This November, Canadian environmentalist, author, and television host David Suzuki has challenged Canadians to start taking concrete action against pollution, waste, and environmental damage [see: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/WOL/Challenge/].
The David Suzuki Foundation has named this initiative The Nature Challenge, and a number of prominent Canadians, including Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean, National Ballet of Canada’s Karen Kain, comic Mary Walsh, and children’s author Robert Munsch, are lending their support.
The challenge, according to the Suzuki Foundation, “offers simple ways for Canadians to take responsibility for themselves and their environment. The David Suzuki Foundation has researched the 10 most effective ways individuals can conserve nature and is challenging all Canadians to read the list, [and] agree to do at least three of the 10 over the coming year.”
Suzuki’s strategy is a wise one. Polls indicate that a large number of people believe that environmental protection is an important issue, and that changes is lifestyle must occur in order to achieve a cleaner environment, but many are confused about where to start. No wonder. Newspapers, magazines, and literature produced by environmental groups are filled with suggestions for how we can effect environmental improvement, but these suggestions sometimes conflict, and it can be difficult for the average consumer to isolate which strategies are the most effective and which will have only a minimal effect.
While it is true that the greatest benefits to the earth would come from people adopting massive lifestyle changes, it is unlikely that mot people are ready to make this type of global shift in how they live. The result is that many people do nothing, for fear that if they tried they surely could not do enough.
The Suzuki Challenge simplifies the process of “?becoming green’ by making practical and easy-to-follow suggestions that any family can easily understand and adopt. It is not the final solution to our environmental woes, but rather a reasonable first step that anyone can take, and that may pave the way toward greater changes in the future. These suggestions are not only good for the earth, but will also have you save money and improve your health.
The full program consists of 10 changes that families and individuals can make, but to make it even simpler, the Foundation suggests that you chose only the three that you feel most comfortable with. Support is available through the Foundation website [see: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/WOL/challenge/], and participants are encouraged to sign-up for a monthly newsletter that will give tips on how to reach your goals. The 10 strategies that Dr. Suzuki and the Foundation feel will be most effective are:
1. Reduce home energy use by 10%.
Canada has a higher per-capita consumption rate than any country in the world. 60% of this energy is used to heat our homes. 40% of heat is lost through cracks in walls, and around doors and windows, so it should be easy to save 10% by reducing heat loss in these areas.
2. Choose an energy-efficient home and appliances.
Complying with R-2000 building standards reduces home energy use by a third, and energy efficient appliances can use up to 40% less energy, which for a large appliance like a fridge can make a significant difference in your monthly power bill.
3. Replace dangerous pesticides with alternatives.
Alberta homes have been found to use three times more pesticides than agriculture, and six times more than city parks, but children and pets are exposed to residential lawns more frequently than parks or farmland. These chemicals are unnecessary and are easily, and more cheaply, replaced with natural alternatives.
4. Eat meat-free meals one day a week.
Meat production uses massive quantities of fresh water, and Canadians eat more than “twice as much meat as the global average”. High meat consumption is also linked to higher mortality from heart disease. Reducing meat intake limits exposure to the chemicals and antibiotics used in livestock production. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has found that Canadian’s are eating meat in portions that are too large – one portion of meat should be about the size of a deck of cards [see: http://ww2.heartandstroke.ca/Page.asp?PageID=33&ArticleID=540&Src=living&From=SubCategory]. Mediterranean’s are shown to have a very low rate of heart disease, and their low meat diet is one reason why [see: http://ww2.heartandstroke.ca/Page.asp?PageID=33&ArticleID=555&Src=living&From=SubCategory]. Eating more Mediterranean dishes is one way to reduce meat intake.
5. Buy locally grown and produced food.
6 to 12 cents of every dollar we spend on food is spent on transportation. “It is estimated that the elements of a basic North American meal travel 2400 km (1500 miles) – a concept known as “?food miles.'” This often unnecessary transport is a major cause of pollution due to fuel consumption. Canada has many farms that produce meat, fruit and vegetables within each province. Local food might look the same as the imported stuff, but it is usually fresher, contains fewer chemicals [as less preservation is required], and it costs less to ship. Organic food might seem to be the healthiest answer, but often this is shipped from outside the country. Ideally, buy food grown in your province.
6. Choose a fuel-efficient vehicle.
39% of greenhouse gasses produced in Canada come from vehicles. More people are buying SUVs and trucks, but often they do not need a vehicle this large. For more information, visit the Autosmart website [see: http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/autosmart/home.cfm]
7. Walk, bike, carpool or take transit.
Walking or biking for short trips is cheaper, healthier and better for the environment. Research has shown that the air inside our cars is up to ten times more polluted than the air outside.
8. Choose a home close to work or school.
“It’s been estimated that the average person spends 32 hours a month driving and 27 hours a months paying for their car use.” Moving to a location that is close to work, school and where you shop can significantly reduce travel time and fuel costs. Staying within developed urban areas helps protect agricultural land and wildlife habitat, while living in outlying suburbs increases travel, fuel consumption, and land use.
9. Support car-free alternatives.
Better public transit will reduce traffic, land use, and pollution. More free land means more parks and recreation areas. Current public transit needs to be improved, but this will only happen if we voice our needs and make use of public transit at high traffic times – such as rush hour. “One busload of passengers takes 40 vehicles off the road, saves 70,000 litres of fuel and reduces nine tonnes of air pollutants a year.” Smaller vehicles should be used when warranted. In Calgary, bus drivers resisted the use of smaller busses during low-traffic times due to a loss of wages, but to use large vehicles when they are not needed is wasteful.
10. Learn more and share with family and friends.
When environmentally positive options are not available -for example, if you do not have effective bus service to your area – let your community government know. Tell your friends and family that they have choices, and that they can help make changes occur by voicing their concerns and their needs.
(Information on the above items is paraphrased from the Suzuki Foundation Nature Challenge media release, except where noted.
Tamra lives in Calgary with her husband and two cats. A fulltime AU student, she splits her free time between her duties as an AUSU councillor, writing her first novel, and editing written work by other students and friends.