My husband, Don Kraus, and I are relishing a spectacular Asheville spring – we savor the spectacle of gorgeous purple redbud trees, carpets of pink phlox and yellow blossoms of forsythia…not to mention visits from mama bear and her cubs. Our community is immersed in the celebrations of Passover, Easter and Earth Day, with their respective themes of freedom, renewal and a livable world.
Unfortunately, some of our Asheville friends are still bailing out from torrential climate change-induced rains that dumped over five inches of rain on Good Friday. This gives us pause to reflect on what we, as a couple, can do to help leave our daughter a world that she can savor too.
Protecting our world is a place where our lives merge - mine centered on health and food and Don’s centered on advocacy around security, human rights and the climate. Our home is where we work and live. In our home and wider world we are committed to do our small part to stem the effects of climate change with the intention that if each of us takes multiple small steps that collectively they will make an impact.
Our 10 Small Steps
Here’s our list of small, yet meaningful, actions we are currently taking in our everyday lives:
- Composting: We’ve composted for many years. Our home in Virginia came with convenient compost bins in our backyard. We used them over 20 plus years and put the resulting rich soil into our annual vegetable gardens. Here in Asheville we use an excellent composting service, Compost Now. (We had no interest in visitors of the large, brown and furry variety coming to feast on our compost bins!) We fill a bin they provide and are able to compost more contents than ever including animal-based items, food packaging and wraps. For each container of compost we put out weekly for pick up, they give us a half container of dirt for our gardens in return.
- Minimize use of automobile fuel: We both drove Priuses for a number of years in VA. But in the Asheville mountains we swapped one of our Priuses for a 4-wheel drive vehicle that is not as fuel efficient. However, here in Asheville living close to downtown we do minimal driving. Don insists our next vehicle will be electric!
- Recycling: Though we use a minimum of packaged and processed foods we recycle all types of accepted plastic, glass, and cardboard. We each have a stash of reusable supermarket bags in our trunks and use them regularly. A goal we’ve had is to minimize the number of plastic bags we use to purchase supermarket or farmer’s market produce - and we buy plenty of it. Just last week I saw someone in the market using reuseable/washable produce bags and inquired about the brand. We purchased them and will start using them today. (FYI - Lots of options on Amazon.)
- Reusable coffee mugs and water bottles: We rarely purchase coffee outside of our home and if we do we try to carry and fill our reusable coffee mugs. We also rarely purchase water or beverages in plastic bottles or cans. We take our reusable water bottles to the gym, in the car, on hikes and on car trips.
- Reusable food storage containers: We’ve got a large supply of a variety of sizes of reusable food storage containers and whenever possible. This has taken some retraining because in the past we would have reached for the plastic wrap, aluminum foil or plastic storage bags. While we continue to use plastic storage bags we wash and recycle these numerous times.
- Cloth napkins: For many years we have used cloth napkins rather than paper. We’ve got a good supply and rotate as needed.
- Plant-based eating: Our food choices and meals center around healthy plant-based eating with a wide variety of mainly fresh and some frozen vegetables and fresh fruit, whole grains and legumes. We eat small portions of eggs, dairy, meats, seafood and poultry. We aim to have plant-based dinners at least a couple evenings a week and lunches, usually at home (our work place) are salad-centric.
- Minimize food waste: We work hard to minimize food waste with several strategies. This recent article in the Washington Post by a fellow North Carolinian drives home the point that the majority of food waste (80%) is generated by homes, grocery stores and restaurants. We carefully plan our dinner meals for the week based on our schedules and other foods we’ll need for the week to stock up and have what we’ll need, but not too much. We throw away a minimum of food and compost whatever we can (see above under composting). In restaurants we tend to share foods to right-size portions and as a result infrequently use take home containers. (However, we’re pleased to see restaurants using more recyclable take home containers.)
- Use less electricity: We make an effort to turn off lights in rooms we’re not using (and remind each other to do so). All of our bulbs are LED’s or compact fluorescent (which we are phasing out). We turn off computer monitors at night. We run heat during the colder months at a cool but comfortable temperature and don’t keep the house too cool during the warm months.
- Our house in Asheville is well insulated and has geothermal heating and cooling which translate to the lowest utility bills we’ve ever had. We’re in the early stages of building a house in Asheville which will also have solar panels. We’re committed to making it as green as possible with a zero-scape exterior to minimize water usage.
From Small Steps to Large Actions
That’s our list of the 10 small steps that we believe can make a difference. Please share steps that you take in your daily life. We’re always eager to share and learn.
But we know that unless changes are made at the local, national and global levels, it won’t be enough to bend the curve of fossil fuel generated climate change that threatens all of us, our children and future generations. While there is much to be done, we want to share some additional actions anyone can engage in:
- Locally we support, and when possible lend a hand, for the Energy Savers Network, an Asheville group where volunteers help low income households by installing with insulation, LED bulbs, weather stripping and other cost effective steps that lower their energy burden while helping the climate.
- We talk about it. It’s the most important thing you can do to fight climate change. Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and probably the best communicator on this issue says, “When you ask people, ‘Do you ever talk about this?’ two-thirds of people in the U.S. say, ‘Never’.” You don’t have to be a climate scientist to talk about climate change. Just begin with what’s in your heart, with shared values: Listen to an excellent Ted Talk from Hayhoe that crystallizes the importance of just having a conversation with people you know about climate change.
- Another important step is to take as little as an hour or two per month to advocate for Congress to work on climate solutions. On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, millions took to the streets to protest 150 years of destructive industrial development. Smog was becoming deadly. The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio was so polluted it burned. People spoke out and the U.S. Congress and President Nixon responded and created the Environmental Protection Agency, and robust environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
- We know that politicians don’t create political will, they respond to it. Don has been volunteering with an impressive organization, Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) for several years. CCL has members from across the political spectrum working together for a livable world. They worked to introduce the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act which will decrease U.S. green house gas emission by 90% by 2050. It’s good for people, good for the economy and revenue neutral. You don’t have to turn into a lobbyist, but just calling or emailing your members of Congress once a month takes just a few minutes and will make a huge difference.
We’re always looking for more ways to do our little part to save our precious planet. A goal of this blog is to get ideas of other actions we could take. Let us know with a comment or via social media what you do that we could be doing. Let’s all take the celebration of Earth Day 2019 as an opportunity to increase our individual commitments to do our parts to protect our one and only Mother Earth.