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Eating the elephant just one bite at a time


Sometimes looking at a large problem can feel overwhelming, leading us to ask, “Why bother trying? It’s too big for me to fix.” Climate change, as well as other environmental challenges, can feel like that given its scope, dire consequences and the speed at which it’s happening.

We’ve probably all heard the proverb that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Like most large and complex problems, the best way to solve the climate change problem is by taking many bites. Fortunately, we don’t have to eat the climate-change elephant on our own.

While scientists unravel the causes and cures and and legislators develop strategies for tackling the problem at the government level, each one of us can help. That’s because climate change is so intricately linked to our daily lives. The decisions we make each day — in our homes, our yards, our commutes, our shopping habits — either contribute to the problem or take us a step closer toward solving it. All that’s required for us to play our part is for us to want to. No matter what our lifestyle, occupation or tax bracket, there are small things we can do to make a real difference. When all of us all over the planet are doing them, they will have a big impact.

One of those things brings a host of other benefits with it and this is the perfect time of year to begin thinking about it. I’m talking about gardening.

Gardening is a great way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses generated by our activities that contribute to climate change, otherwise known as our carbon footprint. There are several carbon footprint calculators available online for those curious to know what size footprint they’re leaving on the earth.

The Earth is basically a large greenhouse spinning through space around the Sun. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses that accumulate in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun that gets absorbed by the Earth’s surface. To a degree — pun intended —  this is one of the things that makes our planet habitable. The excess of carbon dioxide that we’ve been generating over the past couple centuries, though, has tipped the balance towards dangerous warming of the global climate. The effects are being seen in things like polar ice melting and the associated sea level rise, more and increasingly severe weather outbreaks, flooding and droughts.

Plants take in carbon dioxide and make oxygen during the process of making their food from air, water and sunlight known as photosynthesis. Whether it’s flowers or fresh produce, a garden can help fight climate change by using carbon dioxide that’s already in the air. Gardening also helps reduce pollution from transporting produce and also reduces erosion and water runoff. Flowering plants feed pollinators, which in turn, help feed us.

But the benefits don’t stop with the environment. Gardening gets our bodies moving in ways they don’t normally move. Check out the book “Move Your DNA” by Katy Bowman to learn why that’s important.

Gardening has also been shown to reduce stress, depression, cholesterol and blood pressure. Taking time to interact with nature, including gardening, also helps us be more productive and sleep better. Vitamin D, needed to regulate a number of important processes in our bodies, is made in the skin from sunshine, which shines abundantly in the garden.

Gardens can give added resiliency should conventional food production and distribution routes be interrupted. They provide us with beauty, healthy and inexpensive food and a never ending source of wonder, learning and inspiration. They help connect us to nature and live in harmony with seasonal rhythms. Gardens also provide an outlet for nurturing and a sense of accomplishment.

Gardens can be small or large and can take many forms, including traditional landscaping and garden plots, permaculture plots, raised beds, container gardens and window gardens. That makes it easy for nearly anyone to enjoy the benefits. For those who can’t — or think they can’t — garden themselves, local produce can be purchased through farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs, known as CSAs, which also benefits the environment by the lower carbon footprint of local producers.

Interested in finding out about the benefits firsthand? Check back as we continue the conversation about different types of gardening, developing a garden plan, local resources for gardeners of all levels of experience, CSAs and more.