1989 book by the Earth Works Group detailing specific actions that individuals could take to "do something for the environment."

With the 20th anniversary of Earth Day approaching, editor John Javna and his Earthworks Press consulted experts from industry, energy utilities, municipal solid waste and recycling programs, and organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund, the Berkeley Ecology Center, the Massachusetts Audobon Society, to come up with a user-friendly "how to save the planet" list.

The specific environmental concerns the book addresses (in one or two page mini-essays) are the Greenhouse Effect, air pollution, ozone depletion, hazardous waste, acid rain, vanishing wildlife, groundwater pollution, and solid waste management, although it doesn't even stick to those (action #1 (see below), while reducing solid waste, is written to address "saving the trees," which isn't mentioned anywhere in the introduction as part of the environmental crisis or the solution)

And here they are, the 50 things:

    SIMPLE THINGS
  1. Stop Junk Mail
  2. Snip Six-Pack Rings
  3. Use a Clean Detergent, i.e. a low-phosphate or phosphate-free one.
  4. Aerate Your Faucet
  5. New Ingredients, a combination of strategies to reduce consumption of disposable products in the kitchen or use environmentally benign ones.
  6. Tanks, But No Tanks, lower the temperature of your hot water heater to 120 degrees Farenheit.
  7. Make a Phone Call, call local utilities and agencies to discover resource saving services (like energy audits)
  8. Brush Up on Paint, use latex-based paints instead of oil-based ones & properly dispose of used paint
  9. Time to Re-Tire?, maintain to reduce fuel consumption; recycle when possible
  10. Home on the Range, use energy efficient appliances
  11. Don't Go with the Flow, don't let the faucet run
  12. Gas Station Ecology, use unleaded gasoline
  13. The Twilight Ozone, avoid products made from or containing CFC's
  14. Your Gas is as Good as Mine, strategies for improving fuel efficiency in automobiles
  15. Recharge Your Batteries, i.e. use rechargeable batteries
  16. Attention Shoppers!, reduce use of paper and plastic bags
  17. Find the Hidden Toxics, use alternatives
  18. Leave It a Lawn, proper lawn care to reduce water and pesticide use
  19. Stamp Out Styrofoam, don't use it
  20. It's a Beach, pick up litter on the beach
  21. Buyer Beware, don't buy ivory/buy dolphin-safe tuna
  22. Pests & Pets, avoid chemical flea collars
  23. Make It a Royal Flush, adjust toilet tank to reduce water use
  24. Air-Power Your Shower, use a low-flow showerhead
  25. Recycle Motor Oil
  26. Tune Up the Heat, i.e. your furnace
  27. Light Right, use compact fluorescent bulbs
  28. Don't Let Go of helium-filled balloons

    IT TAKES SOME EFFORT

  29. Reuse Old News, recycle newspapers
  30. Recycle Glass
  31. Don't Can Your Aluminum, recycle it.
      Why does recycling fall under the "Takes Some Effort" category? In 1989, curbside recycling was not the norm in many American communities. More typical were neighborhood drop off centers, which required storing and hauling empty cans and bottles. The 1990s, with state and federal legislation encouraging/mandating waste reduction, along with public education from towns encountering rising costs of waste disposal and waste management companies eager to win municipal contracts, saw recycling became mainstream.
  32. Precycle, choose products with less packaging/recyclable packaging
  33. Use Cloth Diapers, instead of disposable ones
  34. Put It to Work... At Work, strategies for waste reduction at the office
  35. Recycle the Rest (plastic, tin, cardboard)
  36. Build a Backyard Wildlife Refuge
  37. Help Protect the Rainforests, support organizations, avoid tropical hardwoods
  38. The Great Escape insulate homes properly to minimize energy waste
  39. Plant a Tree
  40. Prevent Pests Naturally, use alternatives to chemical pesticides
  41. What a Waste!, dispose of hazardous wastes properly
  42. Carpool to Work

    FOR THE COMMITTED

  43. Start Composting
  44. Install a Graywater Tank
  45. Drive Less
  46. Eat Low on the Food Chain
  47. Start a Recycling Program
  48. Xeriscape
  49. Stay Involved, support environmental organizations
  50. Spread the Word
Despite, or perhaps because of, its "mile wide and inch deep" approach to environmentalism, the book was a hit, becoming a number one bestseller, with a print run of 1.6 million copies. It spawned numerous copycats, including Marjorie Lamb’s 2 Minutes a Day for a Greener Planet: Quick and Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth (Toronto, Harper & Collins, 1990), The Green Group’s 101 Ways To Save Money And Save Our Planet, (Paper Chase Press, 1992), Michael Viner’s 365 Ways for You and Your Children to Save the Earth One Day at a Time (New York: Warner Books, 1991); Diane MacEachern’s Save Our Planet: 750 Ways You Can Help Clean Up the Earth (New York: Dell, 1990); Bernadette Vallely’s 1,001 Ways to Save the Planet (New York: Ballantine Books, 1990); Jeremy Rifkin, et. al.’s., The Green Lifestyle Handbook: 1001 Ways You Can Heal the Earth (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1990), plus Earthworks own sequels: The Recycler's Handbook: Simple Things You Can Do (1990), 30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do to Save the Earth (1990),50 Simple Things Kids Can Do To Save The Earth (1990), 15 Simple Things Californians Can Do to Recycle (1991), 50 Simple Things Your Business Can Do To Save The Earth (1991), The Next Step: 50 More Things You Can Do To Save the Earth (1991), 25 Simple Energy Things You Can Do to Save the Earth (1991), 50 Simple Things You Can do to Save Your Life (1991), The Student Environmental Action Guide: 25 Simple Things We Can Do (1991), 25 Simple Energy Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth (1992), 50 Cosas Que Usted Puede Hacer Para Salvar la Tierra (1992), and 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Recycle (1994).

The book’s message: the actions of thousands of individual consumers can add up to make a significant impact in the effort to save the environment.

Sadly, the book lacks comparative analysis of the relative impact of each action. Thus, picking up litter on the beach and choosing to not use a car for one day a week are presented as roughly equivalent actions, even though the impacts on the environment are not equal. It would be nearly a decade before the Union of Concerned Scientists would tackle this concept with a book of their own.

50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth was, of course, printed with recycled ink on recycled paper.

Additional Sources: Michael Brower and Warren Leon, The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices: Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists. (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999)

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