Most people are aware of green issues, at least in part. But how many know anything about environmental wellness? The answer is very few. This piece explores how our surroundings impact human lives. Today’s world is fast, stressful, toxic, and unsustainable. Embracing the environmental challenges of the 21st century is good for body, mind, spirit, and the planet .
To be eco-friendly is to have a grasp on the following three principles:
- Learn to live in harmony with Mother Nature
- Understand the real impact humans have on the ecosystem
- Take actions to protect local environments
The health of the planet is closely linked to the health of life upon it. Therefore, this piece is in two parts. The first section looks at toxic pollution and the leading causes of environmental damage. These are the same things that can trigger health issues in humans. The second half covers the benefits that an eco-friendly lifestyle can have on environmental wellbeing.
Environmental Sickness | The Challenge
Earth chokes as humans throttle it, but we’re not entirely to blame. After all, we knew nothing of our destructive impact until more recent times. We subconsciously developed an insatiable appetite for stuff. Most knew little about how something came to be or where it came from. We see differently now, though. Today, we understand that short-termism and excessive consumerism is not the way forward.
Our challenge is to slow down and reverse the catastrophic harm caused in four areas:
- Earth’s wildlife—in all its forms
- Earth’s oceans
- Earth’s atmosphere
- Earth’s soil
Now let’s look at the above bullet points in more detail.
#1 Earth’s Wildlife
Demands for new homes and infrastructure grow as populations increase. The more land we grab, the higher the negative impact is to natural environments and wildlife. That includes plant species as well as animals. Construction pollutes natural habitats, and they become unlivable. Plants and animals disappear 1000 times faster now than in the past 65,000,000 years , .
People are aware of these sad and cruel changes to the world of wildlife. There are pictorial, video, and article uploads to social media every day to highlight the issues. Most people feel devastated yet powerless, and that has an impact on environmental wellness. Change is coming, though. Soon, we’ll all be able to make a more significant contribution towards Project Wildlife.
#2 Earth’s Oceans
Damages to the marine ecosystem is a problem of massive proportion. Only 13% of the earth’s oceans remain free from harmful activities. They include the protected waters around the poles and the remote Pacific. Sadly, they’re still vulnerable .
The introduction of marine life alien to regions causes havoc in some waters. Invaders often hitchhike inside ballast tanks or enter on the hulls of ships. The aquarium trade introduces other unwelcome species. Overfishing, habitat destruction, and pollution—especially plastic—are also major problems.
There’s so much synthetic waste in our oceans that scientists call it plastic soup. Marine organisms can suffer from hormone disruption when they ingest microplastics. That results in reproduction and health issues. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can hurt humans and wildlife. It’s not all bad news. Some exciting developments are happening now with ocean cleanup projects , , .
ReOil – Oil/Plastic/Oil
One initiative underway is to convert waste plastic back to its raw state—crude oil. Crude oil is a material rich in carbon, and synthetic plastics are carbon-containing compounds. It’s possible, but challenges remain. Wolfgang Hofer—Senior Expert New Technology, OMV Schwechat Refinery, is helping to lead the way. The mission (ReOil) is to convert old, discarded plastic into synthetic oil.
The sustainability potential of the ReOil initiative is earth changing. Turning plastic waste back to oil would create a circular economy for synthetic polymers. Humans could use it to make new plastic products or as a valuable energy source , .
#3 Earth’s Atmosphere
The Earth’s atmosphere has become polluted. It began during the Industrial Revolution which started in the late 1700s. That was a time when heavy industry caused the first-ever manmade air pollution. We’ve been releasing harmful contaminants into the atmosphere ever since. Our toxic air is slowly choking the planet and every plant, animal, and human on it.
Today, even laypeople know something about greenhouse gases and the depleted ozone layer. The planet’s climate will change forever if we fail to reduce these noxious gasses. Ozone depletion is hazardous to environmental wellness. The increased ultraviolet (UV) radiation results in more cases of cataracts and skin cancers. It also causes genetic damage and weakens immune systems , .
It’s for these reasons there’s an urgent need for action with new programs and initiatives. There are currently six creative approaches under review to help rid carbon pollution from our skies .
