It’s nearly 2013 and I am grateful. After three years of traveling with a backpack through 14 countries in Africa and the Middle East, I am finally back home with my family in the United States. The time I spent abroad stretched my mind and broadened my heart, transformed long held stereotypes into a long string of new insights, and in some ways left me more confused than I was before. But I must say, looking at next year and beyond through the eyes of my young nephews, whose planet has been so radically altered in the last few decades, strengthens my worries about the future. And with it my motivation to do something about it, which is why I decided to sit down and map out a few ways in which I hope to reduce my environmental footprint in 2013. Here are six of my resolutions.
1. Walk the green talk
For many years I have encouraged our readers to live lightly knowing all along that my own footprint could have been smaller too. For example, though I tried as much as possible to use alternative modes of transportation throughout my travels – such as buses and trains – flights between countries were inevitable and my carbon footprint soared. That will change now as I’ve just signed a lease on an apartment for the first time in six long years! My goal is to drastically reduce my travels and settle into a slower, more thoughtful life rhythm.
2. DIY furnishings
It is very difficult to collect a bunch of stuff while traveling, which has been such a liberating part of my travels that I’m determined to keep my more stationary life clutter-free as well. Although a few pieces of furniture will inevitably expand my short list of belongings, I don’t plan to run to the nearest Ikea store to populate my new home. Instead, I intend to scout out previously owned pieces on Freecyle or Craigslist, or in my local antique markets and thrift stores. Then I’ll re-finish them myself. Not only will this be a fun way to spend time and save money, but it gives me greater creative control of my personal sanctuary.
3. Compost and garden
I can’t wait to start growing my own herbs and vegetables. Although I won’t be able to do much of this on my rental property, my sister lives close enough that I’ll be able to grow some of my own food on a small patch of her subsistence farm. I feel increasingly certain that our future survival depends on our ability to reconnect with the earth. This means knowing how to find and grow food, how to stay cool and warm without mechanical assistance, and how to live simply in accordance with nature’s disrupted cycles. Luckily, where I’ll be living in Virginia, we don’t have a shortage of water, so I don’t have to worry too much about that, though it would be worthwhile to harvest rainwater for use in plumbing systems.
4. Get to zero waste
Although this is changing slowly, it is difficult to find decent recycling facilities in the MENA region, something that always drove me bananas. Our resources are now so scarce and there’s so much waste cluttering every darn waterway from the Nile to the Mississippi that there is absolutely no excuse for throwing away perfectly good can or glass goods (and don’t even get me started on plastic.) Of course, people like the Zabaleen in Cairo and certain public and private organizations throughout the United Arab Emirates are beginning to take recycling more seriously, but I will admit that I look forward to being able to dispose of just about everything that I consume such that getting to zero waste in my own home is an achievable goal.
5. Support local growers
Of course it’s winter time now, so most of my local farms are on hiatus and there aren’t going to be any farmer’s markets on the weekends, but just as soon as the birds start tweeting on Spring mornings, I have every intention of supporting local farmers who grow wholesome, non GMO food. More than elsewhere, shopping for food is a tricky affair in the United States. Every time I walk into a store, I feel like I need to put on my armor. With such loose regulations and influential corporations run amok, it’s very important to read the labels to protect oneself against harmful ingredients. I don’t want to support irresponsible corporations. I want to put my money in the pockets of real people – the hard working mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who are the backbone of a healthy community.
6. Get political
I’ve come to understand that getting more politically involved is one of the most meaningful contributions I can make to society, something that has been virtually impossible since I’ve been on the road. As soon as I am settled, I plan to pay closer attention to the bills that are passed which affect the food we eat, the water we drink, the land we plough and the air we breathe. Because how can we convince our governments that these things are important if we ourselves ignore them? Recently my sister called her congressman when a new farm bill was about to slip by unnoticed which would have given giants like Monsanto undue freedom they really don’t deserve, and then she convinced her circle of friends to do the same. This is how we make change. First by creating it ourselves in our own homes, and then by holding our elected officials accountable.