This Month’s Featured Article

Doing All We Can to Protect Where We Live

By Published On: March 29th, 2019

By Peter W. Greenough |

Unfortunately, our environment has become a political football. Is the climate changing as a result of human activity or not? Don’t we all want the healthiest environment possible for our children, ourselves, and our grandchildren? Is that not a universal value? Let’s avoid discussing the politics, and examine what we can do to safeguard our waters, air, soil, oceans, food and food chain, the fauna and flora everywhere, and our atmosphere.

Let us begin by stating that what may be good for business and the economy is not necessarily best for the world and its creatures. It is safe to say that the earth will survive whatever impact humans might inflict on it, but the world would be different after nuclear, chemical, or other negative human impact(s) have occurred. Evolution would bring a new set of living organisms, and a new natural equilibrium would eventually be restored without humans.

But to prevent such a drastic change, what can we do now to protect our existing world and future?

I have some ideas. The checklist that’s to follow may provoke some readers to realize that there are individual actions that collectively can make a significant difference.

Born near downtown Los Angeles, CA, I remember the stinky smog brown skies that made people tear up and cough; subsequently the mandate to adopt unleaded gasoline and other measures greatly improved the air quality despite the rapid statewide population increase from 10 million then to today’s 40 million – we can improve our environment. We can modify our daily human behavior in hundreds of small ways so that we have a positive impact on the quality of life and the way our children and their heirs will be able to live. Comfort often is a result of familiarity or habit, so let’s consider creating some modest habit modifications.


Many Americans are already doing some or many of these things. Put the checklist on your refrigerator after discussing it with your family members. Maybe they will have some more ideas or suggestions, or get grumpy about trying these. Remind them that if you leave your trash on the beach, or don’t clean up after walking your dog, you should not complain about a littered beach or your smelly shoe (basic Golden Rule manners).

  • Electricity – is it a green source (wind, solar, geothermal), or hydrocarbon generated? Sign up!
  • Turn off lights, TV, computer, etc. when not in use
  • Use energy-efficient or LED bulbs and switches with movement sensors for on/off
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances (A/C, refrigerator, laundry appliances, heating with zones, on-demand hot water, energy-efficient TV, digital systems, dehumidifiers, etc.)
  • Benefit from excellent insulation
  • Install solar panels for electricity generation
  • Take daylight advantage of window passive solar for light and heat
  • Recycle plastic, glass, metal, paper, and cardboard
  • Compost vegetable kitchen scraps daily (compost year around = ~25% trash reduction)
  • Use finished compost as fertilizer and gardening soil
  • Install “Dark Sky”-compliant exterior lighting
  • Apparel, bedding, curtains, etc. (seek natural fibers = cotton, wool, flax, leather, etc.) FYI: synthetic fibers are made from petroleum, gas, man-made molecules, e.g., recycled plastic-like fleece
  • Repurpose anything and be creative. Example: broom handles for tomato stakes, empty jars and takeout containers for grains, nails and screws, ties, seeds, etc.
  • Donate or take unwanted items to thrift stores
  • Take reusable fiber bags with you when you shop
  • Avoid “convenience” short cuts that are highly anti-environmental (Keurig coffee capsules)
  • Landscaping that conserves energy consumption (strategic tree placement, less lawn to mow, use native plants, rain barrels for roof runoff, irrigation systems, rain gardens for stormwater run-off, etc.)
  • Use kitchen compost soil for fertilizer
  • Use design and natural ingredients to fight bugs and other critters (vinegar, etc.), not Roundup or the like
  • Grow some of your own food! Herbs are simple, root veggies, flowers, fruits, etc. (Farmers are thrifty people).
  • Batteries (Lithium, Nickel Metal hydride, Alkaline, Acid)
  • Batteries (D flashlight, AA, AAA, 9V, hearing aid buttons) from toys, etc.
  • Plastic, plastic, plastic (food, laundry, cleaning, drugs, shampoo, cosmetics, tools, fasteners, meat, veggies, etc.)
  • Dispose of unused pharmaceutical and other drugs, OTC remedies, etc. properly, not in toilets
  • Glass, metal containers, paper, cardboard, boxes, etc.
  • Furniture, appliances, lights, implements, tools, bikes, etc.
  • Yard waste (branches, leaves, grass clippings trees, etc.)
  • Clothing and other apparel should be donated for others to reuse
  • Vehicles (hybrid, electric, fuel economy model)
  • Use personal cars/trucks in combined purpose trips
  • Car pooling
  • Public transportation (subways, trains, buses, trams, ferries, ships, etc.)
  • Walk, walk, walk – the best overall exercise
  • Bicycles
Locally-based efforts

