ACT LOCALLY: What we do to our planet

“SEEMS LIKE THEY’VE upped the ante for awareness,” my friend moaned, with mock exhaustion.

Ecologically savvy, Mary recycles and shops locally. She cooks healthful meals with produce from her farm share. And hasn’t purchased bottled water in years.

Discovering that her bank funds mountaintop coal removal, generally in Appalachia, kicked Mary’s awareness up a notch.

While we worry about the destruction of the Amazon rain forests or the alarming number of American kids and adults developing asthma, it’s hard for even thoughtful consumers like Mary to connect all the dots.

Yet, as author Daniel Goleman explained, our everyday consumer habits are slowly destroying the Earth.

Goleman’s newest book, Ecological Intelligence, encourages us to become more educated consumers — on every level.

Want to know that one kids’ sunscreen has an ingredient that becomes carcinogenic when exposed to the sun, for instance?

Or look closely at that spiffy organic cotton shirt.

“It’s nice they didn’t use pesticides and fertilizers to grow the cotton,” Goleman said in a recent interview, “[but] organic cotton fibers are shorter than other ones so you have to grow more cotton per garment.

“Cotton uses enormous amounts of water and is usually grown in very arid parts of the world, so its stealing water from other uses and local communities.”

We need to look beyond “organic” and consider the chemicals used to process the cotton and the working conditions of the people involved in every step in creating that garment.

Fashionable and inexpensive? It was probably made in a sweatshop somewhere. Only sweatshops can turn things around quickly and cheaply, Goleman said.

“So our appetite for cheap trendy fashion actually makes young women in the poorest parts of the world suffer by having to work 18-hour days,” Goleman said.

Becoming aware of the hidden environmental impact of stuff before we buy it means we can help create change.

Enough concerned people can make companies rethink how they make things, what ingredients they buy, how they treat their workers and care for the environment.

Consider some recent consumer-driven changes:

• The Home Depot promised to sell only certified wood and offer environmentally friendly products.

• Starbucks switched to “greener” coffee.

When people focus and make their demands known, companies change, primarily to maintain their share of the market. A few percentage point changes in market share are extremely significant to a company.

An average family spends $18,000 a year on goods and services — which translates into 18,000 votes for the world you want.

How do you make informed choices?

It’s a challenge, but there’s help as near as your computer — or even your phone.

Begin with your regular shopping list, Goleman advised. Then check out those items online at www.goodguide.com.

Next, tell everybody you know. Multiply your impact by twittering while you shop or posting your finds on Facebook.

Technologically challenged?

Ask your favorite bookstore for the Better World Shopping Guide, by Ellis Jones. His top 10 list of things to change begins with your bank, since it uses your dollars however it chooses.

On the North Olympic Peninsula — where almost all of its electricity is hydro — only a few people were aware that there were demonstrations against mountain top coal mining in several states last Friday.

But everyone uses energy. What do you know about the impact of your choices?

Learn more at www.energyjustice.net.

Start connecting those dots.

_________

Diana Somerville, an award-winning author and science writer, lives in Clallam County and can be contacted via www.DianaSomerville.com.

Act Locally, her column on sustainability and the environment on the North Olympic Peninsula, appears every other Tuesday.

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