Living Responsibly: December—Choose Reusable Shopping Bags!

“Therefore strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers.” —‘Abdu’l-Bahá

To help all of us incorporate into our lives actions that treat our physical surroundings with the respect they deserve, the Wilmette Institute has asked Christine Muller (faculty for its Climate Change and Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind courses) to give us monthly suggestions that will help each of us be more socially and environmentally responsible in our lives. We hope that, as we make these suggestions part of our habits, we will collectively be contributing to the elimination of climate change. —THE EDITORS

by Christine Muller


reusable shopping bagsChoose Reusable Shopping Bags! Using reusable shopping bags made out of good-quality cloth bags or from recycled plastic should be a no-brainer. That will save thousands of single-use bags. Here is why: “Shoppers worldwide are using approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year. . . . 100,000 marine creatures a year die from plastic entanglement and these are the ones found. Approximately 1 million sea birds also die from plastic. A plastic bag can kill numerous animals because they take so long to disintegrate.” Plastic bags can take a thousand years to decompose. When they do, they break down into small toxic pieces that pollute our oceans and soils. “It takes 0.48 MJ (megajoules) of energy to produce a plastic bag.” That is the energy equivalent to burning a 100-watt lightbulb for 1 ¼ hours. The manufacturing of both plastic and paper bags contributes to global warming, but paper bags are especially problematic because they require the cutting of forests. When making choices, keep in mind Bahá’u’lláh’s statement: “He that riseth to serve My Cause should manifest My wisdom. . . . .”

Tips from Previous Months

an American homeNOVEMBER: Insulate Your House! Insulating your house saves a great deal of energy. At a time when humankind must quickly and significantly reduce carbon emissions to avoid the worst consequences of global warming, using less oil, gas, and electricity to heat and cool your house is important. Adding more insulation to your loft, attic, or flat roof is very effective. Caulking and weather stripping will further weatherize your home by air sealing it. An energy audit may help you identify the areas of your house that are leaking. Reducing heat loss will significantly lower your heating bills and should pay for itself many times over. Insulating our homes is beneficial not only for us, but for all of humankind. For more information, see Energy Savers: Tips on Saving Money & Energy At Home and Air Sealing Your Home.

OCTOBER: Let’s Go for a Walk or Bike Ride or Car Pool to Meetings! In the United States “air pollution causes about 200,000 early deaths each year.” “Emissions from road transportation are the most significant contributor” among ground-level emissions, “causing 53,000 premature deaths. . . .” Moreover, “cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all US emissions” of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas that warms up the Earth. Warmer temperatures increase the severity and destructiveness of floods and storms. Thus there is a connection between our driving and the suffering of people. What can we do to reduce our contribution to vehicle pollution? Only drive if it is absolutely necessary. Combine several errands in one trip. Carpool. When buying a new car, look for the most fuel efficient model or, even better, for a hybrid or electric car. If you can, be car free. Use public transportation, walk, and bike!

Fresh assorted vegetables in boxes on farmer's marketSEPTEMBER: Shop Locally, Support Local Agriculture! How can we as individuals put into practice the teaching of Bahá’u’lláh that “Special regard must be paid to agriculture”? Three actions will set us on the path to do just that. We can buy our fruits and vegetables directly from local farmers. Or we can buy locally grown produce at local farmers’ markets. Or we can become part of a CSA—Community Supported Agriculture—and pick up a box of produce regularly. How do such actions relate to Bahá’u’lláh’s admonition? When we buy in these ways, we do much good: (1) It is good for our health to eat produce that is fresh and in season. (2) It is good for local agriculture, which is very important for future food security, especially at a time of increasing turmoil in the world and of worsening impacts of climate change on food production. And, (3), it is good for the planet, for some produce sold in supermarkets has traveled long distances and is packaged in materials that we will throw away.

a plastic water bottleAUGUST: Give Up Bottled Water—Go Back to the Tap! Bahá’ulláh and the Báb both teach us to live a pure life. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá’u’lláh ordains the use of clean water for bathing. How much more important is it that the water we drink is clean. Bottled water is not necessarily cleaner than tap water, and in the United States it is much less regulated. Chemical leakage from the plastic is a serious health concern, especially when the bottle is exposed to heat. The cost of bottled water is about 1,000 times more than that for tap water, and the environmental cost of bottled water is astronomical: “It takes about 72 billion gallons of water a year, worldwide, just to make the empty bottles.” “The energy used each year making the bottles needed to meet the demand for bottled water in the United States is equivalent to more than 17 million barrels of oil. That’s enough to fuel over 1 million cars for a year.” The discarded bottles are a long-term waste problem. Recycling them may help somewhat, but does not solve the problems. The best solution is to drink tap water, filtered if necessary, and, when traveling, to take along a stainless steel or BPA-free reusable plastic bottle. For more information, watch the 8 minute Story of Bottled Water.

