Charles Dickens was right. The worst of times can also be the best of times. No doubt, this economic season that seems to bleed Wall Street daily is difficult for many American families: lost jobs, home foreclosures, plummeting retirement funds, college plans postponed; the discouraging list goes on and on. However, there is a silver lining: The current economic downturn is actually good for the planet. Although the motivation for families cutting back is primarily based on financial need, the planet is coming out a clear winner. Less consumption equals less trash, less waste, and less harm to the air and water, which in turn is good news for every human, animal and plant species that inhabits the earth. People are driving less, buying fewer throwaway cups of coffee, taking vacations closer to home – all the lifestyle changes that environmentalists have been recommending for years. It is as if we were not able to put the brakes on and discipline ourselves, so market forces (or God, the G-20 or whatever you believe, depending on your worldview) have brought our runaway consumption to a halt for us.
I am heartbroken by the many news broadcasts that show the suffering of American families. In the midst of this pain, however, are some positive trends. We are witnessing a new wave of families not waiting for government or business to take action, but rather turning to the ingenuity and wisdom our grandparents. According to the National Gardening Association, 7 million more households will grow fruits and vegetables this year, representing a 19 percent increase since 2008. Ball and Kerr canning and preserving products at Jarden Corp. are up more than 30 percent from 2008. Ryan Bennett, a pastor in Tennessee whose congregation is going green for both economic and biblical stewardship reasons, says that all of these lifestyle changes “result in less focus on the material world and more on family, friends and spiritual growth.”
My husband, Matthew, and I are traveling environmental ministers. Yes, it’s a bizarre concept in today’s culture, but we actually live what we preach. Most people pause when they hear that my electricity bill last month was $16, including taxes and transmission fees. My son’s utility bill in his downtown apartment was $12, including electric heat. While traveling throughout the Bible Belt and across the country sharing how our family reduced our electricity usage by nine-tenths and fossil fuel use by two-thirds, I am inspired by the stories I hear from everyday people. In order to save our precious Earth’s resources, it is going to take everyday people doing their duty, every day. Congress can’t send a bailout check to Mother Nature, but we can send her a humble donation by doing our part.
Matthew and I were led to change our lifestyle while he was serving as the chief of staff at a hospital in New England. He and many experts are linking the huge increase in our exposure to hormones in foods, such as meat and milk, to the epidemic of reproductive cancers. Similarly, the antibiotics used in factory farms result in bacteria that require more and more powerful antibiotics to control illnesses. Moved to do something, we asked ourselves, “If the planet is dying, what are we going to do about it?” Going green and teaching green was the answer for us; now we help others implement green living practices at home, work, school, church and beyond.
Last Saturday, more than 1,100 pounds of beef (locally raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free, grass-fed) was delivered to my house. When I sent out an e-mail to a few friends saying I was looking into sharing a cow at $2.50 per pound, I had so many calls that we had to double the order. Not only is this meat less expensive and healthier for our families, it’s healthier for the earth. An added bonus is a new community of friends who are making lifestyle changes together to save money while saving the planet.
Many people think that going green is only for what Ken Silvestri, a real estate professional in Lexington, Ky., affectionately refers to as “guppies” – green urban professionals. In reality, according to Tightwad Gazette guru Amy Dacyczyn, frugality and green living overlap about 90 percent of the time. Most of the savings come in what we are not doing – canceling the cable contract and instead spending more time outdoors; eating home-cooked meals instead of eating out; visiting the library instead of buying new books.
Today, Earth Day, start a garden, plant some fruit trees, or organize a local-foods picnic. Resolve to start at least one green habit and keep it going throughout the year. The resulting environmental upturn will long outlast today’s economic downturn – a gift to the Earth we all can celebrate.
Nancy Sleeth is the author of “Go Green, $ave Green: A Simple Guide to Saving Time, Money, and God’s Green Earth” (Tyndale House Publishers), and the codirector of Blessed Earth, a faith-based environmental nonprofit that focuses on creation care. For more information on how you can go green, visit www.gogreenthebook.com.