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    • For me its making the things I want or need. E.g. I needed a lamp to light my craft, so instead of going to the shop and buying one that was made in China and shipped all the way to New Zealand and might last a few years before braking, I made one from a branch the fell in a storm.

      How does one make a lamp from a branch?

      I actually need a new lamp.

      And I’m curious what your finished lamp looks like.


    • This is extraordinary. I didn’t know about them. It’s fascinating to look at the top 10 things and see how large their impact is relative to the others. Food waste...

      Here they are:

    • Perspective matters. E.g. having one less kid DWARFS other methods by impact. But is it the way to go? For everyone? Really hard to say. Also, cascading consequences over time.

    • militant

      15 years ago when I caught the vegan bug it seemed like a miracle everyone would want to know about: you could reverse heart disease! Cure type II diabetes! Surely everyone would want to know, so we organized healthy eating groups & told our friends.

      And then... We began to understand how emotional food is, how some of our friends thought we were being judgy and militant. So we dropped it and minded our own business. I'd order the salmon when eating out with friends to avoid the social awkwardness even though I felt bad about the environmental impact.

      And then... Like podcasts catching on after a decade in obscurity, in the cities I travel to it became okay, even cool, to eat plants — SF, New York, Seattle, London, Paris. The mayor of Mountain View came to eat several times in SmugMug's lunchroom because we promoted plant-based options. He had me speak at Google about it. I ate at LinkedIn's lunchroom last week and they had tons of popular plant-based options.

      So yeah, I lost a few friends along the way from being too enthusiastic (militant) but I made a ton more, saved some lives (!!), and it's getting easier. Worth it.

    • I agree with you about voting. I try to be politically active on issues regarding the environment and meet with local politicians at their rallies and town halls.

      Way back in the 70s when I was a teenager and lake Eerie was dying we had huge environmental marches that resulted in creation of the EPA and major environmental cleanups from toxic mining refuse that poisoned our rivers, to saving the Columbia river basin.

      Industrial lobbies have succeeded in making the EPA into a caricature of government overreach and enemy of the economy, but when you become aware of the good that some politicians and ordinary people can do it is very inspiring.

      Aren't we glad these ordinary women saved The San Francisco Bay from filling with spare tires and junk way back in 1961?

    • So I decided to assemble a panel of folks who seem to have much to say on this question:

      What’s one thing you could realistically do this year to save the planet?

      If you’d like, share what you’re currently doing/not doing, as well as what options you’re considering or have considered.  


      Just a reminder, if you’ve joined the panel and haven’t provided your response to the above question please do so before replying to other comments.


      As moderator, I am applying a light hand to any topic drift as I don’t want to stifle the amazing engagement that’s been going on here. But I genuinely do want to hear everyone’s responses to the panel question. Thank you.


    • I know people have mentioned buying local, particularly food. This is typically associated with fresh and healthy eating as well as lower emissions. Except for harvest time, "fresh" doesn't seem to be the natural result though. Most of the year, local produce will be frozen or canned....Unless you live in the tropics.

      So just out of curiousity, is that part of the local food movement? Buying canned/frozen local food in the off-season instead of fresher food drop-shipped from Mexico or points South? What is the reality of a local-only food system which is not supplemented by imports? It seems more infrastructure is needed than just farmers markets.

      So I'll fess up: I only food shop at Costco and Walmart. I have no idea how either one sources food, but I know december tomatos aren't growing anywhere near me. I'm mainly curious because it seems intuitive that local food is a requirement of a mobility constrained society. How does a local food system North of the 40th parallel (North) produce my morning coffee?

      But answer the panel question first. :)

    • Realistically, there are a number of things I could do that would help, including

      1. Improving my home infrastructure - installing new insulation to reduce heat loss, installing a water barrel to use stored water for gardening, and so on. These things are on my list, but I won't be doing them right away because I have more pressing problems in a leaky basement that needs to be dealt with, first. Installing solar panels on the roof fit into this category already.

