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Want to Live More Sustainably? ‘Just Don’t Buy Stuff’

Environmentally minded people who want to take steps toward sustainable living can start by simply reducing their consumption, according to the second annual Earth Day survey at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF).

Just in time for the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day observance (April 22), the faculty and staff at the college, where environmental issues are the sole academic focus, were asked to suggest one thing people could do to live more sustainably.

Reducing consumption came out on top, followed by a suggestion that people change their eating habits to include less meat, especially red meat, and more locally produced foods.

“The crises the earth faces are not environmental problems,” said Dr. Susan Senecah, an environmental studies professor whose research focuses on public participation and public policy. “They are human problems—human appetites, human decisions for behavior, human-created policies, human decisions for research, etc.”

More than 25 percent of the respondents said curbing consumption is the first step toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

“Think before you act. Think about everything you do and ask if it might make the world a better place,” said research biologist Dr. H. Brian Underwood. “Use the most important tool of sustainability nature has ever crafted: your brain.”

“Curb your consumerism. In plain English, just don’t buy ‘stuff’ when you shop. Just look,” suggested Dr. Chad Dawson, who teaches wilderness and forest recreation management.

About 20 percent of the respondents said a change in eating habits is a good way to start.

“The easiest thing an individual can do is to plant a vegetable garden and go off a red meat diet,” said Dr. Allan Drew, a forest ecologist.

Growing vegetables eliminates shipping, cuts costs and reduces the need to mow part of a lawn, Drew said. For people who don’t want to give up beef, eating beef from locally raised, grass-fed cattle eliminates overuse of antibiotics and preservatives and allows land to return to a forested state so it can sequester more carbon, Drew said.

Bradley K. Woodward, the food service manager at the ESF Ranger School in the Adirondacks, made a suggestion closely related to his own area of expertise: “Eat less meat.”

The third most common answer was to reduce energy use by walking or riding a bike.

“Walk or bike instead of drive, take the stairs instead of the elevator, rake instead of leaf blow, use a manual mower instead of a gas-driven one. Use exercise to do productive things,” said John Auwaerter, a staff member in the Department of Landscape Architecture.

Other suggestions were having fewer children (overpopulation is the world’s biggest environmental challenge, according to the 2009 ESF survey), using wood for construction and energy because it’s a renewable resource, and increasing energy efficiency.

Claire B. Dunn | Newswise Science News
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