Talking to your kids about reducing oil consumption on the anniversary of the BP Oil Spill

Today marks the one year anniversary of the explosion of Deepwater Horizon which would end up resulting in the worst oil spill this country has ever seen. Today marks the deaths of 11 human beings that were killed in the explosion. It also marks the deaths and injuries of countless animals, plant life, industry, and health of the vast area of ocean, land, and its inhabitants near the original spill. We have only just begun to see the horrific damage that has been done and is still to come.

Brown Pelican in the Gulf Oil SpillA Brown Pelican sits covered in oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast on Thursday, June 3, 2010. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon has affected wildlife throughout the Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Thousands of animals were killed in the immediate aftermath of the oil spill. Many more continue to turn up dead, especially babies. People are seeing some adverse health effects, especially those involved with the clean-up. Industry is still in trouble, especially if it relies on healthy people, animals, and a healthy ecosystem.

Oil Spill DeathsA sea of crosses, placed as a protest to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,
is seen Sunday, June 6, 2010 in Grand Isle, La.. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The continuing effects on these things will not be known for years. There is still a lot of work to be done in the Gulf and still a lot of work we can all do to reduce our dependence on oil. We can’t let this happen again. Our children are watching.

But this is what is fascinating to me, and should be part of the larger context when we talk about the spill, Big Oil, and lasting eco-friendly changes we can make in our own lives. The leak was stopped on July 15, after it had already released 4,900,000 barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Sound like a lot? It is, as we can see by the enormous damage that it caused to the life and health of the region that is still ongoing today. But, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2010, the United States consumed an average of 19,148,000 every day.

The BP Oil Spill wreaked havoc with what was only a quarter of what is consumed every single day in the United States alone.

The one important thing that we can do is reduce our own consumption of oil: fuel, plastic, electricity, personal care products (toothpaste, shampoo, soap, deodorant, perfume, etc.), medicine, fertilizers, paints,  asphalt, machinery lubrication. But by and large, the majority of oil we consume is for the transportation of people and products.

Transportation accounts for the majority of oil consumption.photo credit: flickr

So if you and your kids look at where we are a year after the BP Oil Spill, where we are more than 20 years after the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, listen to Stories from the Gulf, and you decide that the time to make a difference is now, here a few ways to start:

  • Drive less. Walk whenever possible. Bike when walking isn’t. Bus and carpool when human powered transportation isn’t doable. Teach your kids to help you resist the temptation to reach for the keys and everyone’s health will benefit.
  • Avoid buying new plastic products, especially disposable ones.
  • Buy stainless steel or glass water bottles for home and trips.
  • Buy used (just make sure they’re safe, no recalls) plastic toys and playground equipment.
  • Or skip plastic toys altogether and go for wooden and natural fiber play things.
  • Bring reusable bags to the grocery store and retail store.
  • Support companies and products that use less packaging materials, especially less plastic, and renewable energy practices.
  • Avoid personal care products made with petrochemicals. They are bad for you and bad for the planet. Search ingredient lists for anything that end with “myreth,” “oleth,” “laureth,” “ceteareth,” or any “eth,” or include, “PEG,” “polyethylene,” “polyethylene glycol,” “polyoxyethylene,” or “oxynol.”
  • Turn off lights and unplug appliances when not in use. Choose energy saving models when replacing old ones and only use when really needed. Screen-Free Week anyone?
  • Buy organic produce, wild caught fish, and avoid artificial colors and preservatives. The pesticides and fertilizer that are used to grow conventional foods, artificial colors, and preservatives, are all made with petrochemicals that are again potentially hazardous to human health (carcinogenic) as well as the environment.
  • Use green cleaners (I like Biokleen, Method, or Seventh Generation) or make your own using vinegar, baking soda, water, and a little Dr. Bronner’s or tea tree oil. There are 17,000 petrochemicals available for home use, only 30 percent of which have been tested for exposure to human health and the environment.

If your kids are older, see if you can help them list everything in your home that contains oil. See if there are any products that you might be able to find alternatives for or could use less. Have a discussion about why that might be a good idea.

Then, the next best thing we can do after taking personal responsibility for our own oil consumption and getting our kids involved in that process? Share with others.

Earth Day is almost here. I can’t think of a more opportune time to talk about this! Our children depend on us to not another disaster like this to happen again.

North Padre Islandphoto credit: flickr

Do you think the BP Oil Spill, and the damage it has caused through today, is enough of a motivating factor for you to think about reducing your oil consumption?

What is one change you can commit to for Earth Day, or any day?

What are your suggestions for reducing oil consumption? What about your kids (I have been surprised at some of their ingenuity)?

Books, not just for Earth Day, but everyday

Apparently I am a little obsessed with books this week. I do love books. I can still think of some books from my childhood and remember what I felt, what I imagined, and what I took from them… and I can’t imagine children not having this same opportunity.

We got several books from the library this week for Earth Day. Some we have read before, some were new to us, and not all are too overwhelmingly environmental, but we all enjoyed them and I want to share them with you.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

When talking about books and Earth Day, this is one book that should be on every list. If you only check out one of these books, choose this one. It is a great read, kids love it, and the message of our responsibility to other living things and to conserve resources so everyone can enjoy them is timeless. Best for preschool and up.

Joseph Had A Little Overcoat by Simms Taback

This is a lovely little story based on a Yiddish song. It follows a man named Joseph who has an overcoat that he loves. When it gets old and worn, he makes it into a coat. When that gets old and worn, he makes it into a scarf. It goes on until he has nothing left. Except he does have something, his story to tell. The message is that you can always make something out of nothing (and you can always reuse what you do have!). While the youngest children may not get the moral of the story, all will enjoy it.

