The earth's resources are finite. We know this, deep down, although we, as humans, tend to forget it often. We are the only living creatures on earth who keep taking and taking, and seldom give back. One day out of a full 365, we celebrate Earth Day, and on that day SOME of us give something back, but far from all of us. For animals, every day is Earth Day because they are always giving back. It's SO ironic that we treat animals as somehow lower than us. Yes, we have more brain cells, but it's how we use them that makes me think animals have more common sense than we do.
If you did biology in high school, you will know all about symbiotic relationships. These are relationships between living creatures that benefit both creatures. Here is an example:
Fish don't go to spas and salons. Instead, they go to "cleaning stations" which are neutral zones where small cleaner fish like catfish and gobies, wait for larger "clients". When they visit a station, the fishy client, which includes fish like parrotfish, damselfish and sharks, adopt a distinctive pose, which sends a signal that they want to be cleaned (and won’t eat the cleaner!) The cleaner fish then gorge themselves on parasites, mucous and dead tissues from the surface of their client, and that is how THEY benefit. Aside from getting a spick and span skin, client fish also enjoy a good tickle (kind of like us going to a spa for a massage!) It’s actually partly this sensation that stops the client fish from gobbling up the cleaner fish!
There are un-contacted tribes in the Amazon Jungle who have never been exposed to civilisation, who live off the land and give back to it routinely, as part of their daily lives. Watch a video of them here.
When we shop at a grocery store, when we walk in with our trolley and browse the aisles, all we are thinking about is what we are going to be making for breakfast, lunch and supper for the next few days and how much it's going to cost us. We are probably chatting on a cell phone and not really IN the moment at all. We don't think about how that stuff got there and what it involved. If we buy meat, we don't think about the animal that gave up a very traumatic, fear-filled, poor quality life so that we could have meat at our fingertips whenever we need it, at the cheapest cost available. When we are browsing for the best apples, tomatoes or bananas we never think of how much land has been laid to waste by the bad agriculture that supplied us with that produce and the amount of chemicals that were pumped into the Earth to make them grow better, faster and bigger.
And, to be honest, there IS a lot of noise being made about climate change at the moment. That is because scientists have finally figured out that we have reached a tipping point and that, if something doesn't change soon, it will be to the demise of the human race. But these issues aren't reaching enough people, with enough urgency and speed and so the majority of the human race carries on as if we have an infinite amount of resources and time.
- Eat closer to home: The average South African bite of food travels over 2000 kms to reach your mouth. That’s a HUGE amount of fossil fuel used just to transport your food, never mind actually growing and packaging it. Find the nearest farmer's market to you or, if you live in Gauteng, look up Timothy and Clover and order the food you need.
- Eat organic and free range: We all already know it’s better for your health. Well, for the same reasons it's better for soil, water, and air health too. Eating organic keeps the soil healthy and safe. It keeps synthetic nitrogen out of our water and prevents carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere. What’s good for your body is good for the Earth. Give back to the Earth by giving back only substances that the Earth enjoys.
- Grow your own: It doesn't take much space to start growing your own vegetables. My veggie garden is about 1.5 x 1 metres and yet I get sweet potatoes, carrots, lettuce, spinach, beetroots, various herbs and tomatoes out of it. Save the seeds from veggies you buy and use them to start your own veggie garden.
- Start a compost heap: Dig a small hole in your garden and cover it with a lid. Put a container in your kitchen that is used purely for fruit and vegetable waste. When it's full go and empty it into the hole you dug. Leave it to sit for a few weeks and you will have organic compost to use on your veggie garden, and the rest of your garden, plus your rubbish bin will be far emptier!
- Thank your food: You may think this is akin to tree hugging but honestly, how often do you even think about where your food came from? Take a good look at the plants and animals on your table. Imagine the rice or oat or lettuce leaves waving under the sun and the carrots developing underground. If you eat meat, think about every animal. Picture the cow grazing (it goes without saying that if you eat cows, eat free-range, grass-fed, not corn-fed ones), the chicken scratching in the dirt (again, make sure they led happy lives outside of cages), the fish swimming in the ocean (not in a fish farm). Think about the hen that laid the eggs and the cow or goat that gave you the milk you drink. Be conscious. You don't need to be a tree hugger to do it. Gratitude is a time-honoured way of reciprocating. Christians call it saying grace. Buddhists call it eating mindfully. It takes a few seconds to thank the plants and animals. Our lives depend on them. Literally. How does this help the earth? Well, if you know where your food comes from, you may feel less inclined to buy conventional food, that hurts the earth and animals. Also, if you teach this to your kids, you are teaching them to respect the Earth and that is something they will carry forward to THEIR kids and that is how you effect change.
