June 27, 2016

Habit-Stacking to Save Our Planet.

woman on a bike

“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” ~ Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot 


Some believe humans have occupied the Earth since the beginning of time. Others believe we’re the only ones who occupy the entire Universe.

Many take our entire existence for granted.

It’s important to remember we’re just a minuscule part of a Universe. But, after all, we are everything we know. There’s nothing out there in the wild darkness of the Cosmos we are actually familiar with—besides our solar system, we’re surrounded by a bunch of stars, planets and stardust we haven’t yet become acquainted with.

If this is all we know, it’s all we have. Instead of taking the Earth for granted and destroying it, we need to make a conscious effort to look after it.

But where do we go from here?

The Problems

There’s almost no part of the planet left untouched by poisons spread by humans.

For one thing, the atmosphere: We’re living with a huge hole in the ozone layer, which doesn’t just affect the North Pole’s temperature—it’s had repercussions across the world.

The air itself is so polluted that it is expected that by 2050, no less than six million people will die. In China, for example, 300,000 people die every year as a result of air pollution. Of course, the Earth’s wildlife is affected in ways that aren’t even quantifiable.

Then, there’s the soil. It’s estimated that each American produces approximately 3,285 pounds of waste in one year alone. What’s even more worrisome is that more than 80 percent of items dumped in landfills could be recycled—but we don’t pay enough attention to what we throw away.

Water takes a big hit too, from substances including, but not limited to, oil, plastic and toxic waste. Studies show that at least 14 billion pounds of waste find their way into the planet’s waters every year. Consequently, the estimated extinction rate is five times larger for aquatic animals than it is for terrestrial, and over 3.2 million children under the age of five die annually because of poor water sanitation.

The Solutions

The good news is that mankind has found solutions to most of its environmental problems.

The bad news is that we don’t do much about it.

The tools are available: cars and homes fueled by renewable energy, bioplastics (companies like Metabolix have made them stronger than ever by developing plastic bio-composite reinforcements strong enough to build containers with) and, most importantly, knowledge. We know what’s been breaking a hole in the ozone layer. In fact, we know the sources of the vast majority of our environmental problems.

Therefore, we know what we have to do to solve them.

What Did I Do? What Can You Do?

Many issues stand between us and complete eco-friendliness. Money, power, and inability to sustain greenness as a viable solution are just some of the reasons why saving the planet isn’t being taken seriously. Yet, we must—and soon.

Why the rush? Quite simply, we’re running out of time and resources. In fact, we’re running out of everything, and nature is certainly low on patience. The ozone layer may have repaired itself, but we’re still just steps away from disasters we might not be able to avoid—or even mitigate the dangers of.

So what is there to do?

The answer is, a lot. But thankfully, not all of these things involve making life-changing decisions like buying an electric car. There are tens of small things each of us can do to build a better world. Even small actions, if done by billions of people, can make a huge shift in how the environment responds to our “invasion.”

I started making these changes some time ago, to test the waters. And it’s doable. Sure, like every new habit, becoming more environmentally aware takes some getting used to—but that’s where “habit stacking” comes in.

Habit stacking is a great way to start a new habit and stick to it. All you need to do is to perform your new habit at the same time as something that’s already part of your daily routine. For example, eating an apple right after you turn on your coffee machine in the morning.

With this in mind, I started “stacking” habits that are healthy for the environment over the course of six months.

By the end of this period, the following processes became second nature (excuse the pun):

  • Turning off the faucet when I brush my teeth and clean dishes, rather than leaving water running.
  • Turning off lights when I leave a room.
  • Using up everything in my refrigerator, freezer and cupboards, so that nothing is wasted.
  • Taking my own shopping bags to the grocery store.
  • Using as many items made from recyclable plastics as possible.
  • Leaving my car at home once or twice a week, and taking the bicycle instead.
  • Recycling everything from soda cans to plastic bottles to old paperback books.
  • Buying only eBooks instead of paperbacks. 
  • Eating only vegetarian food for one day a week (and I’m planning to take this up a notch).

Going back to the quote from Carl Sagan, our precious speck of dust is all we know. The cultures, languages and people we have grown to know and love are all here, on this rock called “Earth,” not out in the unknown vortex of the universe.

We can’t afford to waste our only chance of survival.

World Environment Day was earlier this month—why not keep the celebration alive? Take a moment to consider how miraculous this planet (and everything on it) is, and what you plan to do today to make the environment healthier.

As for me, I’m going to buy a solar-powered battery charger, to make my life even more eco-friendly.

What about you? Share in the comments below!





Author: Shirlene Pickard

Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões at Flickr 

Editors: Renée Picard; Emily Bartran

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