Making a Difference

I recently traveled to a week-long labor union event, and as I usually do, I brought along my travel coffee mug. So each morning, I filled my coffee cup before heading off to my meetings and refilled it as more caffeine was needed. I do this because it just feels wrong to fill a paper or plastic cup each morning, take another one later in the day after the previous one is lost or discarded, and then maybe even one more, later in the day. 

At one point one of my union friends to me, “It doesn’t matter what you do. It won’t make a difference.”

I was dumbstruck. How could I not try? That this came from a fellow union leader and activist was even more distressing. Have people really given up? I hope not. For the sake of us all, I hope not. But I admit, the question niggled at me.

So, I put Google to use to see what I could find about the impact of individual changes. The folks at Redefine Progress ( have estimated that it would take 1.4 earths to sustain global consumption at the current rate. If everyone one on earth lived the way an average US suburban family of moderate means lives, we would need 6.5 earths to sustain us. I was curious what my own numbers looked like, so I played around with their cool “footprint” calculator ( While I was pleased to see that the moderate changes our family had already made had gotten us down to 3.4 earths, I recognized that this was still not near to sustainable. We had already done many of the energy saving steps around our house, but I found I learned about a few more things I could do right now to significantly reduce my ecological footprint:

Buy renewable energy from MG&E

Minimize driving (even more!) and share rides, combine trips and use our hybrid when I must drive

Consider purchasing CO2 offsets

Reduce the amount of meat that I eat (sorry… I can’t go vegan)

Buy (even more!) locally grown foods and try to use organic

Use nontoxic and biodegradable cleaning products

Reduce consumption (buy less!) and use things until they truly need replacing

Try to purchase recycled, natural, or sustainably produced textile and paper products

These are manageable, realistic changes that our family could make, and they brought our footprint down to 1.7 earths if everyone lived the way our family does. While these changes still don’t get our family to the point of living sustainably (we’d have to move to a much smaller home to do that), it was a good exercise in learning what my individual impacts are. They are real and they can be changed. 

So, now, I’d like to respond to my union brother by taking a line from an 1864 American Mineworkers Song, “Many stones can form an arch; Singly none, singly none.” We are all stones that can help build the arch to sustainable living.


--Melissa Baumann


Posted on April 16, 2013 at 11:12 am in Featured Content.

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