Photo: United Nations

JULY: Go Solar! Why should you consider solar power? The science is clear: Generating electricity from coal, oil, and gas causes emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, both of which we must reduce quickly and substantially if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change. It makes sense to use the energy that the sun provides us for free and naturally without pollution. There are only two prerequisites: Your roof needs to be sunny and in good condition. What are the financial implications? In the long-term, solar power makes good economic sense almost everywhere because the cost of solar panels has come down tremendously in the past years. Moreover, there are many federal and state incentives. Hence the cost of installing solar power depends on where you live. In some states, the incentives are so excellent that you do not need to put any money down. In other programs you can pay for the installation with the generation of electricity on your roof. Many people these days install solar power merely for its economic benefit. Bahá’ís should have a deeper motivation—love for creation and humankind. For more information about solar power, check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency  and State-by-state guides to investing in home solar power.

T-Shirts hanging out to dryJUNE:  Hang Your Laundry Out to Dry for the Children of the World! Laundry dryers require a lot of electricity. Energy production comes at a great cost to the environment and to human beings all around the world. One thing we all can do is to hang up our clothes to air dry—in our yard or balcony in the summer, and indoors in winter, where they will nicely humidify our living quarters. Are you thinking that it’s too time consuming? Consider this: your clothes will last a lot longer this way, and you will save much time, planetary resources, and money by reducing shopping trips to the mall. In addition, for a good part of the year, while hanging up your laundry to dry, you can enjoy the sun and the sound of the birds and think about your connection with people all around the world and with future generations who will all greatly benefit from such collective individual actions.

MAY: Ethical and Easy Lawns! Lawn chemicals are very toxic and especially harmful to children and pets. Gasoline lawn mowers cause air pollution and emit carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming. Irrigation requires large amounts of water. There are creative ways to tackle these problems: Reduce the size of your lawn, and plant a vegetable garden, berry bushes, or perennial flowers. Let your lawn naturalize: Without herbicides, you will be able to enjoy an increasing diversity of plants and flowers. The more diverse an ecosystem is, the more resilient it is. Hence you will not need to water or fertilize (instead, leave short grass clippings as nutrients), and you can enjoy the diversity of colors that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes in a beautiful garden. Your own children and your neighbor’s cat will thank you, as well as pollinators, other wildlife, and future generations.

APRIL: Buy Clean Energy! Much of our electricity comes from coal and gas. Burning coal releases mercury into the air, which is very toxic and which accumulates higher in the food chain—for example, in tuna fish. Burning coal also releases many air pollutants that cause asthma and a large amount of greenhouse gases that heats up our planet and disrupts our climate. In many states in the United States, it is possible to buy electricity produced from wind and solar energy in a more environmentally responsible way than is electricity from burning coal. You can buy clean energy directly from your regular energy provider, paying a little bit more (it is tax deductible in some places, such as Rhode Island). But you will be supporting clean energy, which means cleaner air, cleaner water, less damage to the climate, and, for all of these reasons, healthier people.

MARCH: Eat Less Beef! One benefit of the Bahá’í Fast (19 days long, in March) is that we more often think about people who suffer from hunger. Did you know that you can help reduce hunger all year long by eating less beef? Beef production requires about ten times more land area to feed a person than a plant based diet. In addition, it takes about 2,500 gallons of water to grow the grain for one pound of beef. Moreover, greenhouse gas emissions from cows are a very significant factor in global warming, which causes erratic weather patterns, more severe droughts, floods, and storms. All these impacts on the climate are harmful to agriculture and, therefore, increase malnourishment. For more information, see Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health.

FEBRUARY: Do a Home Energy Audit! An energy audit is the best first step to make your home more energy efficient. It usually includes checking your home for leakage, assessing its insulation and heating system, and evaluating your lighting and appliances for energy efficiency. In some states such as Florida and Rhode Island, the government or public utility companies offer attractive incentives for energy audits or for energy-saving home improvements. Of course, using less energy will save you money, but it also reduces environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and, therefore, lessens your contribution to global warming. As science tells us, climate change causes much human suffering. Thus, when you use less energy, you help reduce human suffering.

JANUARY: Search as Service! Instead of using Google to search for an answer to your question, use the search engine You will get the answer you need. But, more important, Ecosia will plant a tree for every search you make (using 80 percent of its revenue for the project). Forests are important for biodiversity and water security. They are also good for the climate (they absorb carbon dioxide) and make for happy people. In nine months, one Baha’i “planted” 507 trees and counting.

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