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Green Living

Sure, I got excited when my now 5-year-old son, Nigel, learned how to count to 100. And I was over the moon when he took an interest in learning to read. But do you know what really tugged at my hippie heart? When my husband attempted to chuck a yogurt cup in the trash, and Nigel cut him off at the pass. “Daddy, that goes in the recycling. Geez!”
OK, so we could do without the sassy attitude, but it was rewarding to hear that all of my talks about trees helping us breathe, not littering in the park and other “green” teachable moments have paid off.
While it seems like he has the general concepts down – turning off the lights when he leaves a room or making sure we have our reusable grocery bags when we go to the store – I recognize that raising a steward of the earth is a lifelong effort. And yes, every little bit helps. So dust off your bicycle and turn off the tap. It’s time to celebrate Mother Earth and teach all of our kids to have a go-green mindset – and not just on Earth Day.
Why should you care?
Clean air and water are essential for all life on earth, says Jessica Crowley, lead naturalist educator at the Perot Museum. “The earth’s atmosphere contains gases necessary to keep the earth warm,” she says. “These gases, also called greenhouse gases, trap heat from the sun and make the planet warm enough to live on. The earth is warming up because of an increase in these heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.”
The increase in temperature, Crowley says, is caused by humans burning too many fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil to power our homes, cars and industries. We should all care about this effect because there’s more to it than melting icebergs. “We have no choice but to breathe the air and drink the water that is available to us, so we should all be responsible for keeping it clean,” Crowley says. “People who are exposed to air pollution may experience irritation to one’s eyes, throat and lungs.”
Crowley says that children may be at greater risk because their lungs are still developing, and they are generally more active outdoors. The long-term impacts of this exposure are a growing topic of interest and “certainly worthy of our attention,” she says. “Surface and groundwater pollution can create health risks, because we rely on these sources for drinking as well as for recreational use. Pollution can also disrupt the delicate balance of our earth’s ecosystems.”
And although most of the earth is covered with water, most of that water is salt water. To give this some scale, says Kevin Lefebvre, senior environmental coordinator with the city of Dallas’ Office of Environmental Quality, imagine you have a gallon of water representing all of the earth’s water. From that gallon, the surface and other fresh-water sources would equal only one-fourth of a teaspoon. All of the lakes and rivers, where much of the world gets it drinking water, would equal about four drops of water. “Not only do we need to make sure we are keeping those four drops as clean as possible, we have to be sure we are only using what we absolutely need to conserve as much as we can,” he says.
Go green
Pretty scary stuff, right? It’s not too late to do something about this mess we’ve created. We can all put small changes into place that will make a big difference. For starters, we’re all familiar with the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra, but does your household put it into practice?
Reduce your family’s electricity and water consumption. On a nice Texas day, enjoy nature’s light by turning off the switch and opening the blinds, says delmetria millener, Texas director of the African American Environmentalist Association. And don’t forget to unplug phone chargers, videogame consoles and any other appliances when they aren’t in use, Crowley says.
To save water, millener suggests taking things a step further by showering, brushing teeth and shampooing all at once (turning off the water in between tasks, of course). And don’t forget to check for water leaks. Even a small drip adds up.
Ask your kids to help you come up with creative ways to reuse some of your household’s would-be trash. My son knows that the first place he should look for drawing paper is in the recycling bin. And hummus and sandwich-meat tubs are prime stashing spots for snacks on the go. “Acting on behalf of the planet means that we are preserving resources such as water and air for generations to come,” millener says.
If something has no other purpose, before you toss it into the trash turn it upside down and look for that familiar triangle recycling symbol. You might be surprised to find it on more than plastic water bottles and glass pickle jars. Just this week I discovered that the plastic holder portion of my inhaler is recyclable.
Think outside of the traditional recycling box too. The Nike outlet at Grapevine Mills recycles old tennis shoes – regardless of brand – into everything from track surfaces to buttons. And did you know you can turn your next trip to Target for dog food into a good deed? Look for bins at the front of the store for recycling things such as old printer ink cartridges and plastic bags.
There are dozens of other ways to reduce your family’s carbon footprint. Planting native plants around your house will help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Switch your purchases too. If every family in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin-fiber paper towels with 100 percent recycled-fiber paper towels, it would save 544,000 trees, Lefebvre says.
Incorporate some of these changes into your family’s life, and before long it’ll be routine. “Our children will inherit whatever we leave behind, as we have inherited what our parents left us,” Lefebvre says. “We have only one earth, and just as we would with a treasured family heirloom, if we do not teach our children how to value, respect and care for it, we chance altering it in ways we do not expect or desire.”
Get active
Educating kids about the environment doesn’t have to be stuffy business. Nicole Cocco, outreach coordinator for the University of North Texas’ Office of Sustainability, suggests checking YouTube for some fun songs that educate and engage. Her personal favorite is Jack Johnson’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – 3R Song.
Visit a local museum for age-appropriate education. Earth Hall at Dallas’ new Perot Museum offers fun interactive exhibits and graphics that allow children to discover how our air, water and earth interact. This hall also provides a great introduction into weather and climate, and how and why it is changing. Here kids will learn about the delicate state of our limited fresh-water resources.
Get your kids outside so they can appreciate nature and make a conservation connection. Sign them up for a program such as the Trinity River Audubon Center’s Discover Together, which teaches basic camping skills, leave-no-trace techniques and environmental ethics. “Camping, hiking and time with other children in the outdoors help in many ways,” says Zeshan N. Segal, education manager of the Trinity River Audubon Center. “It connects the children to their home, helps in developing social skills, and they gain an appreciation for nature. When you appreciate the outdoors, you learn to care for it.”
You can even gather up a group and take UNT’s Sustainability Tour. You’ll learn about all of the award-winning programs and buildings that make UNT green, including its bike repair shop and vegan dining hall.
“Parents and educators have a responsibility to instill in children an appreciation and respect for the natural world around them,” Crowley says. “If this task is accomplished early on, it is more likely they’ll be active in fighting global threats to the environment in the future.”