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this earth day, make the world a better place
and not just with your gorgeous smile!
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)
pop culture

"Another day, another dollar." Or, perhaps you've heard, bitterly and far more appropriate to the current economic situation: "Same shit, different day."

It's always a cycle for us, whether we be creative types or worker bees in cubicle farms, however exciting life can be one day, it's usually back to normal the next. Or, whatever the closest approximation to 'normal' can be.

Unfortunately, the same logic can't be applied to the planet we call home. "Another day...same earth" just doesn't have quite the same ring to it. With good reason. It's the only one we have. And we haven't been taking good care of her. Just like a goldfish will die if the water is left to stagnate too long, so too will the earth die if we keep taking resources and not giving back.

Today is Earth Day 2009.

I'm not going to preach. I just want to suggest. No one likes to be poked and prodded into action, and this is meant to be merely a gentle guiding touch. This is just a list. It isn't even in any particular order. They are not commandments and they are not requirements. Pick one. Pick all. Pick four. Pick none. It's completely up to you. But I hope you'll at least give some thought to this and hopefully your habits and the habits of those around you will change for the better.

To start, as a flight attendant, I see a lot of people carrying a lot of baggage (and it's not all physical, let me assure you!). If just one passenger per each flight in the world this year packed one pound less of luggage, they would save enough fuel to fly a Boeing 737 around the world 474 times. Next time you travel by air, think what clothing can do double duty and what 'necessities' can stay at home.

I know in these economic times, we find ourselves scaling down on things we used to take for granted. Local Newspapers have taken a huge impact from these cut-backs. If you're still reading papers, take a moment to ruminate on this: If every newspaper reader in the U.S. recycled just one Sunday paper and all its inclusions, it would generate 212 million pounds of cellulose insulation, enough to insulate 118,767 Habitat for Humanity homes, twice as many homes as Habitat has built in the U.S. so far.

Speaking of Habitat for Humanity, have you volunteered this year? Think about donating your time, instead of money to a service or cause. Maybe one you've thought of before - volunteering at an animal shelter. Maybe one that would give the receiver more joy than you can imagine - volunteering at a retirement home. Maybe one that would give a family and generations to come hope and community - Habitat for Humanity is one, but I know of church groups that do the same thing in underprivileged and third world countries.

Having been to a few of these third world countries, I can tell you first hand that the luxuries we take for granted are completely alien to some people in the world. Have you seen those commercials for 'squeezably soft' toilet paper? I won't name names, but if we replaced just one 500-sheet roll of virgin toilet paper a year with one 500-sheet roll of 100 percent recycled paper in every American household would leave 424,000 trees standing—16 times as many trees as in New York City’s Central Park. It may feel like 'sandpaper' to our pampered bums, but you do get used to it, and hey - at least it's not your hand, as is used in some impoverished countries!

I mentioned recycled toilet paper, and I refuse to harp on recycling alone, but please, keep doing it! Regarding recycling, I found this interesting tidbit as well: One soft drink can recycled by each elementary school student in America would save 24.8 million cans. That would be enough aluminum to create 21 Boeing 737 airplanes. Now, *I* know how much aluminum that is, since I spend quite a lot of time on 737 airplanes, but you may not. It's practically unfathomable to think of how many aluminum cans can create an entire airplane, but not unfathomable once you look at the sales of soft drinks and juices in cans! Easy peasy! We could almost build one in a day!

The next tip is totally a personal pet peeve. Remember in school when it was always too hot in the winter and too cold in the summer? I remember FREEZING during exam week - I guess they were just trying to keep us awake. But, if the thermostats in every house in America were lowered 1 degree Fahrenheit during the winter, the nation would save 230 million barrels of crude oil—enough to fill an oil tanker 400 times. (That’s the amount of oil being imported into the United States from Iraq each year.) I try to keep my thermostat at 69 in the winter (and use my electric blanket) and the air conditioning no lower than 78 in the summer. It seems to do the trick.

I just got back from Cairo, Egypt and it was already hot there, and they assume all Americans want air-conditioning turned way low. Boy were they surprised when I declined it! And mentioning Egypt brought up another interesting fact: One old cell phone recycled by each cell phone user in America would reclaim enough precious metals to create 631 solid gold replicas of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen’s funerary mask. I had no idea. But I do know that I like gold, and I think I need to go dig up my old cell phones and pry them apart. I mean...donate them. Of course.

