Celebrating World Environment Day in many ways seems a little strange for me. I practice permaculture, so in my world, every day is World Environment Day. I’m always thinking of nature: how to rehabilitate or conserve diverse natural systems, how to cooperate with local ecologies to meet my own needs, how to use less energy to create less pollution to better protect the environment.
For me, this is how we need to think all the time, not just on Arbor Day or Earth Day or, indeed, World Environment Day. While I recognise the purpose behind such events, an opportunity to raise awareness and collectively share thoughts about the environment, the other 364 days are every bit as important for doing this, aren’t they? So, for this World Environment Day, that’s what I want focus on: every other day.
This, then, segues sensibly into practicing permaculture. While permaculture might be summed up as a design science for many, I think that largely fails to encapsulate what is actually going on. We aren’t designing just gardens or food forests or energy-efficient homes or composting systems or community networks; rather, we are designing all of this and more. In a word, then, permaculture is a lifestyle design.
Living sustainably, in tune with nature, requires a massive deviation from the status quo in the world. Rather than lives consumed with consumption, we devote much of our time to keeping our sustainable systems healthy: the garden mulched and producing, the forest growing, the water cycled, the house in good nick, the compost turned, the community engaged, and on goes the to-do list.
World Environment Day, then, becomes a break in which to celebrate all the good work we are already doing. So, for those interested in making a lasting change, here are some things that you can begin today to honour World Environment Day with a new habit, hobby, or hope that will reverberate until next June 5th.
1. Commit to growing a vegetable garden or food forest this year
Growing a garden is beneficial to the environment in so many ways. Not only are we able to produce food organically at home, reducing food miles and thwarting agrochemical dependency, but we are creating biodiversity right in our own yards. Bees, butterflies, birds, worms, frogs, lizards, snakes and all sorts of valuable insects and animals benefit from an organically grown garden with a full mix of vegetables, flowers, herbs, fruit trees, berry bushes, and so on.
While keeping a garden definitely requires time and effort, the paybacks for the gardener and the environment are huge.
2. Begin boycotting a destructive company/product
Every dollar we spend on palm oil sourced from a felled rainforest where endangered animals once lived, every shirt we buy stitched together with chemically grown cotton by underpaid hands, every bag of corn chips made from GMO corn grown in monocrop fields with petroleum-run machinery—every one of these things and so many more are our dollars going towards the continuation of both environmental and human injustice. So, we can individually make the choice to stop buying from a certain company (or companies) and stop buying certain products.
Yes, boycotting might mean that we go without something we’ve grown accustomed to having or—for those of us who are really lucky—that we might spend more on that thing, but isn’t that something worth doing if it makes a difference? Even if the most apparent difference it makes is in our own psyche?
3. Pledge to buy things secondhand as a first option
Buying items—clothing, tools, dishes, instruments, cutlery, computers, equipment, furniture, cars, electronics, phones, etc.—secondhand makes such an overwhelming difference in terms of the resources mined on our behalf, the shipping of items for us to buy, the amount of rubbish sent to landfills, the amount of packaging used, and so many other things. This choice reverberates in terms of our personal footprints on the planet.
Ironically, buying secondhand often means we can afford more expensive, higher quality versions of things that, then, last longer than the cheap version we might have bought new. In fact, this is a good way to approach shopping for secondhand goods. Another good approach is to be patient to find what you are looking for. We don’t always need everything today.
4. Learn a new skill to help with sustainable living
Often not knowing how to do something is the greatest impediment to us making choices and taking action that could actually matter. At some point, everyone now alive who can grow tomatoes didn’t know how to grow tomatoes. Everyone who has built an eco-efficient cabin did for a first time. Maybe I’ve never set up a solar power system, or maybe you’ve never taken down a building to repurpose the lumber or made your own compost. We can all learn to do something new. Why shouldn’t that thing be something that helps out the planet by you living more sustainably.
5. Preserve food every month for leaner times
Like gardening, preserving food at home makes a massive difference in the way our food system—a very troubled and troubling system—works. Whether it’s canning, fermenting, freezing, or dehydrating, preserving food at home means we go to the supermarket less, which means we drive less and rely on mass agriculture less. It means we take up less resources, cause less food miles, and become more self-reliant.
This all benefits the environment as well as us as individuals. It creates food security with what’s abundant when it’s abundant, meaning we are shipping strawberries halfway across the world so somebody can have a smoothie in December.