Children of the Earth… Remember by Schim Schimmel

Dear Children of the Earth by Schim Schimmel

My kids are really drawn to both of these books. We were actually gifted one and borrowed the other from the library for the first time this week. I like Children of the Earth… Remember just a little more if I had to choose. Both encourage children to protect and care for the earth and her animals. There is definitely a new age feeling here so keep an open mind. All my kids love them. I think they are good for children under 8.

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by by Dan Yaccarino

For children who love water and are enamored by it’s creatures, this book about the life of Jacques Cousteau is for them. The book provides a simple biography about the man who would become the world’s ambassador of the oceans. From how he fell in love with the ocean to his inventions that helped him further explore the sea’s mysteries to to some of the treasures he found, and finally to how he began educating people about the ocean and the need to protect it. The pictures were fascinating to my two youngest, but my oldest was much more into the story. I think it’s best appreciated by 5 and up.

Mother Earth And Her Children: A Quilted Fairy Tale by Sibylle von Olfers, illustrated by Sieglinde Schoen-Smith, translated by Jack Zipes

The vibrant and incredibly detailed illustrations are what make this book. Each page is a close look at one intricate section of the quilt that provides the photographic illustrations for this sweet rhyming poem. It lightly explores the changing of the seasons and the wonders of nature. I think this one is best for preschool age on up.

One Red Apple by Harriet Ziefert

This is a beautifully simple book that celebrates the life cycle of one red apple from tree, to the local farm stand, and all the way to growing a new tree with a ripe red apple ready for picking. I love how it thanks the earth for giving us the apple. I love how it thanks the birds, wind, sun, and bees. I love how it celebrates the simplicity of a farmer growing apples, selling them locally, and a child growing a new apple tree from the core of her delicious red apple. Of course my kids already always want to plant their seeds, but there are worse things to want to do! The book does have one fold-out page that might be trouble for some little ones, but I think all ages can appreciate this book, gently.

The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry

This a story about a man sent into the rain forest to cut down a great Kapok tree. He falls asleep underneath the tree and while he sleeps, the animals that depend on the tree hiss, buzz, squawk, growl, whisper, and speak into his ear about the consequences of cutting down the tree and the interconnectedness of all living things. When he wakes, he leaves his ax and walks out of the forest. This is a great introduction to the importance of conservation and protection of whole ecosystems. Best for preschool age and up.

Now this list is far from complete, so if please share your favorites too!

What do you take from Earth Day?

What is the message that you take from all the events, celebrations, sales, promotions, etc. that surround Earth Day?

Everything that is designed to reach the masses eventually become commercialized. It just does. Does that mean that we have to shy away from the original ideals that Earth Day was founded on?

Personally, I will not be attending any Earth Day events or purchasing anything special or doing anything much out of the ordinary.

What we might do tomorrow is based on how much kids love special days, fun days, and they really don’t care what it is. We will not be “going green” for one day. We will not make changes for one day. What we may do are things we do often.

We might make a craft. We might bake something fun. We might read books. We might talk about what Earth Day means. We will do what feels right at the time.

We are starting with age appropriate things. We read books about respecting the earth, the importance of conservation, and my son’s favorite catch phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle.” We do reduce, reuse, recycle when we can. We purchase with care and thoughtful intention.

We are absolutely not perfect and can always do better. This is what Earth Day is to me. Celebrate the ideas of what we can all do to be better. Permanently and with intention.

What change might you make today because of Earth Day?

Earth Day through reading… and donating to The Children’s Book Bank

Today my 4 year old and I walked to the library and picked up a few (well maybe more than a few) books that I had put on hold. I am now at my limit of books I am able to check out at one time. I really can’t wait until these kids are old enough to have their own library cards so they aren’t taking up so much on mine. At least they love to read…

I have stopped buying books, except for special ones that we just have to have. Oh, and I often give books as gifts. But, I am a big fan of the library. It is a fun place to go. They have almost every book you can think of and if not you can always request it. And the books you borrow can go back, and quickly if it turns out to not be as great as you thought it might be

But… we have a very full bookshelf at home. We have a ridiculous number of books for the kids, for ourselves, just lots and lots of books. I love books.

This is just one of bookcases for children’s books…

And a bucket for the baby’s…

And a few of the ones I love…

There are many statistics that tell us why reading is so important to and for young children, and how if there is little or no access to books, the outcome is a serious negative impact on future success. There is a direct correlation between reading, and being read to, and academic success. Now tell me how that affects our society as a whole?

Did you click the link and read the statistics?

At this point you may be asking what you can do. (If you still aren’t moved, and even if you are, I highly recommend you look at the work of Jonathan Kozol, particularly the books, Savage Inequalities and Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation. I might also recommend doing some service in an area like the South Bronx. It will change you.)

Now. I do have one immediate solution for you…

This Saturday, in celebration of Earth Day, The Children’s Book Bank is partnering with the local Portland New Seasons to have a one-day book drive. The Earth Day Book Drive will collect new and used books for children who might not otherwise have any books to call their own at all 9 Portland New Seasons Markets, as well as the Laurelhurst and Bridgeport Whole Foods, between 10am and 4pm.

Please consider a donation.

For those of you not local to Portland, see if you can find a similar organization where you live. Or start one!