      2. Buying an electric car. Having no car would be better, but I need a car for work. As it is, though, I live very close to my office, so I can walk or bike to work, which cuts down on the driving significantly. I drive a fuel-efficient car and only fill up about once a month on average, even with the driving I need to do for work and the occasional road trip. When I next buy a car, chances are it will be electric. But I don't need to buy a car right now.

      3. Fly less. Realistically, I don't need to take vacations to exotic places. But I love to explore the world. My motives are selfish, but I'm not quite ready to take this step. But seriously, there's nothing really preventing me from taking this step apart from making a mental adjustment. This is a difficult one.

      Already doing:

      Low consumer goods consumption, and willing to spend more on products that last, rather than products that are cheap.

      Eat locally grown produce, generally.

      Moving to vegetarianism. Not fully vegan yet, but have greatly reduced meat and by-products intake.

      Live close to work for no emissions commute.

      No A/C.

      Live somewhere that's still below its carrying capacity (though I wonder if were getting close).

      But I frankly wonder if anything I do will really make a difference. My footprint is already pretty small - that's obvious when I drive around and see fleets of commercial vehicles, transport trucks, malls, warehouses, light industry. All that stuff is owned by someone, and those are the people that most need to effect change. I don't see it happening in any hurry.

      The conservative party is back in power in the Province of Ontario and fighting the federal, Liberal, government all the way on climate change. In spite of what we read, there just isn't enough broad support for climate action across the province. Most of the climate oriented thought seems to be coming from the cities, but the cities aren't enough to swing the vote. In the last election, Toronto and most other urban ridings voted for Liberal (the centre party) or NDP (the leftmost major party), but all the rural ridings went Conservative, and they wone the vote. There's little we can do to in cities to swing their votes - for years, we've been discredited for being 'urban elites', our ideas, education, and yes, research, made worthless. There's too much ready belief that environmental policy exists only to 'buy votes' and is a waste of money tax-payer money. I think change will come, but it will take the swing of another generation, which as we all know may be too late. Many of the big ideas (like getting rid of GDP as a measure of economic health, and hence of policy-making) have been around since I was a student in the early 90s. Now, nearly 30 years later, nothing has changed. What hope do we have for rapid change in the next ten? It'll take something big for that to happen - something big and obvious. Or maybe there will be a sea change with the next generation.

      I see the future as a kind of bus station, and there are a bunch of busses hurtling toward the station at the same time. There's the electrification bus, which will greatly reduce emissions. There's the technological singularity bus, which will allow us to leave our physical selves behind for good. There's the anti-aging bus, which will see us live longer, perhaps at the expense of children. There's the automation bus, which will put many of us out of work - it might be a boon or a disaster - maybe both, one after the other. There's the climate change bus, which will bring mass migrations from the poorer countries (already started). And there's the extinction bus, which threatens to destroy our systems in ways we can really understand. Which bus will get here first, I'm not sure. And hopefully some of the busses will get here before the others, so at least we can tell the climate change and the extinction busses we already have a ride, and they can turn around and go back where they came from. Or maybe all the busses will arrive, but most of us will have left the station by the time they do.

    • First of all, thank you APM for inviting me to this panel discussion. Much appreciated. The following is not an attack on your use of the words but an observation on the general use of the words "Saving the Earth".

      The one thing I would do is change the conversation from saving the planet to cleaning it as I believe this would have a net effect of bringing more people into the cause of living on a cleaner planet. I would imagine even the most conservative person would have to pause if you asked them if they would like to live on a clean planet versus if they wanted to save the planet. How many times have semantics or the way we articulate an issue create a problem or affected the ability to solve a problem? This is where I feel we are with the climate change debate. Posturing and positioning on both sides of the isle. Climate Deniers and Tree Huggers called out to elevate a point.

      A staunch republican, Rick Perry in Texas, broke the mold and found wind could be a viable alternative to help power his state regardless of the fact that his was a state rich in fossil fuels. How many others are in the trenches working on technologies to create new forms of clean energy and biodegradable materials in the most unlikely of places? Yes, many are held back by the powers that be but some squeak through. Actually more are squeaking through every day, aren’t they?

