As I eagerly prepare to head to Cardomom County in a few days to contribute some of my time and efforts to Raxa Collective on site, I’m packing up my apartment in Paris and thinking of the irony of leaving my little pot of coriander in the window for fields of spices in Kumily. I was growing coriander, basil and parsley – and before that, these lovely flowers my mother got me during her visit several months ago.
Growing my own herbs was a fun way to keep the kitchen an innovative little atelier. Basil was a must for anything remotely Italian, or Thai if I got so daring; parsley was hard to know what to do with at times but got its fair share of dicing in with many miscellaneous creations; and then of course there’s coriander, my preferred name for which is cilantro as I grew up with the herb in its Mexican context of carne asada tacos and guacamole. An absolute favorite flavored flora of mine.
In some countries, the mores of a city-dweller’s everyday life can somehow keep “environmental friendliness” in those darned quotation marks, and make the concept seem as remote as the rainforest. But anyone with some concern for his or her own net impact on the planet can discover that it’s not about where you live, but how you live.
Even just a few baby steps can become daily behaviors that everyone could benefit from. Putting some herb plants in the window may be just a small action but one with a double impact because it is the definition of locally grown, and it stimulates cooking at home, which is typically more resource-efficient than eating out in terms of both pocket change and food waste. Plenty of other thoughtful behaviors can feel rewarding too. I’m sure that, at least in the U.S. where the urbanization rate is 82% and growing at a 1.2% annual rate of change, widespread adoption of actions like these recommendations by Greenpeace can soften our overall footprint and reconnect us with the earth even if we do live in a busy city center. National Geographic also produces an excellent Green Guide with lots of valuable video tips for better living.
A couple of my own super simple suggestions based on my time here in Paris supplement the helpful links above by National Geographic and Greenpeace. Mine are action-specific reminders that should have been the norm 15 years ago but which some people still need to review, so I highly recommend consulting Greenpeace and National Geographic for more information on products and precautions.
The obvious ones:
- Separate and recycle. It just makes sense.
- Stop the water when brushing your teeth or shaving or lathering or scrubbing. Let the rinsing happen when it needs to.
- The light switch might be one of mankind’s most giant steps forward in terms of convenience. Optimize it along with your natural daylight.
- Don’t use, or at least re-use plastic bags. They have so many uses; dog owners will know some, cooks and left-over lovers will know some, grocery shoppers and garbage-makers will know some – so that’s pretty much everyone.
The fun ones:
- Get involved! The good thing about living in a city is the diversity of interest groups and proximity to change makers. No doubt, somebody in your community is taking action in a step you’d like to go, so seek them out, or even better, be that person.
- Grow something if your windows allow for it. Once you know how good a mojito tastes when you’ve freshly picked the mint leaves yourself, you’ll be convinced.
- Walk and roll. Ride a bike. Some cities are more conducive to this than others, like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, who share the epithet “city of bikes,” or Paris with its amazing Velib’ system, so if you have the means, the endorphins alone are worth the trip.
Sound a bit too simple? That’s because it is. These little habits are not purported to save the rainforest but they’re too meaningful to ignore and too easy to excuse ourselves from. Growing city populations may not be next door to the lakes and forests that remind them to consume more responsibly, but the sheer potential in their numbers means that behavioral shifts in the urban demographic could be the most impactful means of effecting change.
A study in Discovery News found that people in China’s biggest cities are the “most likely [in the country] to recycle, volunteer for environmental organizations and participate in other “green” behaviors.” The article also points out that China produces more carbon dioxide emissions than any other nation, so it might just be that smogged-up urbanites are scrambling for some fresh air. Hopefully most city slickers don’t wait until they are feeling the harsh effects of living a grey life before getting behind the green cause.