By TRUDY DUNHAM, Ready and Resilient Hamline Midway
April is a time to celebrate our planet. The greening lawns and sun warming our faces herald Earth Day on Apr. 22. Celebrated in nearly 200 countries, Earth Day is touted as one of the largest secular celebrations in the world.
And like New Year, it is a time to step back and take global stock of where we are. How are we doing on those resolutions to adopt Earth-friendly behaviors? Are we good role models?
The world is adopting earth-friendly practices. The United Nations agreement negotiated at the COP21 meeting in Paris last December opens for signatures on Earth Day. This agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions only goes into force when at least 55 countries responsible for 55% of the emissions have formally adopted it. Both the United States and China, responsible for 40% of the world greenhouse gas emissions, have indicated that they will sign the agreement on Earth Day. Another 120 countries will also sign on Earth Day. These Earth Day actions start building the momentum for the formal agreement adoption process.
Minnesota is a good role model. Xcel Energy announced last fall that it would cut carbon emissions 60% by 2030 by reducing its dependence on coal-fired plants and increasing its use of renewable energy sources. Some big MN businesses (including 3M, Best Buy, Cargill, General Mills and Target) have felt the impact of climate change on their supply routes, production, and sales, and are taking adaptive action. They are vocal in their support for more aggressive governmental action. Minnesota has made protecting water quality and quantity, and the tradeoffs it entails, a high-profile issue.
St. Paul is actively pursuing its status as a GreenStep City, and its Forestry Department is planting boulevard trees in our neighborhood. Hamline University has established a Director of Sustainability, Hamline Church formed a “Green Team,” and Hamline Midway Coalition is reorganizing its citizen input to strengthen our voice on environmental issues.
What can I do?
Which brings us to individual citizens. What are our goals, what do we need to do to keep the momentum building?
Many of us will take the Earth Footprint Calculator (http://www.earthday.org/take-action/footprint-calculator/). How many planets would it take if everyone lived as you do? ‘More planets than we have!’ is the usual answer. The behaviors at the forefront of change are often around our diet, transportation, and housing.
But given the current discussion about trash hauling in St. Paul (https://www.stpaul.gov/residents/live-saint-paul/utilities/organized-trash-collection), I decided to adopt trash reduction behavior as my individual goal for 2016.
It is said that if you want to understand a society, don’t look at its museums, but at its trash dump. We can’t haul our trash away—there is no “away.” Everything in our trash is a resource from our finite planet that we have wasted, which we might have put to better use.
So how can I reduce my trash? A quick look in my waste can says to start with less packaging. For whatever reason, the food and objects we purchase come elaborately wrapped in plastic, paper and cardboard. While there are debates about which covering is more environmentally friendly, the best option is as little packaging as possible. Carrying reusable containers for food is a strategy I’ll adopt:
• A reusable water bottle and coffee cup to decrease use of bottled water and disposable cups
• A “refrigerator dish” to avoid the to-go container when eating out
• Buying in bulk when feasible and using my reusable containers to carry it home
• A reusable bag or basket to hold all purchases
Composting is on my list. Ramsey County offers a how-to kit and free compostable bags (https://www.ramseycounty.us/residents/recycling-waste/organic-waste). Just drop it off at the Recycling site on Pierce Butler. And give more thought to what I purchase to ensure it is a durable or reusable product, or will be consumed before its shelf life expires.
At the core of my resolution is the consistency of my behavior—I do all the things I listed some or most of the time. Just not always. If I want to reach the zero waste standard (at least 90 percent of garbage is recycled, composted or reused), I can’t be inconsistent.
But my actions aren’t enough in 2016. I will need to speak out—to policy makers and friends. I will need to write letters and use social media to advocate for less packaging and more recyclable packaging, to talk trash reduction and earth-friendly actions.
Make your personal resolution to be a good steward of our earth. Use the power you have as neighbors, family, citizens and caregivers of this planet to speak up for it, to create a new normal that recognizes there is only one Earth. We can’t afford to waste it or its resources. I think this may be more important than any other Earth Day resolution.
The Ready and Resilient Hamline Midway project is an initiative of the Hamline Midway Environmental Group (HMEG) to build climate change resiliency in our community.