#4 Earth’s Soil
The earth beneath our feet has also taken a beating over time. Soil depletion or land degradation is already having a negative impact on human wellbeing. Most of us have heard of nutrient deficiency in crops caused by poor soil fertility, but it’s not the only issue. Aggressive farming techniques have led to poor soil structure, erosion, and a shortage of organic matter.
There’s an urgent need for governments, manufacturers, and consumers to act. Overly excessive consumption must stop, especially with beef products. Farmers and constructors should also refrain from conversions of natural wetlands and forests , .
Bring Back Our Trees
Soil solutions are already underway. A huge part of that is to replant trees on a massive scale. That includes towns and cities as well as plantation forests. Trees help to prevent soil erosion, clean the air, and release oxygen into the atmosphere. They also provide remote communities with much-needed fuel. And trees act as natural windbreaks and offer shade from the hot sun. The list goes on .
We’ve only touched on some of the critical issues the planet faces today. We can all agree that Mother Earth has gotten sick, and now it’s time to help with the healing. Conservational awareness and action is the path to environmental wellness. The remainder of this page looks at ways to achieve that.
Environmental Wellness (the Solution)
Those who enjoy environmental wellness are mindful of the issues and respectful of the environment. It’s a significant lifestyle change for most people. It also goes against the natural grain of what we’re used to. The average person was unwilling to make the changes necessary in the past, or they didn’t know how. That old way of thinking is starting to change for the better.
This section shows what we can all do to lead a more environmentally conscious way of life. Below are six areas of environmental awareness to follow up on:
- Understand the limits of the earth’s natural resources
- Conserve energy where it’s achievable
- Recycle as much as possible
- Reconnect with Mother Nature
- Avoid polluted air indoors and outside
- Avoid polluting the air where feasible
Those who support sustainable lifestyles get to develop and maintain environment wellness.
A lot happens behind the scenes that we don’t always get to see. Some university students in the US appoint recycling counselors on campus. The idea is to monitor eco-friendly attitudes and effectiveness of a college. Business—big and small—are forever coming up with new green initiatives. People more generally are doing their bit or looking for guidance on how they can contribute.
#1 Understanding Earth’s Limits
US businessman, Gerhard Gschwandtner, once said problems are wakeup calls for creativity. This is the mindset we need to save our planet. It requires education, innovation, a desire to succeed, and thinking outside the box. We can all play a part with proper guidance. First, we need to identify problems before we can progress with solutions. That means to recognize the earth’s limits.
This beautiful blue planet has reached an epoch called the Anthropocene. It’s a period whereby humans continue to change the environment in profound ways. The new challenge, therefore, is to live within the earth’s limits. To do that we must first know what they are. Only then can we anticipate, adapt, and mitigate a new and resilient approach to sustainable living .
What The Scientists Know
There are nine Planetary Boundaries (PBs); a concept introduced by scientists in 2009. The aim was to outline the environmental limits that humanity needs to safely function. We may have crossed four PBs already, but not to the irreversible stage. Being able to recognize areas of concern shows us what we need to fix. The PB framework can help humanity maintain a sustainable Earth system (ES), .
The 9 planetary safety boundaries are:
- Stratospheric ozone depletion
- Loss of biosphere integrity
- Chemical pollution and release of novel entities
- Climate Change
- Ocean acidification
- Freshwater consumption and the global hydrological cycle
- Land system changes
- Phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) flows to the biosphere and oceans
- Atmospheric aerosol loading
It’s quite possible to stay within the 9 boundaries with enough political will .
What Lay People Can Do
Ordinary people can take decisive action in several ways. We can change behaviors, form new habits, and become more aware of the issues. An individual won’t change a thing, but collectively, people can become a force for good. Decisive action—by the masses—can slowdown destruction and even reverse the harm. We are duty-bound to hand over a healthy, green planet to future generations.
Environmental well-being is to feel good about oneself. It promotes healthy interaction with Mother Nature and personal environments. The result is a happier, healthier, more balanced lifestyle. The path to environmental wellness starts with an awareness of the critical issues .
