Green Living for Witches, in a nutshell
If we take ourselves seriously, and I think we do, we have one Law - "And it harm none, do what ye will."
In order to uphold that Law, we must consider the impact of each and every one of our acts upon each and every aspect of our world, from the immediate surroundings outward to our entire planet and every person, creature and rock which that encompasses. This may seem like a tall order. But we have a little luck on our side - we do not have to do all of the figuring. I know that if I buy a piece of beef, from Market Basket, on a little styrofoam tray and wrapped in plastic, that the following things will have to have occurred to bring that thing to the store - Firstly, a steer was raised in a pen, crowded with other steers and fed not only corn and hay, but also stale Twinkies, chewing gum, and antibiotics as a steady diet. This pen of steers produces a goodly quantity of manure concentrated in one place, whose runoff can impact groundwater, rivers and lakes. Secondly it was shipped to a slaughterhouse in a crowded truck. Thirdly it was processed, frozen and shipped on another truck to the butcher shop of the store. Then it was thawed, re-packaged, possibly dyed to look red again and put out on the counter. Now that packaging - the styrofoam may be a good way to pack meat handled in such a way, but it's origin is petroleum and a high-toxicity output process, same as the clear plastic wrap. And don't forget the fuel used in the transport from far away.
Are you all vegetarians yet? But the vegetables may be just as unhealthy for the environment as the beef. Take a conventionally grown potato from Idaho - First the ground is sprayed with pesticides to kill every living thing on it. Then the earth is dug up with plowing and harrowing, after which the potato slips are planted - all by tractors using petroleum fuel. Once the potatoes sprout they are sprayed with fungicide and herbicide to stop anything from interfering with their growth. The tractor runs a few more passes with liquid food to nourish them, but a lot of that becomes runoff too. Then there is harvesting and cleaning and packaging and shipping. For all his effort, the farmer, who is after all, just trying to make a living and following the recommendations of the USDA, gets maybe 1/100 of the price of the bag you buy at the store, and that hardly covers his costs of seed, fertilizer, herbicide, and fuel, let alone equipment maintenance or food for himself and his family. This same financial picture applies to every agri-business farmer, whatever their product.
So enough horror stories - what can we do? Put our money where our mouth is. Buy organic food, buy local food. Put your money right into the farmer's hand where it will do the most good. Use fewer things with petroleum. Use less electricity. Use less of everything.
ELECTRICITY - using less is easy
Heating your home
The mysterious phantom load
PETROLEUM - our non-renewable resource
In your car, heating your home, this one is easy - use less. We already discussed turning down your thermostat in the house, but it is worth mentioning again. Wool and Polartec are warm and environmentally friendly. If you live in a house with a wood stove, these are good sources of supplemental heat and run properly can be the sole heat source.
When you need a new car, buy one with the best mileage you can find for what you need. Please evaluate your actual needs, as opposed to wants... if you don't really need an SUV, don't buy one. Don't make lots of little trips - this wears out your car, uses more fuel and wastes your time. Plan your trips to start the engine the fewest times and go the fewest overall miles per week or month. If you can, bike, walk, take mass transit, or carpool. Do maintain you car well, check the tire pressure and oil levels, and change the oil at the manufacturer's recommended interval - these will all help the engine run cleaner and more efficiently.
The other big thing about petroleum is plastic packaging. Avoid all plastics wherever possible, and only buy those that you can and will recycle. These are big troublemakers in landfills and refuse incinerators. Both in manufacture and breakdown they release many toxins into the air, water and soil. Paper and cardboard and plastic-like material made from cellulose are much better choices. Do recycle all the plastic you have to buy, as it will set a good example for others and help keep the toxic load smaller.
WATER - a very precious resource
Humans need clean water to live, so does everything else on the planet. Conserving water is pretty easy. When replacing toilets, install the low-flush. The brand that I have found to work just as well as the old ones is the Kohler Wellworth, some of the others don't work too well and you end up flushing more than once, which defeats the purpose of installing it. Drips and leaks should be fixed ASAP. Use low-flow shower heads and faucet nozzles. There are several brands that have a switch right on the aerator to turn the water on/off without changing the hot/cold mix at the tap. These are great because you can then shut the water off when you are soaping (yourself, the dishes, etc.). Only use the dishwasher when it is full, or don't use one at all. Washing by hand, if done right, can use much less water than a dishwasher. And certainly not using a dishwasher saves a bunch of electricity.
Another big use of water is clothes washing. If you are buying a new machine, choose a front loader if you can, they use about 1/2 the water of a top-loader and also use a lot less electricity. If you can't fit a front-loader in your space (like me), buy the most efficient machine that you can afford both for water use and electric use. I like my Fischer & Paykel, and the Maytag Calypso and Neptune models are recommended by renewal energy professionals. The most-recommended front loaders are the Asko and another Maytag. There is an RE specific product, the Staber, but I had one and the reliability was poor enough that I junked it after 7 years and finding that the company was not willing to stand behind its product.
