Earth Day 2010: change I can believe in.

First, let me refer you to Sharon Astyk's excellent post on what has become of Earth Day. If I had the time or energy to pay much attention to Earth Day as a particular day of observance, I think I'd share Sharon's grumpiness.

After all, paying attention to our impacts on our shared environment just one day out of 365 is not likely to make much of a difference, and buying stuff as a strategy to deal with our over-consumption of resources (and the pollution that follows upon the manufacture and transport of that stuff) seems pretty perverse.

That said, I'm going to take this Earth Day as an opportunity to notice some sustainable changes in the direction of treading more lightly that I've made in the past year. This isn't quite rising to the level of Mike Dunford's Earth Day resolutions meme, in which the sprogs and I participated last year. Resolutions are good, but sometimes when you set a goal and then fail to live up to it, you throw your hands up and kind of give up.

Giving up, I'd argue, doesn't do much to help. On the other hand, noticing places where you imagined change would be painful and it turned out not to be might actually help motivate more change.

Here are the changes that have stuck since last Earth Day:

Less driving to work.

Last Earth Day I was still ensconced in my sabbatical, but since August when I went back to the trenches, I have only been driving to campus (approximately 25 miles each way) 2 to 3 times a week rather than 5 days a week (which was my standard practice before I was tenured). Of course, this means I'm working a lot at home, but I'm not stressed out by the teeming masses on the freeway on those work-at-home days. (An added bonus: at home I hardly ever run into a colleague who wants to recruit me for another committee assignment.)

Less photocopying.

This year my department's tales of budgetary woe convinced me that I should try putting materials that I used to distribute as handouts on my course websites and just trust my students to print them out if they needed hardcopies. (The one notable exception was the syllabus distributed the first day of class -- largely because this was the handout that included the URL for the course website.) I have relied pretty heavily on handouts in the past, but the students seem to do fine finding what they need online once that's where they're expecting to find it.

Maybe there's not a significant reduction in the number of dead processed trees from this habit, but maybe there is. After all, these young people seem pretty comfortable working right off the screen.

Less printing out hardcopies for myself.

Here's a change I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to make, since I'm an old school handwritten-notes-in-the-margins kind of Luddite, but for the past three months or so, I've been reading my downloaded papers on the screen rather than off of print-outs. (A little piece of software called Papers has helped a lot with that. So has keeping track of where my reading glasses are.)

Less hair-washing.

Unlike some ScienceBloggers, I am blessed to have a stylist who is not an assbiscuit. Not only would she never give me mall bangs, but she helped me break the habit (established when I was thirteen and my sebaceous glands were running wild) of washing my hair every day (or even more frequently than that). Now I at least skip a day between hair-washes, which means I'm using less water and putting less shampoo and conditioner down the drain. Sometimes, I even get away with two days between hair-washes.

Even five years ago, I would have bet you anything that I'd never be able to break the daily hair-washing habit. Shows what I know.

If you've surprised yourself by cultivating an Earth-friendly habit, feel free to share in the comments.

More like this

Another habit that can go a long way is eating as local as possible. I joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) this year where I can pick up local produce from the farm's in-town location. Some cities have delivery local produce that isn't too expensive and is a great way to save time, too. When I'm grocery shopping, if I read that something was from terribly far away, like New Zealand, I pass... especially if it's something that would require refrigeration. I think it's too daunting to force yourself to only eat local, seasonal food, but I think it's very doable to increase local food a bit and reduce the really traveled food.

Am I the only one disturbed by the fact that every paper publication in America seems to commemorate Earth Day with a special 20-page insert? Extra glossy in some cases?