      But the only argument to have in my view is what clean technologies could be built to replace dirty ones. Oil, Gas, Plastics. You name it. Find a better way that is affordable and the cream will rise to the top.  Maybe less about removing the old as this just seems to cement a position and more about inviting all sides to the table to get the work done on alternatives that will generate a profit. Yes, those at the very top have a position to hold but there are so many outliers who don’t have a dog in the fight who don’t like to be called out as ones who do not want to save the earth. How many of these people are innovators, engineers, scientists? People who could make a difference who are felt to believe they don’t care. Use dollars to create messaging around inviting these people to the table to partner together to provide a clean place for their children to grow up in. Put people to work on something they can sink their teeth into not just a statement in my humble opinion.

    • But I frankly wonder if anything I do will really make a difference. My
      footprint is already pretty small - that's obvious when I drive around
      and see fleets of commercial vehicles, transport trucks, malls,
      warehouses, light industry. All that stuff is owned by someone, and
      those are the people that most need to effect change.

      I suspect this whole conversation has an element of "preaching to the choir". If someone was likely to upgrade their commuting rig from a little econobox car to a $70k luxury one ton pickup, it seems unlikely that they'd be invited to the panel.

      Summarizing the relevant bits of the conversation so far: We're all responsible for ourselves, and we're not responsible for coercing others to adopt our beliefs or practices. Concurrently, the realization that no matter what, we'll be adapting to residual climate effects which are not mitigated, gives us a little more breathing space (compared to the Chicken Little approach of "we all have to change right now or we're all going to die horrible deaths"). And finally, no matter what the topic--food, "saving the planet", politics, religion--militant coersion actively pushes people away; undermining the core objective of accomplishing change. No one likes to be told what to do.

      It may be beneficial to consider that certain actions could be motivated by more than one reason; then exploiting all of those reasons to appeal to more than one group and accomplish change more broadly. For instance, the disaster preparedness crowd (preppers) pursue green energy mostly from the perspective of self-reliance. It seems that electrification of transportation could be accelerated by appealing to this same perspective (make your own gas!) Assuming most of those inclined towards self-reliance are on the right, you're then talking about advocating the same change from the right and the left.

      But pigeonholing people too quickly ("right"/"left") may lead to other problems. My EV, for instance, has a "Friends of the NRA" license plate. Probably best to learn about the person and figure out how the desired change can serve their needs.

      But back to the main point. In @lidja 's words:

      Rather than being consumed with performing extraordinary efforts to zero
      out my own carbon footprint, perhaps making reasonable decisions, being
      aware, making adjustments, and staying optimistic about the future is a
      more important service to my children and grandchildren than getting
      all frantic and militant...?

    • Offline (and online too), it's very hard to influence people without coming across as preachy, which usually has the exact opposite effect (people dig in their heels when they feel confronted). Instead just presenting a different option with your actions might be much more effective. I drive a 40mpg car, cycle to work (or use public transportation), live in a relatively small apartment, use efficient lighting, try to recycle. I rarely fly more than a couple of times a year. But as far as having a real influence, I'm not sure. Most of my friends and people around me already are pretty similar in their habits.

      Incidentally, just yesterday I came across an article which seems to answer exactly what we're trying to talk about here. Lots of practical and useful advice here:

    • Yep. If there's one thing that anyone should really strive for, its reducing food waste. Besides being literally throwing money away, it's probably the highest-impact change we can individually attain. Food production is incredibly energy and carbon-intensive. Couple less food waste with reduced meat intake and then you're really making a difference.

    • What’s one thing you could realistically do this year to save the planet?

      After mulling for 24's a great question but it was hard for me because I felt there was an implied that you're not doing on the end. I care so deeply about this miraculous blue orb I already do what I believe to be the #1 thing: avoiding animal foods.

      So that brings me to what I'm trying to do this year: avoid single-use plastics. It's hard because they have become such a part of life.

    • I started eating most of my main meals from meal box plans a couple of years ago - the raw ingredients are sent to me and then I cook the meals. Because I live on my own, 4 of these meals a week is just about right for me.

      This has had a *big* impact on how healthy my diet is (much more) as well as how much food I waste (much less). But I wonder if there is a net savings in energy use, since these meal plans are shipped and delivered...

