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Thursday, Dec. 27, 2001

OUR PLANET EARTH

GO MAD! IN THE NEW YEAR

Resolve to raise a toast to thinking globally


With only days to go before 2002, New Year's resolutions are in order -- in theory, anyway. Whatever we promise, one thing is certain: Resolutions, viewed from this side of Jan. 1, are always made with the best of intentions.

But good intentions make poor packing material -- and resolutions are notoriously fragile. Once broken, piecing them back together is an option, but time and human nature conspire against us. "Ah, well, next year," we promise -- but soon a year has passed . . . then another.

This sort of inertia, year after year, can play havoc with self-esteem. Better to avoid the problem by swearing off New Year's resolutions entirely -- or by making only those that are near-impossible to break, for example: "This year I promise to be nice to everyone I meet from Namibia."

As an environmental columnist, however, I feel duty-bound to urge you to make a New Year's resolution that will make a difference. Fortunately, this is made easy and entertaining by a recent publication, "Go MAD! 365 Daily Ways to Save the Planet."

The title may sound like just another worthy environmental self-help book. However, "Go MAD!" is pleasantly different. Edited and compiled by the staff of the British magazine, The Ecologist, "Go MAD!" has 52 sections ranging from birth to death, gardening to eating out, plastics to pets and toys to tires. In each section there are seven suggestions, with illustrations, key facts, figures and reasons why they make sense. Take this bit of information: "Recycle steel cans. Every year [Brits] use 13 billion steel and aluminum cans which, end to end, would stretch to the Moon . . . three times! It takes 350 times more energy to make cans from raw materials than from recycled material."

Also helping to hold our attention is the humor of many of its recommendations -- while others are downright strange. On love: "Take a natural love drug. Pau de Reposta is a herbal aphrodisiac from Brazil." On death: "How about a cardboard coffin -- or even making your own?" And on dogs: "Scoop that Poop! The British canine population is around 6.8 million, producing 900 tons of excrement a day (that's the equivalent of 15 million sausages!)."

You might even discover that you are already making a difference, intentionally or not. "Household carpet dust can contain 30 different toxic chemicals," the book warns, "and pesticide levels up to 50 times higher than in nearby soil samples." Since these toxins are "mainly brought in on the soles of shoes, the solution is to do what residents of Japan do naturally: Leave your shoes at the door."

The Ecologist is unabashed in its agenda, and its staff hope it will challenge people to rethink their lifestyle, top to bottom. As the editor, Zac Goldsmith, explains in the book's introduction, "Our finite world is being plundered, not by collective need but by greed, and the consequences, from climate change to species extinction, from chemical contamination to water depletion, are becoming ever clearer. The world has never had it so bad."

But unlike The Ecologist magazine, which can be a bleak read, "Go MAD!" adopts a lighter tone. As Goldsmith notes: "The lifestyles we are accustomed to in the developed world are not inevitably destructive, and we do not need to adopt monklike existences to save the world. We need, rather, to moderate and adapt." To help us in this, the book -- which is packed with Web-site addresses -- is clearly intended to generate awareness, inspire action and bring home to readers that change is simple and within reach.

So, just turn down the heating in your house and up the temperature in your fridge. Better yet, realize that individual action can lead to local and even international change.

"It was ordinary consumers in New Zealand whose concerns about the serious health implications of incineration led a third of all local authorities to adopt a zero-waste strategy," Goldsmith points out. "The same campaign in Canberra, Australia has led to the routine recycling of 66 percent of all household and commercial waste, and a reduction by 42 percent in disposal to landfill sites. All this in just five years."

Finally, for those of you still casting about for a manageable resolution, here are a few low-maintenance possibilities that are good for the Earth and nearly unbreakable:

The first one's the toughest: "Pick up one piece of litter every day." If every one of us in Japan did that, around 125 million discarded items would be taken off our streets each day. The meek can do this under cover of darkness.

Here's one you can do in the privacy of your home: "Send your appliance to sleep at the same time as you. In the U.K. we spend [ca. $320 million] a year on energy used when appliances are on standby. Before you go to bed, unplug computers, VCRs, TVs and stereo systems."

Since everyone has to eat, this one is easy: "Break the chain -- eat at an independent local restaurant."

And one everyone can raise a toast to: "Support local breweries and pubs. The ingredients in a local beer might travel a total of [960 km], but a beer from a major brewer can accumulate as many as [38,400 km] of transport."

So here's to thinking globally, and drinking locally. Happy New Year!

For more information on "Go MAD!" and The Ecologist magazine, visit www.theecologist.org Stephen Hesse welcomes comments at stevehesse@hotmail.com


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