A look back at a semester’s worth of trials designed to make life greener
BY MOLLY SMITH FOR GREENING OF OIL
Sophomore year is swiftly coming to a close. One more exam and I’m free for a blissful two weeks before returning to Ithaca where I shall be spending my summer conducting research on maple trees and earthworms and working as student coordinator for Cornell Outdoor Education’s new sustainability initiative.
As I think back on this semester and all the articles I wrote, I realize how much information was presented and issues preached.
Environmentalism can get overwhelming. How can we all keep straight was is good for the earth and what is not? The media doesn’t help, constantly bombarding us with products advertised as green and eco-friendly, yet the truth as to the legitimacy of their claims unclear.
In my articles over the past semester, I have done my best to shed some light on the issues and give some insight into the life of a self-proclaimed environmentalist. So for you today readers, I have compiled a Top Seven list (apologies to Letterman) of what I believe are the most important points in my articles and lessons I learned over the course of the semester.
7. Vinegar and baking soda, not great every day
In my second article for Greening of Oil, I talked about how shampoo, how its pollution is destroying fragile ecosystems as well as containing many toxic ingredients. One possible solution is to wash your hair with a baking soda/water and vinegar solution. I still think shampoos are items that should be regarded as luxuries, but I also realize that it's impractical to expect everyone to wash with vinegar and baking soda every day.
I haven’t even been able too adhere to my regime as closely as I would like. However, I do understand the necessity of reducing the role shampoo plays in my routine and I’m going to double my efforts this summer to wash with the solution at least 3 times a week. A time saving tip: I’m planning on mixing up the vinegar/water solution ahead of time and storing it in an old shampoo bottle next to the canister of baking soda. Recycling too!
6. Ethivorism is cool
As a teaching assistant for a class on Environmental Conservation, I thought for one of my classes I’d show my students clips from Robert Kenner’s film, “Food Inc.”. Little did I realize I was the one who would be getting schooled. I was never a huge meat eater before seeing the movie, but now I will never again eat meat from industrial sources.
Not only is eating meat bad for the environment in that it's a huge producer of greenhouse gas emissions and an inefficient use of resources, animals raised on factory farms are quite literally tortured. I watched in horror as cows and pigs were maimed, chickens were stuffed 12 to a cage, never to see the light of day, calves for veal spending their entire, short lives in 3 by 3 pens, force fed food. It all just made me sick. I made a firm resolution to only eat meat that was from a local farm, organic and humanly treated.
It’s been an adjustment.
Getting enough protein has been a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. I call my new diet ethivorism; one who eats ethically. If you need more evidence of the travesty that is our industrial meat food system, I highly recommend watching Food Inc. Just don’t plan on eating a fast food burger ever again.
I’m still a java junkie, as confessed in my very first article. However, when I wrote my first article I was battling with the challenge of bringing my reusable coffee mug with me everywhere.
I am happy to report that I have not used a disposable coffee cup in, quite literally, months. The way to remember to bring it with me everywhere is to simply never take it out of my bag! As soon as the delicious brew is gone, I simply rinsed out the mug and dropped it back in my bag. If it never leaves my bag, I can’t forget to bring it with me every day. It took some practice and a few mornings without my java, but a new habit has formed forever!
4. Everything is illuminated (in the morning, without light bulbs)
My article on light bulbs got responses from several readers, relating to the issue of constant artificial light illumination. Thank you readers for the input! I’m pleased to say the anti-light blub crusade is making good progress. My suitemates have gotten so used to having the hall light off, we don’t even turn it on anymore.
Sure it makes our end of the hallway look a wee bit foreboding, but hey, we're saving electricity. With summer around the corner, and the sun coming up earlier, I’ve discovered I wake up about an hour earlier than I would during the winter months. There is something about the early morning sun streaming through my window which just makes me need to get up and enjoy it. What with getting up so much earlier, I find I am productive more throughout the day, and am going to bed earlier, saving on precious lamp light by evening.
On average, I save an hour of light bulb time a day, by simply rising an hour earlier and enjoying an extra hour of early morning sunlight. Try it readers! Get up an hour earlier, rise with the sun, and enjoy natural daylight.
3. Skepticism is not necessarily a bad thing
As much as it pains me to say it, the world is not always an open, honest place. Companies are quickly realizing which catchphrases and icons the public associate with “green” and “eco-friendly” and are using these to their advantage, sometimes without the very factors that would earn them that title! Simply by packaging a set of wrenches in cardboard with green, futuristic leaves on it does not mean the packing is recyclable or eco-friendly (I very nearly fell prey to this marketing tactic recently.)
By putting icons and figures reminiscent of nature, using green/brown/creamy colored packaging and using phrases like ‘eco’, ‘green’ and ‘environmental’, companies hope to appeal to the consumer’s desire to purchase environmentally responsible goods. Be wary. Not every green container is in fact, green. Read labels carefully. Do not fall prey to false advertising. Check a companies web site, send them an email. You may even find yourself spending less by doing a little more research before making major purchases as well.
2. The greening of friends
Embarking on a sustainable lifestyle alone is hard. You will be judged for bringing your own silverware everywhere, collecting food scraps for the compost bin, turning off every light you see, using every tiny last inch of space on a piece of paper before reaching for a new one.
It’s not easy.
Yet for the sake of the planet, it is important. The best way to go about a green lifestyle is to do it with friends. Make a pact with a friend with an environmental goal; I won’t buy Coca-Cola anymore if you don’t (read up on how Coca-Cola is impacting water resources in India. It will permanently turn you into a Pepsi drinker). I’ll only use the cold water cycle on the washing machine if you do (cold water saves energy as well as protects your clothes from shrinkage). Deals and goals made between friends are more likely to be stuck too. Try making a green deal with a friend, or within your own family. Loser takes winner out for hormone-free, free-range dairy ice cream! Or check DineGreen.com for a restaurant that suits your craving.
1. Give yourself a break
If that McDonald’s burger is calling you, it’s ok to listen every now and then. It’s not the end of the world if you forget to turn a light out, get an entire newspaper just to read the funnies or use a piece of paper just to scrawl down your Chinese food takeout order.
What I’m trying to say is, the desire to lead a green and sustainable lifestyle is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t have to be an obsession.
Every decision you are able to make which results in an act which benefits (or at least does not harm) the environment is admirable, but that does not mean every single action you take must be a sacrifice.
If you really need that Big Mac, go for it! If you just can’t do without using your hair dryer before your big date, go ahead and get the look you want. Just be conscious of your decisions and think before you act or consume.
As my very wise mother used to say, “Moderation in all things…..including moderation.”
About Molly Smith
Molly Smith hails from a small rare-breeds farm in Woolrich, Pennsylvania. Growing up she was an active participant in 4-H, Project Grass, Envirothon and Dairy Promotion. After her graduation from the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in 2007, Smith moved to New York to begin undergraduate work at Cornell University. As a Natural Resources major in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Science, Smith has found ample opportunities to develop her interests in sustainable agriculture, conservation ecology and wildlife biology. On campus, she is an active participant in Forword Women’s Literary Magazine, Society for Natural Resources and Conservation and the Developmental Fencing Club. When not working, Molly enjoys rock climbing, yoga, playing scrabble and discovering new music.
Contact Molly Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.