#2 Conserve Energy
Conserving energy saves money and has less impact on environments. Consuming it has the reverse effect. The US uses around one-fourth of the planet’s energy resources. Most of us are unaware of how dependent we’ve become on energy in everyday life. We use it to cook, clean, wash, heat, chill, light, and make things. It powers all our vehicles, tools, and must-have gadgets. The list is endless.
There are three energy-saving areas to focus on:
- In the home
- On the road
- At the store
Harmful pollutants enter the atmosphere each time we use fuel from nonrenewable resources. Thus, our power-hungry lifestyles have a negative impact at a global level too. There are lots of ways to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Most of these only require small changes to lifestyle habits.
Energy Saving Tips
Here are 9 actions you can take right now to use less energy. It’s small changes like these that can have a huge and positive impact over the longer term.
- Reduce food consumption, especially meat
- Stop or cut down on dairy products
- Use the car or motorbike less
- Conserve water
- Use refillable bottles and containers
- Cut down on paper usage/wastage
- Don’t throw away recyclable items
- Buy a reusable grocery bag
- Stop buying throwaway fashion
The list isn’t exhaustive, but it touches on the things most of us can implement right away. Together, we can contribute and make a significant difference. The less energy we use, the more time scientists and innovators have to find alternative solutions.
Waste Not Want Not
A ‘waste not want not’ attitude contributes to environmental wellness. It teaches us that less can be more and helps people to become outstanding sustainability stewards. Let’s look at a few stats and facts to illustrate why the energy saving suggestions above make so much sense.
Meat & dairy
Meat processing, production, distribution, and consumption hurts the environment. It requires insane amounts of feed, water, fertilizer pesticides, and fuel. Animal husbandry emits 10–40 times more greenhouse gas than grains and vegetables. And dairy products need 1000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk. Farmers grow 80% of soy, and 60% of corn crops only to feed animals , .
Cars—especially brand new autos and second vehicles—are more of a want than a need. They demand vast amounts of energy even before they leave the plant. Each auto uses steel, glass, plastics, rubber, paints, and other materials. Old discarded vehicles also have a giant footprint. Recycling older cars is now more efficient, though, so that’s a positive .
Water and Drink Bottles
The US wastes around 1 trillion gallons of water every single year. It’s lost through leaky faucets, errant sprinklers, and malfunctioning toilets, among other things. An old toilet system can use as much as six gallons of water per flush. Maintaining systems to prevent water loss is the way to go. There are many opportunities to reduce one’s water footprint .
Single-use water bottles and other containers take 1000 years or longer to biodegrade. Incinerating is an option, but that approach emits toxic fumes into the atmosphere. It’s a sad fact that 80% or more of all plastic containers in the US end up as litter. There are an estimated two million tons of single-use water bottles in US landfill. Tap water and reusable water bottles are the eco-friendly solutions .
Paper trash makes up 40% of municipal solid waste (MSW) in the US every year. That equates to 71.8 million tons. Americans use an estimated 700 pounds of paper for each person annually. About 50% of commercial paper wastage gets recycled .
We can all use less paper if we try. Some paper-saving examples include:
- Only use electronic documents when possible
- Read eBooks rather than physical books
- Never print unless it’s necessary
- Use both sides of paper when possible
- Add waste paper to the compost heap
- Avoid shredding
Be mindful of the three Rs with all paper product, i.e., Recycle, Reduction, and Reuse.
Recycle, Reduction, Reuse
People throw too much stuff away unnecessarily because they can. Many discarded products are reusable or recyclable items, though. There are lots of household items we can reuse for the same purpose or something different. Containers, tins, and glass jars, etc., can last a lifetime. And old newspaper makes a superb glass cleaner. Repair, fix or modify something that breaks if possible.
See if anyone could use your old clothes or cut them up for rags if not. Buy a reusable shopping bag instead of using single-use plastics. Finally, invest more in timeless-fashion and buy clothes made to last. Think how you can use the three Rs in your life , , , .
#3 Importance of Recycling
Recycling stops refuse from reaching the garbage dumps and landfill sites. It’s a process that turns the otherwise trash into new reusable products. Recycling benefits environments and local communities.
