Dear Umbra,

I’ve noticed that often you tell people “don’t sweat the small stuff” and suggest they focus on the major issues (transportation, housing, etc.). What about those of us who already do that, and want to do even more? I can almost guarantee you we are the ones sending you questions about widgets and all the other seemingly minuscule choices one faces. So what, then, would you recommend for us hard-core, been-there-done-that, already-taking-care-of-the-major-issues, longtime tree-hugging enviros as a “next step” list of things to aim for?

Aurora, Colo.

Dearest Birdy,

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I have tried my darnedest to never say “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Never. That phrase is not chicken soup to my soul.

If you’ve conquered the Top Ten Things You Can Do lists … aiaiaiagggh! I am out of pithy and witty advice. I am stymied.

Don’t worry. There are always more
hills to climb.

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But not for long. I rebound from temporary thwarting with advice that is stronger and more powerful than ever before. Top Ten lists are meant to inspire and invigorate the overwhelmed individual who is new to the environmental movement, or is just plain bombarded by undifferentiated eco-advice. Top Ten assists with discernment in a chaotic world. You are on to the next phase, on which I bestow the appellation: “Top This! What Can You Do?”

Here is the premise, dear Wren. You and other devoteds know what steps are considered most important to preserve our fragile sphere, and you know what it takes to do them. But your completion of these steps in your own life does not mean that you must now spend your precious energy on widgets and the truly minuscule. Nyet. It is time to change your focus from the individual to society.

What can you do to help other people get closer to the original Top Ten? That is what “Top This!” is all about. Here are some ideas:

  • Write an environmental advice column for a neighborhood newsletter.
  • Find out where farmers’ markets are near your relatives, and send them directions and coupons.
  • Organize easier, more effective recycling at work.
  • Convince your large employer to set up matching funds for donations to an environmental cause.
  • Start a group of people who buy Green Tags to offset their commuting emissions.
  • Find a clinic that will donate condoms to put in your apartment building’s lobby.
  • Ask people in your scene if they would like to buck the Bush administration and meet Kyoto goals as individuals.
  • Fund-raise for solar panels in Namibia.
  • Make sure everyone you know is supporting clean energy if it’s available in your area.

Most of all, continue to set an example by being a resource for people with questions, living without a car, getting enough protein without eating meat, and hugging trees — though not in an obnoxious, self-righteous way, which you know I anti-condone.

Folks, comment on our Gristmill blog with examples of what you’ve done on your own “Top This! What Can You Do?” list, and I’ll stick some at the bottom of columns for the next little bit.