- Get rid of your petrol lawn mower: A petrol-powered lawn mower emits more air pollutants than a car! In fact, it emits as much as four cars! Never mind that it's using precious fossil fuel. Get an electric one. Seriously. And while we're talking garden care, what is it with all the leaf blowers?! Never mind the noise pollution which disturbs both humans, birds and other animals but they pollute in the same way petrol lawn mowers do, AND they disperse millions of microorganisms into the air that were intended to be left in the dirt to compost and renew. Really, all you're doing is blowing the dirt somewhere else temporarily until the wind blows it back. They have got to be the most ridiculous invention ever in my opinion! Whoever told you you need one really took you for a ride...
- Use biodegradable body care: Use wooden toothpicks instead of the tiny plastic picks and brushes that many dentists’ offices are passing out to their patients. For skin and hair care, find products that are labelled "certified biodegradable". Just because they say "natural" doesn't mean that they are. Check this blog post to see what to avoid. If they contain any of the chemicals listed there, stay away! They are being absorbed into your blood stream and poisoning you but they are also going into your environment and poisoning that too.
- Use biodegradable household products: This is one of the most important things you can do for you, your family AND your environment. These things are sending unbelievably toxic poisons down your drain but they are also sitting on the surfaces that you eat and live off and you are inhaling and ingesting them. To use them is just plain crazy and irresponsible. If you aren't sure what to use, read this post.
- Teach your children reciprocity: Even small children understand fairness. No one wants to get the short end of the stick. Teach your children to give back when they receive something. They need to know that they are guests on planet Earth and that she is giving of herself as a gift and so we need to give back. Practice it yourself. If each of us gave as much as we took, the world would change, truly.
- Appreciate trees: Without them, we all wouldn't exist. They provide us with life-giving oxygen. The next time you think of cutting down a tree because it's in the way of your view, consider that we are only here because of it. Without trees we wouldn't have paper. That's a biggie when you think about everything you use it for. Even in this digital age, we all still need toilet paper! Cut down on junk mail, get your bills emailed instead of posted. Recycle whatever paper you don't need and only print when absolutely necessary.
- Reduce pesticides in your area: I had to jump down my gardener's throat when I realised he was using weed killer in my garden!! That's a HUGE no-no. I wash my car with biodegradable soap and make my own compost. Why on earth would I use a weed killer?! Stop using conventional fertiliser in your garden. What you use directly affects the environment because water keeps working its way back to the rivers and oceans. Think BIGGER than just your little world, in everything you do.
- Buy stuff that uses less packaging: Everything you buy at a grocery store uses FAR too much packaging. If you buy something like processed, sliced cheese, there is a layer of plastic between EACH SLICE, never mind the packaging it comes in. I wouldn't recommend eating processed cheese anyway but to mindlessly add so much plastic to the environment is just crazy. I'm pretty sure it's not going to be recycled. It's going to go into a landfill. Remember that and rather go for something else, preferably something healthier for you!
- Reduce, re-use and recycle: This goes hand in hand with the previous point. I collect every container that we get from anywhere we shop and I use them for all sorts of things. You'd be amazed how much tupperware you will have if you collect and re-use. I haven't had to buy tupperware for years. They aren't fancy but who cares? It's just to store stuff and it prevents it from going into a landfill. I cook for clients on a weekly basis and they have no problem with getting recycled containers. They bring them back for me to re-use and, through this, they are learning the value of recycling. If you can't use the containers, recycle them. If you live in Jhb, look up Mama She's and sign up with them. If you aren't in Jhb, visit this post to find someone near you. If you can't find someone to pick up from your house, you will have to drop it off at a Pickit up near you but, given the situation, and this blog post, I think it's a small effort to make for planet Earth, don't you?
- Save water: I've said this before but since it's pertinent to this post, I'll put it here again. Put a bucket next to your sink and every time you need to run water for a while (eg. either waiting for it to get cool or warm), put the bucket under your tap, or put a jug there to catch the excess water. Save that water and use it to water your indoor plants, clean the floor, fill your electric steamer, boil eggs etc.
- Save electricity: This is so easy and it amazes me how people pay NO attention to it. All of the people in our lives are environmentally conscious adults and they're good people, but they still leave lights on in every room they walk in and out of and I walk around after them like the light police;) We only have lights on in the house in the room where we are. If any lights are on, they are energy saving globes. We never buy conventional globes anymore. It doesn't enter our heads to walk out of a room and leave a light on. It's a habit to turn the light off and once you train yourself, and your kids, you'll never have to worry about it again. Start getting into the habit. Maybe we can at least keep loadshedding in stage one! But more importantly, we can help our planet cope by using less fossil fuels.
The idea of living consciously isn't a new one, but it's one that people tend to forget about. So here is your reminder. Yes, it comes with responsibilities. But what, in life, doesn't?