If you are irrigating a garden or feel compelled to water your lawn, which is really an unnecessary waste, it is possible to divert the "graywater" from your laundry, dishwasher and bathtub or shower onto your garden or lawn. Not only does this use the water wisely, but, provided that you have chosen your soaps and other cleaning products carefully, can enrich your garden with needed nutrients.
So where does the water come from? If you're on city water, you don't have much choice, but you probably want a filter. If you have a well, choose your pump wisely. Most well pumping systems are very inefficient and cater to oversupplying you with water. They can pump enough out of the well to run it dry. So if you ever have to replace your well pump, closely analyze your needs and don't buy too much pump. A smaller pump will use less electricity. There are also pumps made specifically for renewable electricity applications that use significantly less electricity than conventional pumps for the same amount of water pumped. Please see the resource list for more information if you are looking for a new pump.
TRASH - the less in the landfill the better
I manage, somehow, to put out about 5 gallons of uncompacted trash each week for a family of 3. Here is how I do it, and you may even be able to do better than me. All glass, metals (except tin foil), #1 & #2 plastic, and paper goes to curbside recycling. Some of the paper goes in the woodstove. Most of the cardboard goes to recycling, the rest in the woodstove. All food waste, except bones, goes into the compost pile. So what goes in my trash can? Plastic corn chip bags, saran wrap, tin foil, and bones. I could do better. I could grind the bones and add them to the garden. I could not buy the chips or the deli meats that get packaged in unrecyclable plastic bags. I do not buy things packaged in plastic that I can't recycle, like Styrofoam and #5 yogurt cups. It's not hard to recycle, it just takes a little attention to detail. If you don't have a place to make a compost pile or set a bin, look for a farm or friend who does, they usually won't mind taking your bucket once a week. Another trash issue is batteries. Do not send them to the landfill where they leach heavy metal toxins into the soil, instead look for your community's hazardous waste collection days and recycle them. Better yet, use rechargeable batteries so as to avoid the task of disposal for as long as possible.
HEALTHY EATING - for you and the planet
The best thing you can do for our ecosystem is to eat foods that are less processed, less traveled, and less chemically treated. I do not advocate veganism or vegetarianism. Humans have evolved to be omnivores, and we require nutrients from multiple sources. Some people can live without certain things, but that is their choice alone to make.
Vegetables - look for local and organic, local perhaps being more important. In order to pay the extra cost of organic, try eating out less, or eating less processed foods. Those chips are expensive and less filling than carrots and broccoli.
Dairy Products - again local, organic, and free range
are key words to look for.
Meat - Free range, Antibiotic free, local, organic, minimally processed. Meat is one of the harder things to find and can be very costly. This is because factory farmed meats are fed really obscene diets that don't cost the grower much. They can feed them stale bakery products, including Twinkies and that ilk, and chewing gum. To make up for the unsanitary crowding and poor (but supposedly "nutritionally complete") diets it is the industry standard to feed a constant ration of antibiotics which does get into the meat and is a prime suspect in antibiotic resistant diseases in humans. Since I raise beef myself, I know just how much it does cost, per pound, to raise it even on good pasture and conventional, but antibiotic free feed. The price for any meat in the grocery store doesn't come anywhere close to covering my cost to raise my own so I don't know how the farmers stay in business. Something is wrong with the system and the only way to do anything about it is to stop buying into it.
Processed foods - even if they are organic, the processing strips nutrients and uses fuel and energy needlessly. I know that convenience foods are, well, convenient, but the less they are used and the more raw, whole foods we eat the less petroleum we use and the better we nourish our bodies.
One more food note - try not to buy anything you might suspect to have come from Genetically Modified Seed - this is an expensive ploy by seed manufacturers to rob farmers of the ability to save their own seed and is blatantly messing with mother nature. In some cases they implant genes from not just different species, but even to the extent of putting a frog gene into a corn seed. Also by genetically modifying a plant to produce a poison to resist one of it's predators it is increasing the likelihood of the bugs breeding resistance to that poison even faster.
IN THE HOUSE
What do you clean up with? Look at the ingredients in your "Formula 409". These things can be very toxic to the bacteria you want to kill, but they continue to be toxic in your septic system or wastewater treatment plant. Try one of the citrus-based products - they do work as well, if not better, break down quickly once they go down the drain, and are less toxic in the manufacturing process. Do you use chlorine bleach? It's a great disinfectant, but the manufacturing process and disposal have a large negative environmental impact - the alternative is peroxide. Peroxide is easy and safe to manufacture and dispose of, less toxic to your skin, but just as good an antibacterial as chlorine bleach. The brand that I use is "Ecover", however I believe that there are others. How about paper towels? Buy recycled ones - there is no excuse to use virgin pulp for something that you are going to use once and send to a landfill. Better yet, especially if you have a water-saving washing machine - use rags instead.
The only thing I use paper towels for is draining bacon and cleaning up hairballs from the cats, thus using about one roll a year. Basically, any paper products should be made from recycled products, preferably post-consumer pulp. Many manufacturers will say that the paper is made from recycled material and then it will turn out to be press trimmings and pulp that is "leftover" and has not yet seen an end-user. Reading the labels is very important - try for 100% recycled, 50% post-consumer. This is common for paper towels and toilet paper, but white paper is commonly 30% recycled, and since there is no post-consumer content listed I must assume that there is none. This was the best I could get from Staples when I bought the case, perhaps next time there will be better.
