10 Reasons to Go Green Starting NOW

Wind turbine from aerial view in morning

 

Prasit photo / Getty Images 

From the archives: Updated September 20, 2019

You've probably noticed that green is everywhere these days – in the news, politics, fashion, and even technology. That's all great as far as we're concerned, but with a million messages and ideas coming at us from all sides, it can be easy to get caught up in the quotidian stuff – ditching single-use plastics, turning down the thermostat, recycling, say – without thinking about the big picture of how your actions stack up. Worse, you could even be suffering from a little green "fatigue" – that is, tuning out the green messages due to their ubiquity.

While it's easy to get overwhelmed, it's also simple to begin making a positive impact. Since it's helpful to understand the big picture when it comes setting to smaller goals, we've adjusted our focus for this guide; a departure from out typical "how to go green" content, which typically tackles very specific topics such as kitchens, cars, or pets – to take a broader look at the reasons behind why we should go green.

As globalization makes the world become smaller, it becomes increasingly easy to see how the lives of people (and plants and animals and ecosystems) everywhere are closely synced up with one another. So toys made in China can affect the quality of life in Europe, pesticides used in Argentina can affect the health of people in the U.S., and greenhouse gas emissions from Australia can affect a diminishing rainforest in Brazil.

The truth is that everything we do every day has an impact on the planet – good or bad. The good news is that as an individual you have the power to control most of your actions and, therefore, the impact you create. From where you live to what you buy, eat, and use to light your home to where and how you vacation, to how you shop or vote – you can have global impact. For example, did you know that 25 percent of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from flora that come from the Amazon rainforest? And that less than one percent of these tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists? These numbers suggest that we all have a large (and growing) personal stake in the health and vitality of places far and near. In addition to protecting biodiversity (and inspiring medicine), rainforests are also excellent carbon sinks. Bottom line: It benefits everyone on the planet to help keep our wild spaces alive and growing.

But embracing a greener lifestyle isn't just about helping to preserve equatorial rain forests, it can also mean improving your health, padding your bank account, and, ultimately, improving your overall quality of life. All that and you can save furry animals, too? Why wouldn't anyone want to green? Keep reading for all the important, big-picture details.

Why to Go Green: By the Numbers as of 2014

  • 1 pound per hour: the amount of carbon dioxide that is saved from entering the atmosphere for every kilowatt-hour of renewable energy produced.
  • 60 percent: the reduction in developmental problems in children in China who were born after a coal-burning power plant closed in 2006.
  • 35 percent: the amount of coal's energy that is actually converted to electricity in a coal-burning power plant. The other two-thirds is lost to heat.
  • 5 percent: the percentage of the world's carbon dioxide emissions produced by air travel.
  • 1.5 acres: the amount of rainforest lost every second to land development and deforestation, with tremendous losses to habitat and biodiversity.
  • 137: the number of plant, animal and insect species lost every day to rainforest deforestation, equating to roughly 50,000 species per year.
  • 4 pounds, 6 ounces: the amount of cosmetics that can be absorbed through the skin of a woman who wears makeup every day, over the period of one year.
  • 61 percent: the percentage of women's lipstick, out of the 33 popular brands tested, found to contain lead in a test by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in 2007.
  • 1 out of 100: the number of U.S. households that would need to be retrofitted with water-efficient appliances to realize annual savings of 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 3 trillion: the number of gallons of water, along with $18 billion, the U.S. would save each year if every household invested in water-saving appliances.
  • 86.6 million tons: the amount of material prevented from going to landfill or incineration thanks to recycling and composting in 2012.
  • 95 percent: the amount of energy saved by recycling an aluminum can versus creating the can from virgin aluminum. That means you can make 20 cans out of recycled material with the same amount of energy it takes to make one can out of new material. Energy savings in one year alone are enough to light a city the size of Pittsburgh for six years.
  • 113,204: the number, on average, of aluminum cans recycled each minute of each day.
  • 3: the number of hours a computer can run on the energy saved from recycling just one aluminum can.
  • 40 percent: the percentage of energy saved by recycling newsprint over producing it from virgin materials.

Sources: Consumer Reports, Environmental Health Perspectives, Raintree Nutrition, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and EPA Water and EPA Recycling, Worldwatch Institute, Energy Information Administration, Ready, Set, Green, Earth911.org, The Telegraph, Yahoo! News

plastic bottles recycling

Plastic bottles prepped for recycling by Hans Braxmeier/CC BY 1.0

Why to Go Green: Getting Techie

A biodiversity hotspot is a bio-geographic region with a significant concentration of biodiversity that is threatened with destruction. To qualify as a biodiversity hotspot, a region must contain at least 1,500 species of vascular plants as endemics -- species not naturally found elsewhere -- and it has to have lost at least 70 percent of its original habitat. Around the world, at least 25 areas qualify under this definition, with nine others possible candidates. These sites alone support nearly 60 percent of the world's plant, bird, mammal, reptile, and amphibian species, with a very high share of our planet's endemic species.

Shifted cultivators is the term used for people who have moved into rainforest areas and established small-scale farming operations, following roads built by loggers or other resource-extractors into already damaged rainforest areas. The additional damage they are causing is extensive. Shifted cultivators are currently being blamed for 60 percent of tropical forest loss. The reason these people are referred to as "shifted" cultivators is that most of them people have been forced off their own land. For example, in Guatemala, rainforest land was cleared for coffee and sugar plantations. The indigenous people had their land stolen by government and corporations. They became 'shifted cultivators', moving into rainforest areas of which they had no previous knowledge in order to sustain themselves and their families.

Upcycling is the use of waste materials to provide useful products. Ideally, it is a reinvestment in the environment and embodiment of the notion that while using resources one is also contributing to them and their value. Some of our favorite examples include a collection of rulers turned into a chair, and plastic gift cards tastefully upcycled into some chic coasters.

Downcycling is the recycling of one material into a material of lesser quality. The example used most often is the recycling of plastics, which, because the recycling process breaks the polymer chains, turns them into lower grade plastics. Why? When different kinds of plastics -- like #1 PET and #4 LDPE -- are mixed together and melted, the mixture undergoes something called phase separation, roughly akin to the separation of oil and water, and it sets in those layers. The resulting plastic is structurally weaker than its original form, and can only be used in a limited number of ways.

Negative peace is the absence of physical violence such as war or environmental destruction. Expressed as a presence rather than absence, negative peace can be defined as the presence of norms, policies, structures and practices to prevent or end physical violence that undermines human life and Earth's functioning integrity.

Positive peace is the absence of structural violence or systemic injustice. Positive peace can be defined as the presence of norms, policies, systems, and practices that respect human dignity, meet human needs, and uphold social and environmental justice and the sustainability of human and nature communities. Both negative and positive peace imply a commitment to nonviolence in human interactions within the human community and within the larger community of life.

With reporting by Manon Verchot