Vital Signs 2005: What You Can Do
Vital Signs 2005 examines the state of the planet's health, documenting trends ranging from steel production to global climate change. Worldwide, individuals and institutions wield a powerful influence over these trends, as appetites for meat, energy, cars, and other goods continue to surge.
This demand is highest in North America, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia, which together use a disproportionate share of the Earth's resources. Ballooning economies in India and China, however, are rapidly driving up global consumption and pollution levels. Vital Signs 2005 points to the increasingly important role of China and India in the global economy and its effects on the health of our planet. By making wiser consumption choices and demanding action from government, civic, and business leaders, we can improve our health, the condition of the environment, and the stability of society.
There are countless actions that individuals can take to influence many of the economic, social, and environmental trends affecting our world and its people. Read on for examples of what you can do to effect change both as a consumer and as a global citizen
To Help Others and Yourself
- Serve those in need. Donate your time at a local literacy program, soup kitchen, hospital, church, or to projects in the developing world, some of which are highlighted at www.netaid.org. Learn about volunteering opportunities worldwide at www.idealist.org. For opportunities in the U.S., see www.volunteermatch.org.
- Green your community. Volunteer at a farmers market, build a public garden, or urge local officials to improve the health and environmental quality of your community. For more information on what you can do, visit The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, at www.iclei.org.
- Be an informed voter. Vote and continue to make your voice heard throughout your representatives' terms of office by writing, calling, and monitoring their voting records. In the U.S., learn how they score on the environmental front by visiting the League of Conservation Voters, www.lcv.org. Corruption takes power away from voters, so learn about efforts to fight corruption worldwide at Transparency International, www.transparency.org, and at the World Bank, www1.worldbank.org/publicsector/anticorrupt.
- Quit smoking, exercise, and eat more fruits and vegetables. Poor diet, smoking, and lack of regular exercise decrease the quality and length of people's lives. For more information, go to the World Health Organization's website at www.who.int/hpr/global.strategy.shtml.
- Breathe healthy air. Keep your home and workplace clean, well ventilated, and free of pollutants like tobacco smoke and toxic cleansers. See the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's asthma website at www.cdc.gov/asthma/faqs.htm. Also, help clear the air by burning fewer fossil fuels. See the "To Save Energy and Reduce Climate Change" section of this site.
- Practice and promote safe sex. Learn from Planned Parenthood how to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections at www.plannedparenthood.org/health. If you are a parent or educator, provide young people with accurate sexual and reproductive health information and encourage open communication. Advice on talking with youth can be found at www.advocatesforyouth.org/parents/index.htm.
- Eliminate the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS. Get tested for HIV and encourage others to do so. If you are a community leader, start a public discussion about AIDS to dispel myths and break down barriers to effective prevention and treatment. Read about the UNAIDS campaign to raise awareness and end discrimination at www.unaids.org.
- Ensure safe motherhood. If you or someone close to you is pregnant, seek proper nutrition, prenatal and postpartum care, delivery by a trained birth attendant, and transport to a health facility in the case of complications. For more information, see www.safemotherhood.org/resources.
For more information on improving the lives of people, visit the Worldwatch Research Center.
To Protect Natural Systems
- Eat less meat. Crowded factory farms contribute to food-borne illness and pollute water supplies. Learn more from the Grace Factory Farm Project, at www.factoryfarm.org. And meat production is grain intensive: 7 kilograms (kg) of grain go into 1 kg of beef; 4 kg for pork; and 2 kg for chicken. If eating meat, buy it from local, small-scale organic farms. Cook meat fully to minimize risk of illness.
- Make wise seafood choices. At restaurants or the supermarket, ask for fish that is locally caught and feeds low on the food chain, like catfish, oysters, and mussels. Audubon provides information on making informed seafood choices, see www.audubon.org/campaign/lo/seafood/index.html. If possible, buy seafood that has been certified as coming from well-managed fisheries. The Marine Stewardship Council offers this kind of certification, see www.msc.org.
- Buy organic food. Eat organic foods to reduce demand for pesticides, chemical fertilizers, factory farms, and genetically engineered plants and animals. To learn more about organic food, check out the Organic Consumers Association at www.organicconsumers.org. To find an organic farm in your area, go to www.organic-research.com/farms/index.asp. In the U.S. go to www.localharvest.org.
- Help eliminate farm subsidies. Subsidies that support production of particular crops often harm farmers around the world. Encourage your government to instead reward farmers for meeting ecological goals. For more information, visit Oxfam at www.maketradefair.com, and in the U.S., www.greenscissors.org/agriculture/index.htm.
- Use less water. Tailor your lawn covering to the local climate and install efficient showerheads, faucets, and toilets. For more information and household tips, see: www.h2ouse.net and www.waterwiser.org.
- Don't use pesticides on your lawn or garden. These chemicals can harm the health of humans, birds and other wildlife, and their runoff pollutes aquifers and rivers. For tips on how to deal with pests safely and naturally, visit the Pesticide Action Network of North America at panna.igc.org/resources/advisor.html.
- Protect birds by minimizing their exposure to: predators (including pets), uncontrolled hunting, and tall structures, such as buildings, power lines, and cell towers. For more information visit the American Bird Conservancy at www.abcbirds.org.
For more information on natural systems, visit the Worldwatch Research Center.
To Green the Economy
- Choose re-usable goods over disposable items. For example, use cloth towels instead of paper towels, and reusable containers instead of disposable ones. If possible, repair goods when they break instead of replacing them.
