Earth Days are Easy

Every year for Earth Day, I give up a bad habit, some indulgence I love, for my good old friend, the Earth.

It’s like Lent for me and the Earth is Jesus, except the earth never gives me an Easter, resurrection, or the day I can finally go back to my old self again. It’s rough, but somehow I manage in giving these up permanently.

This year, I’ve decided to

give up some of the water when I’m washing dishes. I don’t have a dishwasher so usually I fill my sponge with soap, turn on the hot water, start scrubbing and then rinsing. I like to have the water flowing the whole time, because, well, it’s nice and I like the sound and it seems cleaner and frankly I have no idea. So I’m going to give the dishes a little hot water, turn it off, scrub all of them til they’re ready for rinsing. Some how, this seems worse than giving up diet Coke, but I’m going to try this Earth Day.

On past years, I’ve

  1. limited my meat intake to only 3 meals a week. Not ’cause I love the animals so much, but more because they take so many freakin’ resources to eat them.
  2. turned off the water while I was brushing my teeth.
  3. changed all my lightbulbs to those new twisty ones that require less energy.
  4. made myself walk any place that was only a mile away.
  5. used only cloth bags for grocery shopping.
  6. not flushed the toilet every time I peed. (I know a little gross.)
  7. started recycyling the easy stuff (read: paper)
  8. started recycling the hard stuff (read: anything that requires rinsing)


First of all, these might not seem hard, but I like things easy and usually anything other than what I am doing is not easy. Secondly, I know that I don’t really make that much, or any, difference on my own, but I’m a Mormon and I think sacrifice, even quite small, means something. Plus it gives me some focus, a little meaning and purpose to my living as a consumer. Eventually, these accumulate as good habits.

All this to say, I like the earth. You like the earth. Give up something for it this year.


  1. Great tradition.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    Is this post a variant of “Earth Girls Are Easy?” Cuz if so, mad props, Amri.

  3. Seriously. I’m smart, funny and green.

  4. jothegrill says:

    Amri, I really respect your ability to stick to these goals. I could give a lot of things up for 40 days, or maybe even a year, but your permanent changes are really impressive to me. Way to go!!

  5. I’m going to dig up part of the lawn and replace it with creeping thyme in the interest of not wasting water on green carpet. And Amri, you are green.

  6. a random cougar says:

    This is great! As an environmental science grad from BYU (seriously…. we’re still in Provo, so my current job is making smoothies at Los Hermanos), I just get excited every time a Mormon doesn’t drive an SUV. : )

    Our current project is getting a 2-liter soda bottle filled with water into the toilet tank, thereby reducing every flush by 2 liters. Having worked a lot with water treatment etc, I decided it was goofy to treat water to drinkability and then poo in it… especially since this is a desert. I love this “lifestyle change” since it’s not really changing anything at all.

    Now for real kicks, check this one out. When I first heard about this I thought “Yeah right!” and then remembered stories from my parents’ mission in Taiwan in the early ’80s, where all the kids wore bottomless pants and peed on cue when they heard whistling. (The elders found this out on a train when one of them started whistling and the parents with little guys on their laps all got really upset. Being elders, they thought this was worth doing again.)

  7. a random John says:

    Once again I login in purely to protest the misappropriation of two thirds of my nick. I beg a certain zoobie to knock it off. Please!

    As a 12 year old I put quart jars in the toilets in my parents’ house. I checked recently and they are still there 20 years later. So there.

  8. Amri–

    I love your sacrifices and really appreciate your dedication to changing your habits. That is my way of saying, I am not sure I am quite there yet. I am frequently tempted to pint to my years in the third world and all the green stuff I did then (because that is how you live) as covering my lazy self now that I am back to consuming. I am going to thaink about your list and see if I can make this a new tradition for my family, too.

    Maybe we’ll do the lightbulbs this year Where do you recycle them, I hear they should not be thrown away because of mercury?