6. Audit your waste production and find ways to improve it
Odds are many of us are producing more trash than we’d like to, but just the same, we probably aren’t doing anything to change that. Well, that’s just laziness on our part. It’s possible, even in today’s plastic world, to live without constantly sending bags of trash to landfill. It’s possible to repurpose, recycle, reuse, compost, sheet mulch, sell, and take other routes that might require slightly more time but might also make a difference.
Why not start a trash audit for the month of June? Hang on to all the trash you create, then at the end of the month, analyse what’s there and make some choices as to how you might decrease the volume.
7. Replace store-bought cleaners/toiletries with homemade versions
Supermarkets, marketing schemes, and fear-mongering have created horribly polluted environments that are somehow sterilised and clean but, at the same time, killing us and the planet slowly. We use poisonous and dangerous chemicals to clean our homes, to scrub our tiles, to brush our teeth, to wash our hair, and pretty much every task inside the house. In truth, we can make effective, natural cleaning and hygiene products with a handful of natural ingredients for far less money.
Absolutely, brushing your teeth with homemade toothpaste is different. Indeed, cleaning with vinegar doesn’t smell as “fresh” as doing it with some petro-chemically created fragrance. But, we can totally function as healthy (healthier, actually), happy people with homemade cleaners and toiletries.
8. Improve your homes energy efficiency
An energy-efficient home isn’t the same as improving your homes energy-efficiency. Many more of us would probably prefer to live in homes run on renewable energy with little demand for heating, cooling, or pumping water. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t in the position to make those choices with our current homes. However, we can improve our energy-efficiency with simple choices that might slightly change the way we currently live for the good of the environment.
In the summer, we could tolerate temperatures two or three degrees warmer inside, and vice versa in the winter. We could open our windows more when the weather is nice. We could cut down on our appliances, particularly those that require a lot of energy. We could hang clothes out instead of using the dryer. We could do all sorts of things on a daily basis. Every bit of energy we don’t use equates to less resources needing to be mined, less pollution spewed in the atmosphere, and less trees, mountains, oceans, animals, fields, and coastlines suffering so we can use more electricity.
9. Reduce your daily water usage with systemic changes
Just as with energy, technologically modern homes have taken advantage—in a bad way—of having mains water plumbed into the home. We leave taps running. We take showers as if water is endless because it more or less feels that way. We irrigate lawns with clean, fresh water whilst flushing perfectly adequate grey-water down the drain. We pressure wash instead of scrub. We do all sorts of things that threaten and pollute our small and rapidly dwindling freshwater supply.
Whatever changes we could make to our routines matter. We could use the water we wash vegetables with to water the vegetables growing in the garden. We could get a composting toilet or, at a minimum, make the flush toilet use less water (try tank bricks).
10. Start a composting system at home, for a friend, or in the community
Making compost is the ultimate green act in the environmental movement because it functions on so many levels. It reduces the waste we create. In reducing the waste, it turns the organic material into rich soil. The rich soil is full of microorganisms, all of which functions within the natural food chain, helping to support the local ecosystem. With that rich soil, we can grow nutrient-rich food to nourish our bodies, and we won’t even need to think about needing chemical fertilisers or pesticides because the plants are healthy. Then, with the produce the compost helped to grow, we can make more compost.
While all of that is happening, we are eliminating food miles, packaging, agrochemicals, garbage, pollution, and other problematic things. If we were all composting, the world would be such a better place.
Too often, it seems, people confuse appreciating nature with taking a moment to get into the wilderness for our own benefit. This appreciation can manifest in fairly benign activities like hiking in national forests, but sometimes it mistakenly appears as four-wheel drives tearing up the desert, motorboats damaging coral reefs, or golfers striding leisurely through the chemically constructed landscapes. Shouldn’t making time for nature be about doing something good for natural systems as opposed to our own entertainment?
While human enjoyment of nature benefits natural systems by the simple fact that we will want to continue having these places to enjoy, what is more appreciative is the consistent efforts we make caring for the environment: lessening food miles, reducing energy demands, promoting biodiversity, hydrating landscapes, building soils, preventing agricultural pollution, shopping responsibly, and any number of things that are not one day endeavours or necessarily about recreation (though pottering in the garden or repurposing old lumber is paradise for some of us).
If the catchphrase of World Environment Day this year is “time for nature”, then by Gaia, we should be sure to devote time to it. This year could be the year someone finally puts in a garden, someone else starts boycotting palm oil, and another person learns how to install a grey-water system. That’s worth celebrating.