- Donate or recycle unwanted goods instead of trashing them. Give your old computers, TVs, and other unwanted items to charity, if they still work or can be rehabilitated. Otherwise, give them to licensed recyclers. Do not put electronic items in the trash, as they contain toxic materials. For computer donation information around the world, see www.unites.org/html/resource/knowledge/ctc.htm. The Electronic Industries Alliance provides information on how to recycle electronics in the U.S., at www.eiae.org.
- Learn about policies and practices that can "green" manufacturing. Find out about legislation that requires manufacturers to take back and recycle their products; laws that guarantee citizens' right to know about toxic emissions; and labeling programs that allow consumers to see the toxics content of products. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition offers more information about greening the electronics industry, at www.svtc.org.
- Invest Responsibly. Use your financial resources to create a better world by investing in companies that promote economic equity, strong communities, and a healthy environment. For more information on socially responsible investing visit the Social Investment Forum at www.socialinvest.org or Co-op America at www.coopamerica.org.
- Buy environmentally friendly products. Look for products that carry a label indicating that they have been certified as environmentally sound (ideally, by an independent third party). Encourage your friends, workplace, supermarket, and other businesses to buy these products. For a list of U.S. businesses carrying green products, see www.coopamerica.org/pubs/greenpages or www.newdream.org/consumer/marketplace.php. For Europe, visit the European Union Eco-label Homepage, at europa.eu.int/comm/environment/ecolabel/index.htm.
- Avoid buying conflict diamonds. Some of these gems emanate from war zones and thus finance suffering and perpetuate violent conflict. When buying jewelry, choose second-hand items that can be reworked to meet your needs; this will prevent unnecessary mining of metals and gems. If this is not possible, try to ascertain the origin of the diamond you are planning to buy. Passage of the Clean Diamond Trade Act in the United States, part of a global effort to choke off the trade in conflict diamonds, makes it less likely that consumers will be offered tainted gems in the future. Amnesty International's Campaign to Eliminate Conflict Diamonds provides information for the United States at www.amnestyusa.org/diamonds/ Look for information from Fatal Transactions elsewhere at www.fataltransactions.org/intro/index.html.
- Travel responsibly. Support locally owned restaurants, lodging, and other businesses so that your money will stay in the communities you visit. Look for certified green or environmentally responsible hotels and tours. By not having your towels and linens washed every day, you can save energy and water. For more information, see www.ecotourism.org or www.responsibletourism.org.
- Buy local. In the U.S., food now travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to table. Long distance travel uses more packaging, refrigeration, and fuel. When possible, choose locally grown products to support your local economy and reduce the generation of waste and pollution. The following websites provide more information on the local food movement: www.foodalliance.org, www.thefoodtrust.org, and www.localfood.org.uk.
For more information on greening the economy, visit the Worldwatch Research Center.
To Save Energy and Reduce Climate Change
- Demand responsible energy policies. Urge your government to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear power; to adopt stronger efficiency standards for appliances, vehicles, and buildings; and to devise policies that create markets for solar, wind, and other renewable technologies. The Union of Concerned Scientists provides additional actions, at www.ucsusa.org/global_environment/global_warming/page.cfm?pageID=524.
- Use less motor fuel. Walk, bike, or take public transportation whenever possible. Ask your government to make roads friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists, to invest in public transportation, and to support land-use policies that make these options viable. If you have a car, combine trips to reduce total mileage, and keep it well maintained to reduce oil leaks and runoff. If you're planning to buy a car, choose a hybrid or fuel-efficient model. For more information, on making the right car choice, see the U.S. Department of Energy’s site www.fueleconomy.gov/feg.
- Use less energy at home. Turn off lights and appliances when you aren't using them. Run only full loads in washing machines and dishwashers, and hang clothes out to dry. Lower the temperature setting on your water heater and insulate your hot water pipes. The National Resources Defense Council offers more ideas at www.nrdc.org/air/energy/genergy.asp. Replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) to cut energy use by a factor of four and save money in the process. For recommendations, see www.greenseal.org/recommendations/CGR=CFLs.pdf.
- Choose "green" power. Switch to electric utility companies that generate some or all of their power from solar or wind energy rather than fossil or nuclear fuels. In the U.S., see www.green-e.org. Consider installing solar panels or photovoltaic shingles on your roof, or a solar water heater. Many state and national governments offer subsidies or tax breaks for green energy technologies. For more information in the U.S., see The Database of State Initiatives for Renewable Energy, at www.dsireusa.org.
- Buy energy efficient appliances. In the U.S., look for the Energy Star label on appliances such as refrigerators, computers, clothes washers and air conditioners; in Europe, look for the Blue Angel Mark. For more information in the U.S., see: www.energystar.gov; in Europe see www.blauer-engel.de.
- Sharpen your climate IQ. Calculate your "carbon footprint" and learn more about climate change and its causes. For more information on individual impact, see www.safeclimate.net/individual.php. For more on business impact, see www.safeclimate.net/business/index.php.
- Offset your carbon emissions. With the widespread availability of cheap airfares, air travel is increasingly contributing to pollution and climate change. Choose an airline that allows you to “offset” the carbon emissions from your flight by purchasing credits equal to the distance of the flight taken. For more information visit Climate Care at www.co2.org or Future Forests at www.futureforests.org.
For more information on energy and climate change issues, visit the Worldwatch Research Center.
* For a list of nine more actions you can take right now, check out the Center for a New American Dream's "Turn the Tide" campaign: www.newdream.org/tttoffline/actions.php