    • Lots of practical and useful advice here

      While it's undoubtedly useful and practical, it is also very illustrative of what I'd like to point out - almost all advice in that article, as well as the majority of concerns in the conversation here, are very much skewed towards the situation and cultural situations and perceptions of the USA. Look at the article. It presupposes you are a home owner; it presupposes you drive a lot (and measures vehicle mileage in the imperial units). It talks about getting horizontal spin axis washing machine (last time I saw a top-loading washing machine outside of USA was in USSR in 1970s). It talks about energy efficient appliances and thermal insulation of your living space as if it was something non-obvious - and indeed it is a looming problem in the USA, mostly because of a combination of mostly very mild climate causing flimsy construction standards and relatively cheap energy. If you don't buy energy efficient appliances and especially if you don't climate-proof your residence in most of Europe, you'll either go broke on the utility bills or freeze to death. It's not like other places on the globe don't waste food, but it is rampant in USA. Israel has lots of inexplicable problems with residential solar, mostly because of the not yet fully dismantled socialist inefficiencies, but I believe that upward of 90% of households use sun-driven hot water systems.

      So, while the last thing I would want to do is any fingerpointing, as it would be the proverbial glass house, but it is an unfortunate fact that a lot of the "save the planet", "you are not doing enough" ("Uncle Sam wants you" style), "let's all stop eating meat ASAP" narratives are driven by very USA-biased cohorts (it applies to other hot social topics outside of this panel's scope as well). It is useful to be aware and attempt gaining wider perspective whenever possible.

    • That "refrigerant management" item is pretty interesting. It is number one because very many halogenated refrigerants have greenhouse warming potentials on the order of TEN THOUSAND times greater than carbon dioxide. Release the content of a one-pound can of R134a and there go the equivalent of five tons of carbon dioxide! There is talk of a carbon tax in various locations, but of course they're mostly making halogenated refrigerants exempt (because if they taxed them by CO2 equivalence, the price would make most consumer refrigeration and air conditioning/heat pumping unit cost way more.

      [edit: - well, not ALL are 10k worse but some are. A pound of R134a is only equal to half a ton of carbon dioxide - my bad.]

    • When my wife and I were traveling on a sailboat a decade ago, we spent some time in Cartagena, Colombia. We were in a supermarket there stocking up the boat for the next few months over in Panama, and my wife asked a young lady working at the store where to find canned tomatoes. The young lady looked at us confused and asked "why would anyone buy CANNED tomatoes?!" LOL, of course they did have some in the back on a dusty shelf for visiting sailors. But like you say, in the tropics there is fresh stuff year-round.

      I think that is going to be more common in temperate zones as some higher-value agriculture moves indoors - vertical agriculture factories with LED lighting and climate control and no pests having access. Maybe local will be easy and year-round everywhere some day.

    • Since my one thing is to stop using single-use plastics, I guess that means cans too...

    • One can hope. That is probably something which will require some thinking though. It seems the basic parameters are the addition of large heated indoor spaces and extra lighting. Meeting this extra energy demand will be the enabling factor. At my location, the solar resource in the winter is 1/3 of it's summer value. Perhaps wind will counter some of that. Hydro can't help much (the reservoir may still be liquid, but the precipitation is all frozen so it won't recharge.) It's tempting to think I could just dedicate a room in my already-heated house to the task, but I do not think that would produce quantities significant enough to become my primary source of nutrition...and I'd also have to find a green thumb...

    • Ha! Who knew?

      Changing billing envelopes is going to save 29,200lbs of wood, 109,000gals. of water, and prevent 77,600lbs of CO2.

    • or switch to electronic billing and eliminate envelopes altogether (including load on postal system and thus fuel expenditure and the whole chain) ;)

    • There are still areas with limited internet access, especially in rural areas and low income urban areas. A fine balance between serving mother earth or her children.

    • I’ve debated that with myself. I would end up printing a receipt for accounting purposes anyway, but I do already pay electronically. :)

    • Great panel, @apm! Thank you for bringing this discussion to Cake - it really got me thinking. 🙏🏼

      It would be interesting to see how the conversation changes if you invite the panelists again to comment on the same question next year. 😊