What do you wear? Cotton, while it is the fabric which I happen to like the most, happens to be the greatest user of chemical herbicides and pesticides on the planet. This single crop uses more than all the others put together. The availability of organic cotton clothing and linens is increasing and if you can afford them, do use them. Polartec and Tencel are fabrics made from a large percentage of recycled materials. Linen is another earth-friendly fabric as this is a very hardy plant and requires much less input to grow well than cotton. Silk, although I've never asked a silkworm if it likes life, is a low-impact fiber. Basically the entire cloth manufacturing process tends to release a lot of toxins into the environment, but we're not about to go running around naked, so the best thing to do is use as little as possible and make wise choices about the fabrics within your budget. Use the clothes until they are worn out, then you will have plenty of rags to use instead of paper towels.
OTHER THINGS YOU CAN DO - volunteer, set an example
In some communities there have been started projects called a "CSA". This stands for Community Supported Agriculture. These programs usually involve individuals buying into a farm, either with time or money to get in return a certain share of food. When you join a CSA, not only do you get the satisfaction of local and probably organic food, but the chance to play in the dirt and know the land if you wish. If you don't have a yard big enough to have a garden, or enough time to devote to one, this is a good way of making a connection to the land, even if you only visit the farm to pick up your share that was paid for in dollars.
By doing any of the things listed above you are setting an example for others to follow. The more people who choose ecological consciousness as part of their life, the more it will permeate society as a whole. There are many organizations which are active publicizing the needs of the planet and what individuals can do. Choose one or two and send them some money if you can. Some of them are listed in the resources section.
NOW WHAT? - or, you are building your dream house on your 5 acre lot.
If you happen to be lucky enough to be moving to the country and building or modifying a home here are some points to consider. But please, here is where the resource list can help you most. There is a lot you can do with a 5 acre lot. First you need a shelter, and that shelter needs heat, or cooling, depending on its geographic location. For that you need a builder, but be clear to that person that you want the most efficient house and built with the most ecologically sustainable building materials. There are builders who specialize in renewables. Now you need electricity (if you want a refrigerator and a water pump, which I assume you do). Find the south side and get out the photovoltaics - they are not cheap, unless you are more than a mile from the nearest power line, then they are cost competitive. Are you on a hilltop? You could put up a windmill. Do you have a steep hill with year-round water flowing down it? Micro-hydro electricity is some of the most efficient in watts/$ if you have the right resource.
Now that you are housed, how about turning ¼ to ½ an acre into vegetables? Now you are even half fed. Add some chickens, and you have eggs and meat. Leave yourself a woodlot, so you can use it for supplemental heat, but the rest can grow food of many kinds, even a beef if you want, or fruit trees.
But now you have eaten, what about waste? Turn your output into gold for your garden with a composting toilet. It sounds gross, but when sized correctly for the household and properly maintained, they don't smell and do produce good fertilizer. This also takes care of the problem of where to put it otherwise.
Producing Your Own Power, Carol Hupping Stoner, Ed. 1974 Rodale
Northeast Sustainable Energy Association - Greenfield MA. Publishes the "Northeast Sun" quarterly.
American Solar Energy Society - publishes "Solar Today".
Solar Living Institute - a non-profit offshoot of Real Goods which promotes education about renewable living.
Center for the New American Dream - publishes "Enough" 6930 Carroll Ave., Suite 900, Takoma Park, MD 20912.
Co-op America - quarterly newsletter 1612 k St. NW, Suite 600, Washington DC 20006
Seed Savers International - dedicated to preserving the genetic heritage and diversity of plants and some rare breeds of animals.
Northeast Organic Farming Association - Support, information, networking, certification for organic farmers and gardeners in the northeast - has chapters in NH, MA, NY, RI, CT, NJ, DE, PA, VT. Maine has it's own organization. Both NOFA and MOFGA (the Maine Association) have annual fairs which can educate all interested, check their websites for dates and locations.
Mothers and Others (for a sustainable planet) publishes the Green Buying Guide and other information for the wise consumer.
Purveyors of healthy goods:
Real Goods/Jade Mountain - Renewable Energy products for home - both for serious RE folk and conscious consumers.
Lehman's Non-Electric Catalog - Non-electric stuff for the Amish, stuff made by the Amish, books on homesteading skills and great house wares.
Working Assets Long Distance - the long distance telephone company that goes the distance for the planet. (And they never call me!)
St. Lawrence Nurseries - Northern Climate fruit and nut trees - friends of mine, and if you're planting trees, berries or shrubs, these are the folks to get them from.
North Hollow Farm - Beef, pork, sometimes poultry, and maple syrup raised in the spirit of organic farming and in harmony with the land. The best hot dogs I've ever eaten, and no fillers!
Acres USA - "A voice for Eco-Agriculture" bookstore the ecologically sensitive.