  9. Penelope Wu says:

    My husband and I moved out of Utah about 3 years ago, and for some reason we did all these things and more around the time we moved. It’s incredible the amount of money we are saving, and we definitely feel better in a lot of ways. Sometimes it’s hard to go home (or even just to more affluent areas then we currently live in) and see all of the waste!

    random cougar, I thought we had become total nut cases when we decided to use cloth diapers, but my neighbor and I started this EC thing with our babies. It’s awesome! Our 1 yr olds are frequently signing to us when they need to use the bathroom. I feel bad for underestimating my older children.

    Anyway, It’s true, a lot of little changes can be made, that don’t disrupt your quality of life (but improve it), and Earth Day is a great time of year to be reminded.

  10. I heard a guy on the radio say that when he needs to pee, he goes out and waters a tree in his backyard. Saves on flushing and he can commune with nature…

  11. a random amri says:

    queuno-I took up street-peeing for awhile. Very liberating while simultaneously putting you on the moral high ground for the reasons you suggest.

    spectator-my bulbs still haven’t run out yet, so I have no idea what to do with them. I’ll find out.

    Like I said, I have no idea how much difference it makes, but it gives me purpose, and I s’pose if everyone did it, it would change things.

    smb, creeping thyme sounds cool. are you doing it in the front or back?

  12. I read an article in the paper yesterday about recycling old fridges. We have an extra fridge that probably sucks more power than the rest of our house combined. I have no idea why it’s still plugged in since we don’t have much in it, but we’re dumb that way. So I’m hoping to find a place to recycle it by the end of the week.

    Our toilets only use 1.6 gallons per flush (says so right on them). I figure that’s already pretty minimal, so we don’t put jars in the tank.

  13. Can anyone point me to a good article explaining the need for water conservation? Given that the water evaporates no matter how we use it, it seems to me that the options are: (1) water my lawn, provide my family an enjoyable play surface, and let the water evaporate into the atmosphere, or (2) don’t water my lawn, sacrifice the enjoyable play surface, and let the water follow it’s natural course into the Great Salt Lake, where it will evaporate into the same atmosphere it would have had I watered my lawn. Because those seem environmentally equivalent to me, I’m left scratching my head about conserving water from lawn watering.

  14. Matt–I’m happy to explain why watering your lawn or using water is a problem.
    Factors affecting evaporation= heat, surface area exposed to air, and air flow over that surface area.

    If water follows it’s course, it is usually under ground or other water and consequently, not much is exposed to air. It is also cooler, so not much evaporates. It doesn’t need to go through the “purification” process for us. The purification is a little harmful to the earth by itself.

    If you use it to water your lawn and take long showers, way way more evaporates. The greatest evaporation happens where water is exposed to air. So if you’re watering your lawn, each little drop has lots of surface area from which to evaporate AND it has air flow over the sides of it which makes it even evaporate faster. If you’re taking a hot shower or washing clothes and dishes in running hot water, more evaporates because you’re heating it. In that case, you’re also using burning fuel to heat the water.

    So no– using water yourself and letting it follow it’s natural course are not at all equivilant.

    There really isn’t enough water coming down each year to make all of the lawns in the Salt Lake valley green. So to deal with that, water is taken from stores that would not otherwise evaporate as easily.

    If giving up a green lawn is a little too much right now for the kids, you can set your sprinklers to water in the wee hours of the morning (when it isn’t as hot) and water for a shorter period of time. You get more green lawn per drop that way. You can also turn the water off in the shower while you’re soaping and shampooing and just keep the water on for rinsing before and after the suds.

    I love this post. I love the earth. Here are another few things that maybe everyone already does, but if not,

    May 17 is ride your bike to work day!

  15. Good reminder, Amri.

    I gave up my 3.5 HP giant green Lawn Boy last year, for a Sears push reel mower. I get exercise without wasting gas and oil and I think my sweat is less environmentally damaging than the exhaust (at least on a global scale, no guarantees if you get too close).

    Here in the Northwest, the compact fluorescent bulbs (twisty ones) really do save a huge amount, plus the power company gives you credits if you are consuming less power. Otherwise, our power bill (which is too big anyway) would be a budget buster. We can recycle them at several permanent locations in the area, plus Redmond City does a quarterly recycling event where you can drop them off with lots of other recyclables.

