This book is very helpful. It sometimes feels as though we are constantly given lists of things to worry about, and many of them are questionable (though I am no longer buying Australian wool, just in case). We fret over whether to use paper or plastic bags at the market. We emphasize recycling in schools to the point of ignoring the whole “reduce, reuse” section of the Three Rs mantra. We despair over our government’s rapacious behavior when it comes to the environment, but feel helpless to do anything about it.

The Union of Concerned Scientists have broken it down for us. They have listed the behaviors that actually make some difference to the environment, and clearly explained not only what difference these behaviors make, but also how they arrived at that conclusion.

If you drive as little as possible, and make fuel efficiency a priority when you do drive, you will have done the single most important thing you can for the environment. If you reduce your meat consumption and buy organic produce, you can quit thinking about paper or plastic, because these are the grocery shopping decisions that have the greatest effect. If you conserve power and water at home, give up personal use of toxic chemicals, and buy only as much stuff as you need, you will have done your part. Whether you use cloth or disposable diapers makes such a tiny difference in terms of environmental impact that you don’t have to worry about it. The same thing applies to my concerns over whether or not to take the newspaper. Not that we should give no thought to smaller issues — but we should realize that they are small. If you religously recycle all your paper but still dry clean your clothes, you are fooling yourself. If you give up leather shoes but own ten pairs of synthetic ones, you are doing far more harm than good.

The Lenten study I am following this year is about hunger. This is an unappealing topic — after all, we all know that world hunger is a terrible problem, but what can we possibly do about it? Why dwell on the suffering when we cannot help? Two of the disciplines set by this study are not to eat between meals and not to buy prepared foods. The point here is to become aware of how easy it is for us to get food — indeed, it can be hard to avoid it — when it is so difficult for many of the people in the world. I am also learning about the strong connection between environmental irresponsibility — waste and pollution — and malnutrition. I did not realize that my using chlorine cleaners would affect someone else’s ability to get food and water. Did you?