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Time to Change the Climate: 10 Green Steps Families Can Take

Admiring the sunset on a family journey

How do you reduce climate change at home? Turn up the thermostat so it’s not so cold, right? That’s not exactly what we have in mind, although that’s fine – you shouldn’t ever have to be too cold or too hot in your own home in the name of “going green.”

But what we’re talking about here is global climate change. What can you do individually, with your family and in your own home, to reduce it? Here’s my two cents – 10 ideas to get you going:

1. Decide it’s real

Educate yourself and your family enough so that you take climate change seriously. It’s certainly not the only social issue you should care about, but it needs to be in the mix. And it is a social issue. Effects on humans have already begun and are potentially devastating, from droughts to flooding to other extreme weather. Info about all this is readily available online or at the library.

2. Commit

Spend time actually doing something about climate change. This could include taking some of the specific suggestions described below, but it could also include getting involved with regional organizations such as Climate Solutions or national activist groups such as Bill McKibben’s 350.org.

3. Kill two birds with one stone

Hey, that’s not very green, is it? Let’s change that old saying to, ”Set two birds free at once!” Basically we’re talking about taking steps to reduce climate change that will also have other benefits for your family. Such as: Reduce the amount you drive, and you and the kids get more exercise by biking or walking. Use reusable water bottles and durable shopping bags, and you save money.

4. Get lit

Any new light bulbs in your home should be LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs. These are finally affordable now and are a better energy-conserving choice than CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps), since CFL bulbs break too easily and contain mercury.

5. Lasso the sun

Isn’t there some old fable about that? Anyway, why not harness the sun yourself by installing solar panels on your roof? Like LEDs, solar panels have gotten more affordable lately, especially if you join one of the neighborhood solar projects in the Seattle area. Or embrace “passive solar” by using the heat and light from the sun in your home and yard as much as possible. Dry clothes outside when you can, since clothes dryers use a ridiculous amount of energy.

Cute boy at the farmer's market6. Have an appetite to reduce climate change

We all have to eat, and plenty of food-related opportunities exist to reduce our environmental impacts. Grow your own. Eat less red meat, since producing it is so energy-intensive. Buy organic. Buy local.

7. Move

Just like you have to do as a parent, I’m going to practice a little “tough love” and tell you something you probably don’t want to hear. You ever see that guy on the Internet who says, “The Rent is Too Damn High”? Well, for many of us, our houses are too damn big. If you’re in a giganto house you can’t even afford to fill with furniture, go smaller with your next house. Or rent out part of it. You don’t need all those rooms. And small houses are a lot easier to clean! America’s big houses are a big reason why America is such an energy hog.

8. Eject from the car culture

I love those old James Bond movies where he had an ejector seat. Consider doing that with your family: Launch yourself away from the car culture. Create an atmosphere at home that says driving is not one of the most important things in life. Show your kids by example that a car is a tool, like a bottle of shampoo, except a lot more expensive and a lot more dangerous (to the climate and humans both).

9. Get some skin in the game

Invest yourself in changing the climate for the better. The best way to do this is to volunteer. Find a community project that helps reduce climate change and put in some time working at it. One example of a cool project is tool-sharing libraries. When you share tools you’re consuming less, and the awesome tool libraries in West Seattle and Northeast Seattle are always looking for volunteers.

10. Bag the guilt

Now that I’ve suggested some pretty radical lifestyle changes, let me end by saying – and I’m actually serious – that it doesn’t help a damn bit to feel guilty. Don’t do it. Feeling guilty – and its partner in crime, judging others – are a huge waste of time and energy. That doesn’t mean that you should do nothing of course, but it does mean you shouldn’t beat yourself up for not doing enough. As the old cliché goes, life is too short. It’s too short not to have fun. And it’s also too short to ignore the future.

Tom Watson is the EcoconsumerAbout the author: Tom Watson manages the EcoConsumer public education program for King County Recycling and Environmental Services. He has worked in the waste reduction and recycling field for 25 years and is still having fun. Tom and his family live in Seattle’s Central District. You can contact him at tom.watson@kingcounty.gov or 206-296-4481.

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