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A few environmental New Year’s resolutions

In the Northwest Corner, we are blessed with unusually favorable surroundings; still, the overall environment of the planet is deteriorating fast. Our politicians are not doing enough to halt the damage. And the most significant modifications needed to slow environmental degradation, especially climate change, need to be made by governments at the national and international scale. But individual efforts, if done by a large enough number of people, add up and can make a big difference. Here are some suggestions for Lakeville Journal readers.

Recycle more. Return all deposit containers to the store (5 cents each); put other recyclable material (paper, glass, metals, etc.) in the proper place at the dump, not the trash receptacle. Use the “swap shop” to both donate and receive second-hand items. Check out the frequent tag sales in town before buying new furniture or furnishings.

Avoid unnecessary containers. Give up plastic food bags and use paper bags sparingly, carrying groceries home in canvas tote bags. Use less plastic: think about that floating island of plastic garbage in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that is as large as Texas when buying items in containers that could otherwise be purchased loose.

Eat less meat, more fruits and vegetables. Americans eat considerably more meat than most other peoples. Meat growing uses much more cropland, energy, fertilizer, antibiotics and money than fruits or vegetables, at the same time contributing more water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions per unit of food. Chicken and fish are somewhat less burdensome to the environment than red meat, but still are at the top of the food chain. Meat-addicted environmentalists might consider local venison, thereby at the same time easing another environmental problem.

Eating local produce saves energy and helps the local economy. Growing fruits and vegetables in season is practical for most of us and requires only a modest amount of space and time. Freezing food is easy, thereby extending the growing season. Root cellars are coming back into vogue and work well for storing root vegetables and other foods throughout the colder months. Some newer greenhouse models are much more efficient than in the past and can often be heated by sun, wind or geothermal units.

Drive less. Often, we take two trips during the day when, with better planning, one would do just as well. Even reducing car mileage by 5 miles a day could save better than $200 a year in gasoline and lessen air pollution as well. Regularly servicing your car and keeping the tires at the recommended air pressure also saves gas. When buying a car, consider a second-hand one; if buying a new car, choose one that gets good mileage.

Building takes careful thought. If you are considering building a house or another building, see if any existing structure can be feasibly converted to your purposes thereby saving money, reducing unnecessary manufacturing, and usually sparing the landscape. Don’t build more than you need. Use air conditioning frugally. The average size of a new house in the U.S. is now over 2,400 square feet; in western Europe it’s roughly half that size. Are Europeans so terribly deprived?

For those planning new decks, real wood such as native black locust, the traditional choice for fence posts and railroad ties, needs no toxic chemical infusion to withstand the elements and unlike imitation wood can be recycled or even burned at the end of its long life.

Protect trees, especially older ones. In the last few years, two of the largest trees in Lakeville were cut down, one for what I considered questionable disease, the other to make room for another parking space between a pair of buildings. The village is less beautiful as a result.

Do you really need to plant grass? The ground cover with the lowest first cost, lawn grass is usually environmentally a poor choice. Regular mowing (often with very polluting gasoline mowers), fertilizing, herbicide applications, and frequent watering make lawn maintenance expensive and burdensome. For many of us, it would make sense to reduce the lawn area around our houses, converting the lawn to assorted plantings of trees, shrubs, ground covers and perennials planned for low maintenance. For the lawn that remains, consider mowing higher and less frequently; try to avoid watering, lawn fertilizer and especially pesticide (the major reason for the decline of bees and birds).

Compost your vegetable waste. This simple process can reduce the amount of material taken to the dump during the growing season by nearly half. Systematizing the process with a barrel composter and a built-in kitchen bucket makes things easier, but an unfenced heap somewhat away from the house that gets turned periodically also works fine. The result after a period of time is high-quality humus to enrich the garden soil.

Donate to environmental groups. They need the money and do a lot of good. And at every level of government, vote for candidates most likely to protect the environment.

 

Lakeville architect and landscape designer Mac Gordon writes frequently about environmental matters.