Lexington Minuteman

December 28, 2006

Make Your New Year's Resolutions with Climate Change in Mind

It's that time of year again! New Year's resolutions abound. It is a time when we slow down, eat less and in healthier ways, consume and spend less. With global warming threatening the world, it is especially important this January to take a good look at some of our environmentally wasteful habits, to figure out ways to adopt a leaner, more planet-friendly way of life, and to develop new habits that will improve the health of our environment, as well as our bodies, and our pocketbooks.

Being thoughtful about our grocery shopping is a good place to start. By eating foods that do not require a lot of energy for their production and packaging, and by changing a few of the ways we shop, prepare, and clean up, we can nurture both ourselves and the environment and even save money.

We should eat lower on the food chain. Eating more vegetables and less meat means that we are enjoying nature's bounty without buying animal products that require huge amounts of energy from fossil fuels and extensive, often destructive land use for grazing, not to mention the problem of methane emissions from cattle. A recent article in the Minuteman pointed out that 1320 gallons of water are required to produce one steak. When we do opt for meat, choosing to have a serving the size of our fist is adequate for our needs.

Shopping the periphery of the store takes us away from the over-processed and packaged foods. While packaged items may at first appear to be easy and economical, they can be deceptive in their content. Read the labels. For example, a health bar may not be as rich in vitamins and fiber per ounce as a piece of fruit.

Whenever possible, buy the fruits and vegetables grown closest to home. Bill McKibben writes: "Because it's always summer somewhere, we've accustomed ourselves to a food system that delivers us fresh produce 365 days a year. The energy cost is incredible - growing and transporting a single calorie of iceberg lettuce from California to the eastern U.S. takes 36 calories of energy." Transportation is one of the biggest generators of greenhouse gases. Choose local vegetables and fruits whenever possible at your favorite local farm stand. Plan your menus around locally available seasonable foods. Look for locally grown carrots, beets, and potatoes in January and February. In March the first parsnips can be dug, followed by greenhouse spinach and chard. Then in May we see asparagus, lettuce, and rhubarb. Shop our own Lexington Farmer's Market in season from late spring until fall. Verrill Farm's website (Concord) has a timetable when local vegetables become available.

A little bit of planning when it comes to our shopping needs, enables us to combine errands and reduce car trips. Using less gas is good for us and much better for the planet. Let's get into the habit of taking our own re-usable canvas and string bags to the store. Billions of discarded bags end up in landfills every year. Plastic bags require petroleum and natural gas for production, take hundreds of years to break down, and pollute our earth and waterways. There is a growing international movement to ban their use. Paper bags are no better for the environment, given all the requirements for their production and disposal.

Composting is easy, and reduces the volume of our solid waste on a weekly basis. Collect the peels, seeds, and cores and any leftovers that do not include animal products, instead of grinding them up in the disposal, wasting water and energy. Thousands of pounds of garbage unnecessarily and wastefully fill our waste disposal systems when it can easily be turned into wonderful natural fertilizer for gardens, shrubs and trees. Lexington's DPW has inexpensive composters for sale.

Using only recycled paper products saves huge numbers of trees! For instance, according to the National Resource Defense Council, if every household in the U.S. replaced just one roll of virgin toilet paper with 100% recycled, it would save 423,900 trees. Replacing one package of virgin paper napkins with recycled would save one million trees. Look for TCF (totally chlorine free) or PCF (processed chlorine free). Locally, Marcal, Seventh Generation, and Whole Foods brands are the easiest to find.

While cleaning up in the kitchen, save water and energy by making sure the dishwasher is as full as possible before running it. Air-dry or use the energy-save drying option. Of course, look for the Energy Star label the next time you buy a new appliance.

We can seek to become healthier inside and out as we start the New Year!

Brought to you by Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition. Check our website www.lexgwac.org for upcoming talks and events. For a brochure on The Lexington Challenge and our handy 20 Easy Steps to Take guide, email info @lexgwac.org