Top 10 ways to help New Jersey’s environment in 2017

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By all indications, the protection of clean water, clean air and natural lands probably won’t be high on the Trump administration’s priority list, and our nation’s participation in the landmark Paris climate change agreement may go on the chopping block.

This dim forecast for the environment is upsetting to many folks who would like our country to continue to lead the way toward a clean, healthy planet for current and future generations.

What to do? Here are some concrete actions New Jerseyans can take in 2017 to protect and defend our land, water, air and communities:

1. Get engaged in New Jersey’s gubernatorial election. With the likelihood of weakened federal protections, it is critically important that New Jerseyans elect a “green” governor who is strong on the environment. Familiarize yourself with candidates’ records and platforms, and vote in both the primary and general elections.

2. Write to your representatives in Congress. This is critical. Even with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, don’t assume they are in lockstep against the environment. Water, land, air and public health are bipartisan matters. Tell your representatives you want them to fight for a clean, healthy environment. Let them know it’s important to you … and that you will be holding them accountable.

3. Think globally, act locally. Join your town’s environmental commission, open space committee, land use board or “green team.” There are plenty of things you can do locally to make your own community a better and more sustainable place; it just takes citizens who care and are willing to put in the time.

4. Donate money to effective organizations that are working to protect land and water. On the national level, top organizations include but are not limited to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Earthjustice, Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. For a list of New Jersey groups working close to home see njconservation.org/links.htm.

5. Save water and energy. Much of New Jersey is currently in a drought, and we would need an unusually wet winter to fully replenish our water supplies by spring. Regardless of drought conditions, always use water wisely. Consider downsizing your lawn and replacing it with native plants that are naturally more drought tolerant than grass. As for energy, the cleanest power is the power we don’t use. There are dozens of ways to cut back on personal energy use. For starters, get an energy audit on your home. You’ll not only help the environment but you’ll save money on utility bills. Driving less also makes a big difference.

6. Clean up your corner of the planet. Volunteer to pick up trash at parks, beaches and along stream banks. Clean Ocean Action holds spring and fall beach sweeps up and down the New Jersey coast, and many groups need volunteers to clean up parks and streams. These are great activities for all ages, since volunteers immediately see the positive impact they are making.

7. Become an activist. Educate yourself on environmental issues and advocate for initiatives at all levels of government that benefit our land, air, water and wildlife. Volunteer for organizations that actively fight proposals that would harm the environment and our health.

8. Eat local. Buy food produced at local farms, especially preserved farms and organic farms. Patronize restaurants that serve local foods. Start an organic backyard garden and grow some of your own fruits, veggies and herbs.

9. Create less waste. Think twice before buying new stuff that you don’t need; instead, repair, reuse and repurpose your possessions whenever possible. Recycle glass, metal, plastic and paper waste, and start a compost pile for food and yard waste.

10. Plant native trees, shrubs and flowers. A tree can pull about 50 pounds of carbon dioxide per year from the atmosphere, putting oxygen back into the air and storing carbon in its wood. In addition to soaking up greenhouse gases, trees provide food and shelter for birds and wildlife, and shade and natural beauty for humans. Make sure to plant native trees and plants, not alien invasives.

For a list of resources to help you take these actions, see njconservation.org/docs/Environmental-Action-Resources.pdf.

For information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at njconservation.org or email info@njconservation.org.

Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. Her column is distributed throughout New Jersey and goes by the tag line, The State We're In.

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