There is a need for all sorts of locally-based efforts that cumulatively will make an environmental difference. Here are a few ideas, and you may have some additional thoughts, or pet peeves. (I personally despise the substantial single-use plastic waste generated by airplane meals and fast food restaurants. Also publicly discarded cigarette butts).

  • Years ago my family was visiting friends on an island where there was a trash processing facility they called “the dump.” We went along on a Saturday morning to drop off the trash and we saw a low stone wall where people placed items that were too good to just chuck out. Decades later I still have, and frequently use, a zero cost copper and brass 1.5 gallon watering can that attracted me. The Lakeville, CT, station near Hotchkiss corners has something similar – for books and sundry items – but many recycling locations do not. Might you talk with the people in charge at yours to initiate a similar way of reducing waste and getting throw outs into appreciative new hands?
  • Yard sales, fundraisers, thrift and vintage shops are another way to achieve this same goal of recycling usable items – old CDs, books, picture frames, book shelves, ceramics, dishes… And Habitat for Humanity and other NGOs often will accept kitchen cabinets or other items to reuse in their projects.
  • I am unaware of any organized, ongoing drop-off location for used batteries, which should not be dumped into landfills. Might a local hardware, grocery, or drugstore be willing/convinced to take on this important effort? It could attract customers plus generate substantial goodwill.
  • Trees and shrubs in urban locations – along streets, parking lots, yards, etc. – lower summer temperatures and gobble up carbon dioxide while generating the oxygen we breathe. Might you consider planting, watering, pruning, or caring for some trees or gardens near you?
  • Although numerous municipalities (ex. Great Barrington, MA) have either already issued laws or ordinances against providing free disposable plastic bags to customers, most have not advanced that far due to opposition by customers and commercial establishments because they are so convenient. FYI: studies indicate that most plastic reaching the oceans begins the journey in fresh water, and flows downstream where it is killing marine life and clogging the oceans, where the earth’s food chain begins.
  • Try volunteering. Organize or participate in a town or neighborhood cleanup day in spring and fall. Pick up litter wherever it is found (including at the movie theater or Post Office), sweep or rake along the street gutters and storm drains, attend and publicize environmentally oriented events – lectures, events, etc. Talk about this approach with others and share your thoughts. If not you, then who will do it?
  • Let your local officials and others know that you care and will support healthy initiatives. Tell them your ideas and suggest programs. Vote for those who fund green.
  • Donate time or contribute and support local environmental groups and efforts where you live or visit. Bring home new ideas that you encounter.
Think about the impact…

There also are various additional forms of pollution that impact us all – loud noise, street and roadside litter, excessive signage, etc. – that we barely notice. But they still impact our blood pressure and stress levels.

And so it goes…

Help protect your children and grandchildren’s future. Recent scientific studies show that human urine samples often show traces of pesticides, herbicides, or other noxious chemicals or drugs which may affect the human endocrine systems, immune system, fertility, growth, development, and behavior. Think about the impact of the small things we do.

Forty percent of global insect populations are now in trouble, and these are the creatures that pollinate the plants that become our food. Everything is interwoven in nature and together we can all make a positive difference with small daily changes and thoughtfulness. It is not about politics, it is about understanding and respecting this glorious planet that took billions of years to achieve a balance which humans may see disappear in the next hundred years or less. It is easier to adapt now than it will be in the very uncertain future.