When my son Camper and I moved into our first apartment, we didn’t have any furniture, so we set up our dome tent in the living room, rolled out our sleeping bags, and dreamt of how our new life would look. The next day, we began gathering driftwood from the beach, salvaging scrap wood from neighborhood dumpsters and logs from yard debris piles. We made book shelves and tables out of logs and planks. We stood four driftwood branches up on end to reach the ceiling. From those driftwood legs, we built a two-story tree fort in the living room; the first story was a couch that folded out into our bed, and the top story was a kid-sized playroom full of vintage Japanese monster toys and comic books. Then we filled the room with plants, colorful buoys, surfboards, skateboards, and a crazy cat that sharpens his claws on the logs all day long. Right now, as I type, blood is drying from the latest sharp clawed attack.
Camper and I filled our apartment with the natural resources we could reach out and touch. We didn’t buy any new furniture. When we’re done with this furniture, we can take it back to the beach or have a nice campfire. This is what sustainability looks like for us. This is what survival looks like for us. This is what loving our home looks like.
This planet is our home and I’ve tried to create a lifestyle that will help us survive here. I know Camper wants the same thing, too. I’ve seen it in the way he cringes when we drive by a road-killed squirrel. He knows that squirrel would be alive, barking, and flicking its tail at us from a tall tree if people didn’t drive everywhere. So we don’t drive everywhere. We bike, skate, and walk instead. Daily lifestyle choices can help us stay afloat without causing harm while we’re here.
Ride a bike or skateboard. It’s good for your body and it’s good for the environment. If your job or school is too far to ride, if it’s a drive you make everyday, then move closer and ride. Leave the machines that run on oil wars and death behind. Camper wants me to drive him to school sometimes when it’s raining, but we walk together instead and it’s way more fun.
Shop local. Transporting goods from far away causes more pollution than transporting goods from across town. Go to the farmer’s market, join a CSA, or just try to buy food made close to home. We apply this local-mindedness to clothing, books, art, bikes, sunglasses, bathroom fart spray, and all the other things we shop for. This magazine you’re holding was made using locally grown paper in Portland, Oregon.
More quality, less quantity. Invest in quality goods that last longer and are made sustainably. Support companies that are socially, ethically, and environmentally friendly.
Wash and reuse bags. We all have canvas tote bags, but sometimes you forget it and end up with a plastic bag full of kale. Sure you can recycle the plastic bag, but if you washed and reused it a couple times before recycling it that would be better. The PB&J I put in Camper’s lunch box goes into a ziplock bag that’s been washed like 60 times and it still looks new.
Don’t make trash. The plastic chip bag, the paper towel, the bottle cap, and the paper coffee cup thrown away are still here. There is no away, but there is a way to avoid making trash. Buy things that have less packaging; fill reused bags in the bulk food section with snacks instead of buying a bag of chips, use a washable cloth towel instead of a paper towel, bring your own coffee cup to the coffee shop, and refill a growler instead of buying a bottle. When Camper was two years old, we moved to Maui and I told him there were no diapers on the island. He hasn’t made a dirty diaper since!
Pick up trash. We are the people of this planet, and therefore all the trash here is ours to pick up. That granola bar wrapper on the trail, the plastic cup washing up on the beach, that wad of fishing line on the riverbank — it’s all ours to pick up. Camper and I even pick up trash on our neighborhood walk to the market.
Reuse toilet paper. Just kidding. That would be gross. But seriously, try to use less shit tickets!
Don’t abuse electricity. Camper recently learned at school that the hydroelectric dam that powers our apartment killed 95 percent of the salmon population when it was built. Now he tells me to turn the light off when I leave a room because of the salmon. Our appetite for energy is the greatest cause of global warming, so let’s stop it already! Turn the lights off and use natural sunlight and candles. Turn the air conditioner and heater off. Take responsibility for your body temperature. If it’s hot, take clothes off. If it’s cold, put more on. Turn your computer and phone off. Use solar, wind, and other alternative energy sources. You can charge your phone with a small solar panel aimed at the kitchen window. Let’s unplug from this pollution-causing system.
Value time over money. Money makes us do things we know are wrong. Time gives us the freedom to see that.
Repair your goods. Let’s pretend we’re all out of new things and have to reuse everything. My bike tube needs a patch, not a whole new tube. The cobbler repairs my shoes — I don’t throw them away. Camper’s new shorts are his old pants.
Tend the garden. We are the only animals on the planet who can restore natural places after destroying them. So it’s kind of our natural talent to remove invasive plants like ivy and blackberry that crowd out and kill native plants that feed native bugs and birds.
Be kind to animals. Don’t eat them. Industrialized meat production is the sickest example of how we have removed our lifestyles from real natural systems. I’ve taken Camper fishing and crawdad hunting at the lake for years. The more we go, the clearer he understands that making meat involves killing another living creature. The last time he caught a trout, he cried and wanted it to live. So we set it free. Now when we catch crawdads we just play with them and set them free.
Don’t make more mouths to feed. As a daddy, I totally get why we want to have kids, but kids become people and overpopulation is killing the planet.
Protest & vote. It’s a good way to tell the rich bastards that they suck and we fucking hate being treated as cash crops for their greed. Broken political systems don’t fix themselves. We the people have to fix them if we truly hope to survive.
Be nice. It doesn’t take much effort to care about people beyond yourself. Kindness will help us survive each other. When you pass me and Camper on the sidewalk, we’re going to say, “Hi.” Please say “Hi” back. I’m trying to teach this kid that it’s a normal thing to care about others.