated they are more likely to do something about it. People who are not informed do not take it serious because they do not understand the impacts. Do I think we are going to get everyone to become vegan by education? No and truthfully I don't expect them to. I do believe in society and over consumption. I know in my own life I now ask the question do I really need this? and wait to see if I still want it a week later. I think the first start is getting rid of things in your daily life that impact the environment and will not drastically change your life or else people wont do it. Some ideas are recycling, composting, decrease your driving and try to make one trip for all the things you need rather then multiple trips throughout the day. Education is the most crucial part of this. The more educated people are about these topics the more likely they are to do something about them.

  5. I think if we were all educated on the benefits to these sorts of things then we would be in a better position as a whole. Spreading the word is by far the best ting that can be done to encourage people to jump on the wagon and help the economy. I think something like going vegan would be hard to do and shouldnt be put into the equation just yet. things as simple as recycling and sharing and not wasting so much will go a long ways if we all are in it together.

  6. I think we would benefit from the education portion of these steps. I do not think all people become a vegan. I think that is an ubnrealistic step. However, people would benefit from this kind of diet in some aspects people would be healthier. The most important thing is that people educate themselves on these issues and at least try to do some of the steps.

  7. I think the most important step is definitely education. If we can educate children now about the actions they should take, it will be easier in the long run. As opposed to today, because we did not grow up in a society that followed these "rules", its harder to break the bad habits. I think the hardest aspect for me would be the diet modifications, such as going vegan. But I think if I made the other smart choices it could balance out.

  8. I think all these steps are great ! If we educate our socety about them we would be taking the right steps to improving our Enviornment

  9. i think that its kind of crazy to think that all of people will go vegan. that being said i think these steps are a great way to not only make sure people are informed but encourage change!

  10. I definitely agree that while it may be difficult for some to go vegan, limiting our meat intake will definitely help our ecological problems. Many people are not educated on the effects of the meat industry and the damage that is being done to the earth because of it. If meat continues to be in such demand, this process will not end, and we will be depleting valuable natural resources such as water, and we will contribute to global warming.

  11. While going vegan seems a little extreme, I think most of these would be steps in the right direction. The three that I like the most are to buy used, lessen use of animal products and avoid using water bottles.

  12. I think that these are some very useful steps. Every weekend, when I go grocery shopping with my mom, we always use the renewable bags when pack up the groceries which are very beneficial. Buying things that are used could be a great benefit as well. If the product is used but still in good shape, I think i would invest in it. With the ideas about food, people can have their own opinions about what they would want in their own diet.

  13. I think you should do what makes you happy, life is too short! :)

  14. I agree with most of these ideas. They can all benefit the environment. However, when it comes to veganism I am not a fan. in argument this that is not only did neolithic societies gather food, they hunted. There is nothing wrong with a little meat in ones diet every now and then for protein. As long as people eat moderately there should not be needs for large meat slaughter markets. If people stopped buying fast food processed meat it would make an low omnivore diet more appealing to the mass population I think.

  15. i think that everyone should think twice about making the right food choices because not only will you being helping yourself out in the long run but, you will also be helping and saving the environment as well.

    Kevin G

  16. I agree that going vegan is a good way to reduce some ecological problems. Although I do not think that many people would choose to not eat any meat. People need to be educated on the harm that it can do to them and the earth.

  17. I don't think everyone in the world would ever be on a vegan diet. Although limiting our meat intake would be a good step towards helping our ecological problems. So we should just lessen our meat intake, consume less things that we don't "need", and try and use things that can be used over and over again as oppose to things we have to throw away after a one time use.

  18. I think the most practical way to get involved is to get people educated and aware. Asking people to be accountable only works i if people are knowledgeable about why it is important. Especially some of these tips like, recycling, reusing, and suggestions about fertilizers can even help to save the people money. Fact of the matter is people are selfish and lazy and dont care much about themselves because they dont think of the bigger picture just themselve and they don't think they are the problem they think everyone else is, so you must give these people something or some tangible reason this can work for them. Frankly, I feel a vegan diet is not ideal for all but limiting is not always much to ask. Maybe through education and exposure people will choose to limit what animal products they use.

  19. May people do not know what is going on in the environment which is way they eat meat or do not recycle. People need to be education on how foods are grown and understand that resources are not infinite. It important to teach the children because they are our future generation although it may not stop them but they can become more aware. Recycling is probably the most important one that most people will take part in.

  20. Some things I can live with like buying used things to use in my household. I cant really see myself not buying bottled water. I prefer the taste of bottled rather than tap water. I wouldn't necessarily change my life completely I would make little changes like maybe be a vegan twice a week. It may change my entire lifestyle but I would take small steps first.
    -Megan Benton

  21. I think resisting cultural cues to want undesirable things is an important factor, especially in our soceity where consumers are encouraged to overly spend and purchase things that are not necessary. Education is also another key factor because educating children on how to perserve the environment will be of better use.

  22. Spend less, much less! The amount we spend is directly related to how much we pollute and ravage our resources. It is not perfect, but it is the most reliable measure of our overall contribution. A billion Prius's will not solve our energy needs. We can't buy our way out of this problem, we should spend less, buy used, buy in bulk, and make our own.


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