After watching An Inconvenient Truth the other night, there’s been a lot of discussion in the office about What We Can Do. The air-conditioning was turned down, and I think we’re all looking at cars differently—thinking of those ice banks in Antarctica.

In the book I’m working on, the Cool Planet Guide, we’ll be breathing life into the flat list of tips that appeared on the screen after the movie with lots of specific, measurable actions that will have real impact.

I’ve been thinking, though, about the big question Joe asked me, “What’s the most important thing I can do?” Stop driving and flying, of course. But that’s not possible for most people—our lives are organized in ways that make most of us truly dependent on cars. Driving less, though, is possible for everyone.

To start, I’ve gone back to lists I’ve made over the years. The following text comes from the beginning of my 2000 book Eco Living, which is a favourite because it was published in China, too. You’ll see that this was an English edition. I’m working now on plans for a new, China-specific book and am dying to know my practical kitchen tips were translated into Chinese!

From Eco Living, by Karen Christensen, published in London by Piatkus Books 2000:

One aspect of eco living is becoming a green consumer. But some ‘green’ products are plain silly – do you really need a £25 gadget to test whether your microwave is leaking? Some don’t take account of basic eco principles – is it worth having recycled drinking glasses shipped all the way from South Africa?

  • Take special care over major purchases like buying a car or refrigerator, or installing a new roof or a heating system. Don’t agonise over a plastic bag!
  • Be a leader: if you have the money, you can make a big difference by being among the first to adopt a new technology, such as solar water heater or an electric car.
  • Watch your weight: anything heavy takes a lot of energy to ship.
  • Imitate nature: choose products and methods made from natural materials that can be reused or that will biodegrade.
  • Buy things that have already had one owner.
  • Share tools, exotic cookware, even a car, with friends or neighbours.
  • If it doubt, choose the cheapest method. It’s likely to be eco friendly.
  • Use things as long as possible and buy the best replacement you can find.
  • Follow William Morris’s rule: ‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’

And, no, my hair never looked like that!