It’s Time To Make A Change
We propose a different way of thinking about and living with our planet. We suggest that we approach all human activity from the viewpoint of being one with the earth — which First Nation peoples wisely recognized as a single living system. As such, we must continually ask ourselves, what is my impact on this ecosystem, this life force on which I depend? Am I working in harmony with, or in opposition to it?
All of us have work to do to transition to a sustainable relationship with our planet. We need to rework our lifestyles, our communities, our economy, and our understanding of the biosphere. For starters, we must:
Eliminate the use of fossil fuels and discharge of greenhouse gases
Stop dumping poisons into the world
Preserve and protect what we currently have.
Restore and rejuvenate areas that we have previously damaged.
Land Use & Global Warming
What we do on and with our property can have a significant impact on the climate. To reverse global warming, we can plant more trees and other vegetation, and actually absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and pull it back down into the soil. What’s more, we can use alternative methods to till and garden our land that decrease how much carbon is released in those processes.
As we “develop” land that was previously forest or meadow, we are essentially eliminating the pulling of carbon from the air into the land, a natural function of trees, shrubs, and all photosynthesizing plants. That’s the a feature of the carbon cycle known as carbon sequestration. The more land area we build and pave over, the less carbon sequestration, the more global warming and climate change.
Storm water & Impermeable Surfaces
Storm water refers to rainwater that isn’t absorbed, and runs off of our built environment into streams, lakes, and rivers, and eventually into the oceans. Storm water flows off of every impermeable surface we’ve created: buildings, patios, driveways, roads, highways, and parking lots. Several serious ecological problems result.
The first is that storm water picks up and carries with it all of the pollutants sitting on these impermeable surfaces. These include oil and gasoline residues from our cars and trucks, sewage overflowing from septic and sewage systems, pesticides and insecticides sprayed along highways, yards and office parks, and of course our litter, including plastic waste. All of this ends up in our waterways and our drinking water.
Action: Don’t dump in roadways or down storm drains. Pick up pet waste. Refrain from use of pesticides and insecticides on lawns and landscapes. Maintain your automobile to avoid toxic fuel and oil leaks; shift to an electric vehicle.
Another problem is flooding and erosion. Our climate has changed in the northeast. We are now subject to long periods with little rainfall and droughts. Decreased rainfall increases the collection of pollutants between storm water events. Another climate change impact is that our precipitation now tends to fall in greater volumes within compressed time periods. These torrential rain events can’t be quickly absorbed. The resulting storm water surges cause more frequent and more damaging floods and erosion of soil into lakes, streams, and rivers. Increasingly, tree roots are undermined by saturated soil, and pulled down by high winds, destroying personal property and power lines, that trigger widespread power outages.
The ongoing expansion of human habitats that we call “development” — expansive lawns, new housing, shopping centers, and parking lots — actually destroy the ecological services we need for our existence. It’s become clear that the resulting pollution, flooding, erosion, power outages, and property damage we experience today have undermined the sustainability of our existing communities. Personal injuries, expensive home and automobile damage, and the expense of household generators have made suburban life less affordable for many of us. Storm damage is becoming increasingly frequent and prohibitively expensive for our residents, and our local and state governments.
Action: Reduce your lawn area by planting stormwater-absorbing trees and shrubs. Choose oaks and native pollinator plants that provide insects, bird, and other wildlife with the habitat they need for survival. Don’t expand the impermeable footprint of your own property, and encourage your town to rebuild already “developed” areas, rather than expanding into areas with a natural environment and permeable surfaces.
Biodiversity & Landscaping
The expansive, single-species, green lawn has been the American ideal since the Second World War. But it wasn’t always that way. Prior to that it was far more common for American yards to include an herb and vegetable garden, flower beds to admire and cut for vases, berry-yielding shrubs, and one or more fruit and shade trees. That cultivated landscape met real human needs for food, beauty, and recreation, while also maintaining more habitat for pollinators and other living things. Not only can we can do that again; it’s one of the simplest sustainability actions you can take as a homeowner.
Action: Refrain from the use of pesticides and weed killers in your home and yard. Allow a section of your lawn to go to meadow, or renew it with pollinator-friendly plants (see “Putnam Pollinator Pathway” below). That single action helps in two ways. It decreases emissions from your gasoline lawn mower, blower, and weed whacker. And, it returns habitat to the pollinators and birds that maintain our ecosystems and the viability of our farms and gardens. No insects, no life.