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by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

Starting the new year

As the new year approaches, lots of people start thinking about resolutions and goals, big or little changes that will somehow improve our lives, our world and ourselves as humans.

I’m not sure why people make New Year’s resolutions. Psychologists tell us they don’t work, that we abandon our well-thought-out lists within weeks.

Is it the tradition? Is it that we think on the new year we can start fresh, erase our weaknesses and embark on a new path? A fresh list in a fresh notebook, on the first day on the new calendar — this time we’ll make it stick.

I used to think making resolutions was kind of dumb. There’s not magic in Jan. 1; there’s no point in choosing a particular moment to become better.

But maybe that’s not the point. Sure, we can resolve to be better any time, but do we? At least the tradition allows us to sit down and think for a moment about things we’d like to change.

At my house after the harvest, we always resolve to have a better garden next year. We look at our failures and successes, what we could eat, freeze or can more of, what we should have planted earlier or later.

This time of year, when I am doing a little more sorting and cleaning than usual, I always resolve that in the new year I will finally get rid of junk, get the house clean and keep it that way. (OK, stop laughing. This could be the year.)

Since around seventh grade I have been resolving not to have a negative impact on the world, to use fewer resources and leave less of a mess behind me. In eighth grade I wrote a report called “The Solution to Pollution” for my Earth Science class, but had to admit to my teacher that I liked the rhyme but had no actual solution.

I still am constantly resolving to figure out how to leave the world a better place for my kids and their kids, and to find ways to ensure there are still forests, clean waterways, open fields and dark skies for my great-great-grandkids to enjoy.

Like most people, I fail every day. My house is too leaky so I used too much fuel oil and wood to heat it, causing too many emissions into the air my kids breathe. I drive too much, and too much plastic and packaging still enters my house.

It’s hard to figure out how to save the world, but we all know the easiest resolutions to keep are the ones that move us forward in small steps. And if we can’t clean up every toxic waste dump or stop every danger from entering our air and water, at least there are steps we can take to stop making things worse.

We could stop buying bottled water, bring reusable bags to the store, buy in bulk to reduce packaging, or car pool with a neighbor once a week. We could make sure the lights we’re not using are turned off and remember to unplug phone chargers. We could put vampire appliances (the ones that always have a light on) on power strips so we could actually turn them off.

If you’re a red-meat eater, you can go meatless one day a week, which would decrease the amount of water and fuel used to produce meat (from commercial grain raising to processing and shipping.)

I guess you could even choose a few things, write them on a list and call it “Resolutions.”

On our refrigerator we keep a list Woody Guthrie made in 1943, of 33 New Year’s resolutions, including “read lots good books,” “love everybody” and “keep rancho clean.” It’s a list we all love, because it’s funny and poignant, ridiculous and true.

My son’s favorite is No. 3: “wash teeth if any.” My husband likes 23: “have company but don’t waste time.”

We all like No. 33: “wake up and fight” but I have to say I am most partial to No. 19: “keep hoping machine running.”

I think maybe that’s why we make resolutions. To keep that hoping machine running.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

Have a question or a topic you’d like addressed on Greenpoint? Contact or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter.

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