The most significant benefits of salvaging used products include:
- Less waste reaches incinerators and landfills
- Preserves water, timber, minerals, and other natural resources
- Lowers demand for new raw materials and reduces pollution
- Helps to conserve energy
- Conservation of valuable resources benefits manufacturing
- Recycling plants create jobs
People who are mindful of the three Rs find creative ways to salvage trash. Recycling can also be rewarding, which contributes to enhanced environmental well-being , .
#4 Connect with Mother Nature
A spiritual relationship with nature can benefit wellbeing on so many levels. Regular walks in green spaces is a great place to start. One approach is to find an idyllic spot to sit down and listen. The sounds of nature eventually become evident, and the longer you sit, the more you hear. It’s a simple exercise, but it’s not always easy for those not used to being still .
The suggestions below show some of the ways to reconnect with life outdoors:
- Commit to regular walks, daily if possible
- Explore the local countryside
- Eat outside on fine-weather days
- Socialize more in the open-air
- Partake in nature-related activities
- Observe sunrise and sunsets
Add to or modify the above list to match your lifestyle commitments and challenges. It’s vital to maintain this relationship to keep it. Forming a bond with the great outdoors can take some time, so be patient. Incredible things can happen once the senses engage with the surrounding environment. The positive effects result in deeper respect and understanding of the planet .
#5 Avoid Polluted Environments Outdoors
Avoiding polluted air is easier said than done in urban environments. It’s not always easy to see either, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Avoid the busiest roads when possible as the worst pollution concentrates around heavy traffic. The dirtiest air is along roads where traffic moves slowly or stops with engines still idling. Tall buildings can trap pollution in what’s known as an urban canyon.
Some smartphone apps give out daily air pollution forecasts. Avoid outdoor exercise when levels are high. Invest in a 3M N95 mask to protect against airborne particles if your area suffers .
Fix Polluted Indoor Environments
Indoor pollution can be problematic in some homes. The biggest culprits are cigarette smoke, domestic household cleaners, and poor ventilation. Pollution indoors can be worse than the air outside. Pesticides and dirt can enter the home on shoes. And petroleum-based air fresheners smell nice but may add to the problem. Heed the above to reduce indoor contamination [35, , .
The most common indoor pollutants include the following:
- Excessive moisture
- VOCs or volatile organic compounds
- Combustion products
- Radon (a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas)
- Dust particles
Breathing clean air contributes to environmental wellness. Check the “Further Reading” section below if you need help to identify and or improve the quality of air in your home.
#6 Avoid Polluting
Driving, chemical cleaners, heating, aerosols, trash, and so on, all contribute to air pollution. We must live, but there are ways to reduce one’s Ecological Footprint with a little effort .
Below are some ideas to reduce personal pollution:
- Choose eco-friendly cleaning products over harsh chemicals
- Conserve energy: switch off lights, electrical/electronic devices when not in use
- Replace blown light bulbs with energy-efficient alternatives
- Run clothes washers/driers and dishwashers only when full
- Partake in any local energy preservation programs
- Keep vehicles tuned and well maintained
- Avoid idling vehicle engines for extended periods
- Consider electric or hybrid options for the next vehicle
- Use manual or electric gardening equipment
- Choose water-based paints over solvent-based products
- Always keep all chemical containers well-sealed
There are many other ways to reduce personal pollution levels. What you can do depends on your living and lifestyle situation. The point is to be mindful of ways to contribute toward cleaner air.
An Unsung Hero of Environmental Wellness: Insteading
Improving your environmental wellness isn’t about single-handedly reversing climate change, it’s about improving the environment bit by bit, piece by piece. Still, that is far easier said than done, so we’ve found an excellent resource to help: Insteading. Created by urban homesteaders in Seattle, Washington, Kane and Kristina Jamison, Insteading offers all kinds of tips and tricks for improving your environmental wellness.
From gardening to building to eating, Insteading is home to countless articles on how to make your daily life more sustainable and environmentally healthy. Check it out now and start improving your environmental wellness today.
Andy has a first class honours degree in Biology from Hull University, a Ph.D from Cardiff University, and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education from Birmingham University. He is on a life-long quest to feel more awesome 😉