I can't say that if you try to do everything on this list you'll win a gold star, but you will definitely save money, feel virtuous and lose weight. It's a tough-love list of resolutions that work:
Cook: Preservative-laden fast food costs more and makes you fatter.
Bake bread: Simple, cheap and cheering.
Eat local: Buy as much food as you can directly from farmers, ranchers and gardeners in your neighborhood. Fewer than 2 percent of Americans working today have agricultural jobs, yet these private landowners protect most of our clean air, productive landscape and clean water. Help the environment (and the economy) by helping them to stick around.
Eat grass-fed meat; feedlots and chicken factories are unhealthy for humans and animals, polluting air and water.
Grow something: Even a windowsill can pot provide fresh herbs and lettuce.
Quit whining! Americans spend less than a tenth of their disposable income on food; in 1930, food cost almost a quarter of their income, and our grandparents sometimes went hungry.
Clean and sterilize using vinegar and baking soda instead of expensive cleaners that pollute; essential oils can kill bacteria.
Write grocery lists on the backs of advertising flyers and the insides of envelopes; make postcards from cereal boxes and unused photographs.
Buy at second-hand thrift stores whenever possible; otherwise, consider how you might make whatever it is, or do without it.
Walk; you'll lose weight, sleep better and cheer up; no drugs needed.
Stressed out? Fill a cloth bag 6 inches wide and 10 inches long with dried beans; heat for 3 minutes; place against aching muscles. Repeat as necessary; no known side effects.
You feel utterly helpless in the face of climate change? If you want to reduce your carbon output, save money and help the environment, you need to stop doing the following:
- Don't leave your car running while you dash into a store. Besides, if someone steals it, your insurance is invalid.
- Give up fast food and excessive eating out. From one three-pound beef roast, I get several ample meals for two people: roast with potatoes; roast shredded over noodles; shredded roast with refried beans on tortillas and beef soup.
- You can no longer afford to be ignorant about your car. Change your own oil and antifreeze. Can you rotate your tires?
- Quit trying to buy everything. What skill can you trade for the things you can't do? Cut wood? Grow a garden? Home repairs? If you can't make it, grow it, or fix it, maybe you can do without it.
- Cut back on air conditioning; don't leave lights, computers, and other gadgets on all night or in empty rooms. Our electrical systems are operating close to capacity; when they fail, we won't even have water to drink. Turn off the unnecessary stuff before you lose the necessary.
- Get rid of the grass on your lawn. Instead, plant something useful. There's no point in wasting water on plants you can't eat.
- Please don't build a house in the woods surrounded by trees. Taxpayers pay billions of bucks for firefighters to risk their lives trying to save houses surrounded by fuel.
- Why on earth pay for exercise? Just lift that soda bottle 15 times with each hand! (Then throw the fattening contents away!)
- Stop buying cheap, poisonous plastic junk made in countries where people don't like us, sold in vast stores that crush local businesses. Buy local; buy American; the job you save may be your own.
- No more farmed seafood. Fish factories make fishing families jobless and pollute the water.
- Don't waste. Reuse, recycle, or give it to someone who will.
- Stop smoking. Do I even have to explain this?
- Cease hiding behind your ignorance. Be responsible and informed; search in the library or online. Be suspicious of organizations that want money upfront, have big staffs, blather about an "international movement" and forward emails or tweet. I'd rather work with local groups where I can see and participate in results. The League of Conservation Voters, for example, tells me that the votes of John Thune, my U.S. senator, show a "blatant bias toward corporate polluters and special interests." I will translate that into voting against him at every opportunity.
- Cease hiding behind your ignorance, Part 2. See practical advice on how other people save money at these websites: frugalliving.about.com, frugalpig.com, frugalmom.net, livingonadime.com, frugalvillage.com, frugalforlife.blogspot.com., justfrugal.com, cheapskateliving.org and many others.
And you really can't afford to say that none of this is necessary. Even if the experts are wrong about the timing of global warming or the effects of high cholesterol, the most important part of responsible living on the earth is ultimately your own attitude. Doing something to conserve resources will make you happier and thus healthier.
Linda M. Hasselstrom is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She writes for a living on her ranch near Hermosa, South Dakota.