  16. a cougar who's typing in a deliberately in a straight, non-random fashion says:

    Matt Evans on the water cycle- Most municipal water supplies don’t come from rain, they come from wells. In some places, it rains enough to keep the aquifer full. In dryer places, it doesn’t rain much every year and it took a long time for groundwater to build up to well-able levels. In this case, pumping groundwater more like mining than just using water. Once the well’s dry, that’s it. And you’re right, the global supply of water is pretty much constant, but it’s more of a distribution issue than just the amount. Lake Superior isn’t doing much for Las Vegas.

    Fluorescent bulb disposal- They definitely have Hg in them and shouldn’t be chucked into the normal garbage. I’m sure that if you call up the garbage pickup company for your area, they can tell you what to do.

    We had a hard time recycling in Provo (no curbside pickup- well, there is, but it’s $5 a month and doesn’t go into the student neighborhoods anyway) until we realized that you don’t have to go to the recycling center every week… duh. We just keep old cans in a box until we get sick of them and take it out every few months. So it’s not much of an extra workload.

  17. I think human urine is actually harmful to plants. My dad grew up in a house without indoor plumbing. In the middle of the winter (in Iowa), he and his brother decided it was preferable to pee out their bedroom window rather than go out to the cold outhouse. Their mother never could figure out why flowers wouldn’t grow on that side of the house.

  18. Kristine says:

    This is great–I can quit nagging my boys to flush and feel virtuous about it :)

  19. Thanks Emily and Cougar,

    I believe all of my municipal water comes from run-off, a renewable resource. If that’s the case, then it shouldn’t matter, from an environmental perspective, if the water evaporates from my yard or upstream in the Great Salt Lake. In fact, it would seem to me that the greatest waste of our fresh mountain runoff is allowing it to evaporate in the desert (Great Salt Lake) rather than water a CO2-consuming tree or lawn.

    Why isn’t watering the desert (allowing good water to run into the Great Salt Lake) the environmental equivalent of leaving the hose on at Saltair? There would be environmental benefits to the rivers themselves, but the moment the water hits the lake, that looks to me like waste.

  20. NO Matt.
    Here are the reasons:

    1. Less water is evaporating when the water goes to the Great Salt Lake than the water that is evaporating when you water your lawn.

    Watering your lawn is way worse for the environment then not using the water. They are NOT the equivilant. You can perform an experiment if you want. Use a spray bottle to spray out 20 squirts into the air (upward) and let the water fall onto a cloth. Then squirt the same amount into a cup by putting the nozzle against the cup. Watch which one evaporates first. I promise that the sprayed one will. This is for the same reasons I mentioned before. The surface area of sprayed drops and the surface area of a water that is rushing down a stream are very different. In addition there is more air flow over the sprinkler-sprayed water than a stream. Even less air flows over the stored water underground.

    2. As the water from spring run-off goes to the Great Salt Lake, not all of it goes there. Some of it replenishes stores underground, and some of it helps to support ecosystems on the way out there. Remember the words to “Give said the little stream”? When we’re watering only our own yards we are saying “Take only for my own family”.

    3. The Great Salt Lake is an ecosystem that is almost unique in the world. It supports life and is valuable on it’s own. Read “Refuge” by Terry Tempest Williams if you want. It’s a beautiful book and might help you appreciate that area.

    4. All the water you use in the Salt Lake Valley or anywhere that is developed in UT does not come from spring run-off. There is not enough water-fall each year to support the number of people who water lawns there.

    Still– my family had a yard and I loved having a place to play. I’m just saying, reduce the amount that you use by watering early in the AM and realize that all of it has a cost to the environment. When I was a kid, it didn’t matter too much if the lawn was really green. It mattered more that I could run on it. Dry patches were pretty normal and that was ok for playing purposes. I think the adults care more about the green-ness of the lawn because of what it looks like to the neighbors.

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