Environmental Stewardship: First Steps

by John Berge

Years ago, I was privileged to serve on a Lutheran Church in America (LCA) task force on the human crisis in ecology with, among others, the eminent theologian Joseph A. Sittler. Permit me then to start this month’s column with a pertinent quote from him.

In Essays on Nature and Grace back in 1972 he wrote, “There is sufficient evidence that human beings are quite capable of marching steadily into disaster fully equipped with the facts.” We have the facts of global warming, climate change and rising sea levels, yet there are those who would lead the march into disaster and others that will follow.

If installing solar panels on your roof, using only renewably generated electricity, replacing your large gas-guzzler with a hybrid or other energy-saving, pollution-reducing, automobile or re-insulating and triply-glazing your house are too big first steps, let me pass on some suggestions for some smaller first steps you might try:

  • Turn up the thermostat in the summer and turn it down a few degrees in the winter. (Or turn off the air conditioner completely.) Sweaters and warm socks are much more energy efficient than furnaces.
  • Reuse as well as recycle. Many things can be reused a second or third time before they are added to our huge landfills. (Won’t future archeologists have fun with our “middens”!)
  • Use up, recycle or properly dispose of any and all things that contain hazardous materials in them such as oil-based paints, mercury switches and thermometers, flammable or corrosive liquids, etc. Household Hazardous Wastes are collected every third Saturday from April to October at the 6200 – 21st Street site.
  • Properly dispose of old or unwanted medications – not down the toilet or in the trash. Medical waste can be deposited at any time in the lobby of the police station and during regular hours at several pharmacies.
  • Ask for neither plastic or paper at the store. Bring your reusable cloth bags not only to the grocery store but on every shopping trip. Keep at least one bag in the car, or on the bike, for spur-of-the-moment shopping.
  • Reduce the “I want” shopping to “We need” whenever possible.
  • BYOBW – Bring your own bottled water; fill your own reusable bottle with tap water, filtered if you must. That is what much of the commercially bottled water is, anyway.
  • Replace light bulbs with LEDs (light emitting diodes) and turn off the lights in rooms that are not occupied. LEDs are even more efficient than compact or linear fluorescents.
  • Do your best to get off the mailing lists of catalogs, especially the ones you don’t ever buy from.
  • Walk instead of drive whenever possible. It is good for your health as well as the environment. Short trips in motorized vehicles are the least efficient, especially in the winter when you are there before the engine is warmed up. “Warming up” the engine in the driveway is the least efficient use of the car – zero miles per gallon!

As for that last suggestion, let me once again quote Dr. Sittler. “When we go on wheels, we miss what can be seen only on foot … We rush through life and see the panoramic, but miss the microscopic.”

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