It’s that time of year when someone at a holiday gathering inevitably asks about your resolutions for 2012. Feel free to plagiarize mine:
5. Grow more of my own food. China’s biggest dairy admitted that some of its products contained a toxin commonly found in corn and wheat, transmitted to the milk of cows eating the tainted crops. Maine residents were sickened this month when contaminated beef carried the salmonella “superbug” that had already sent many other Americans to hospitals. Wood shipping pallets have been suspected of transferring the bacteria from one place to another. McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell stopped adding “pink slime” to burgers, a cleaning chemical meant to kill salmonella and pathogens. What are they adding instead? Need any more reasons for a home garden or vegetarian diet?
4. Save more energy and $$. I’ve done the insulation, smart thermostat, LED bulbs (check out Home Depot’s EcoSmart LEDs for a great value), and yelled at my teenager to turn off the computer at night, but I recently found there are even more ways to save. Belkin’s “Conserve” line of power strips and switches pay for themselves in a few months and take the guesswork (and yelling) out of the equation. I gave them as holiday gifts and won “Geek of the Year” awards from friends and family, but everyone has already put them to use.
3. Stop killing people for oil. OK, this one has been on my to-do list for several years (right up there with losing 20 pounds), but every year we see more financial and environmental reasons to move off of oil and, as we leave Iraq, are reminded of the latest payments. The loss of human life is the most staggering price, but the cost to our struggling Treasury is also worth recalling for motivation to finally get this resolution done. Read former Fed chair Alan Greenspan’s The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World for evidence that Iraq was entirely about oil, then read The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz for the pricetag (no, unlike the hideous sweater your aunt gave you for Christmas, this one can’t be returned even with the tag still attached). Extra credit for reading my book Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction to see how we pay almost $7 per gallon more than the pump price for gasoline, and Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent by Andrew Nikiforuk to understand why the price of oil won’t be going on sale after the holidays — or ever.
2. Keep my cell phone out of my pants pocket. 2011 was so full of astonishing events (the Arab Spring and the Japanese tsunami, for example) that it was easy to miss the World Health Organization’s listing of cell phone radiation as a “carcinogenic hazard,” right up there with lead and car exhaust. As a former government regulator, I’ve seen enough of these studies to realize there are uncertainties, but I’m at least going to use earphones instead of holding the phone next to my brain, and I’ll stop keeping the phone in my pocket next to my, well, you know.
And my No. 1 New Year’s resolution for 2012 …
1. Convince more people that we’re in this together. Scripps Institute of Oceanography researchers ecently reported evidence that pollution from China is impacting our climate in the U.S. Radioactive material from Japan’s Fukushima disaster has shown up all over the globe, much as pollution from its predecessor in Chernobyl has done. Year-end reports from weather watchers everywhere count 2011 as the weirdest in history, as growing evidence links the increase in severity of these events to burning fossil fuels. The economic troubles of Greece have impacted the global economy in some of the same ways that the U.S. meltdown impacted them.
In other words, 2011 was a year of persuasive evidence that all living things are connected and that the fallout from our mistakes travels faster than ever (Scripps estimates it takes only five days for Chinese pollution to hit California, and we all know how fast Germany’s monetary policy helps or hurts global stock markets). Self-interest tends to trump being my “brother’s keeper,” but it may help us tackle problems sooner and more effectively if we realize how small this planet really is.