I would love to go on all day about this - and believe me, I'd feel no remorse except for the energy used in reading this on your computer...but then, it's not like you were doing work anyway! I'll end with a few more suggestions for Earth Day:

- Change your paper bills to e-bills. Save paper.
- See if you can telecommute just one day a month, a quarter, a year.
- Catch public transportation once a week instead of taking the car.
- Cut your shower time by one minute.
- Install a dual flush toilet.
- Practice good recycling, look up online how to recycle electronics, motor oil, paint and batteries.
- Buy local. Meat, eggs, dairy, veggies and fruits.
- Use a water purifier and reuse your bottles.
- Try Freecycling or craigslist to get rid of unwanted items or find used items.
- Buy in Bulk - reduce packaging waste and save money.
- BYOB - bring your own reusable bags to the grocery stores.
- Ensure your home is well insulated and leaks are attended to as soon as possible to reduce heat and water inefficiency.
- Turn off appliances and lights when not in use! This saves energy, which saves money. Which is GOOD.

I hope something, anything sparked your interest in this column. I know I've missed a lot, and I absolutely hope that whatever I've missed gets commented upon in the column to the right. I'm hoping everyone will emerge from Earth Day 2009 just a little better informed and a little more motivated to making this a great year for themselves as well as the Earth. Which, in turn, will provide more beautiful years of sustainable life for us!


Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

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sandra thompson
4.22.09 @ 8:14a

Thank you, Maigen. We needed that. I'm happy to report that I started doing all those things a few years ago, some as many as 30 years ago. I became born again as an environmental activist in 1971. As you can see, I haven't done much good. Maybe you will!!!

lucy lediaev
4.22.09 @ 12:16p

Change your paper bills to e-bills. Save paper.
Not only will you save paper, you save the cost of stamps and lots of time. My bills are taken care of with little or no time on my part and my housemate takes hours to write checks, record them, stuff them in envelopes, and then apply stamps and return address labels.

Also, on baggage, I'm amazed at how much people take with them for even just a weekend--LA to Vegas flights run out of internal baggage space all the time. My friend and I can share a weekender sized suitcase when we travel together. I learned to travel lightly when I had to schlep my luggage on and off planes and trains when traveling abroad on business years ago.

One of my tricks is to find the oldest. shabbiest of my undies when going on a long trip. I wear and discard them as I go (sorry, I don't know where to recycle dirty underwear).

If I carry a book with me, I pass it along when I finish it so I'm only carrying one book at a time, thus lightening the load I carry with me in transit.

scott humphrey
4.23.09 @ 1:59a

I agree with renewable resources; it is because I respect the trees and other elements we take from the earth. But, to assume that we are a threat to the Earth is ludicrous. The Earth is a self correcting system; throughout the almost 5 billion years it has been in existence it has been through calamitous events including ice ages, solar radiation storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles, thousands of years of meteoric bombardment, and at one time the Earth was mostly filled with lava. The planet will be fine, we will be fucked. 200 years of industrialization is analogous to one flea on the Earths back. I realize I will take some heat for this.


lucy lediaev
4.23.09 @ 5:22p

Scott, I think you hit the nail on the head. If we want an earth that sustains human life, we have to take care of the systems that support us. Earth will be here for many, many eons, but we could, as a lifeform, be gone in a flash. Therefore, one could say that the issue is not "saving the Earth," but extending human life on earth.

scott humphrey
4.24.09 @ 12:32p

Phew, I thought I would get the smack down for that for sure. The problem with Earth Day and "save the planet" is that it is hypocritical at best. Earth day celebrations leave behind tons of garbage every year, people do it because it makes them feel special. And saving the planet? As a species we have not learned to "care" for anything yet, least of all our selves. The main reason behind the political green movement is to establish carbon car and trade laws. This means we will be paying taxes on every carbon emission that we may be personally responsible for, including every mile you drive in your car, if you have a farm, and I don't mean this to be funny; cow fart emissions, and plastic products. It will end up being another system of control and limitation rather than having true leaders that will do what is necessary to improve life on the planet like removing the electric car battery patent from big oil and mass produce electric cars we will simply put up phony solutions to relatively fixable problems. If there was any truth left in our leadership around the world my guess is the planet and our species would be in a much different place. In the meantime, continue to take care of each other.

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