The planet’s not doing well, and consequently we aren’t either. All of us need to learn the daily habits that will care for the Earth – and, progressively, for ourselves.

I spent this weekend in a seminar with the philosopher and Green agronomist Pierre Rabhi, along with about sixty other people. We were thinking about the state of the planet and the importance of habits that each of us can adopt, according to a list developed by the movement created by Pierre Rabhi and the people around him: “The Movement for Humanism and the Earth”. The values that they were promoting spoke to me very deeply. (They’re summarized here, in a table that they gave us).

What strikes me most as I re-read this list is that if we had to choose just one action that would have the greatest impact on the ecological balance of our “spaceship Earth”, it wouldn’t be to use our car less often (though that’s useful), or to avoid wasting water (though that’s important); it wouldn’t be to eat organic food (still, very important) or to better recycle our waste (though that, too, is a vital question).

It would simply be to eat much less meat.

One third of our arable land is farmed to produce cattle feed, and this is one of the main causes of deforestation. Fertilizers and pesticides that are used to produce this maize and soy are one of the principle sources of damage to the soil and pollution of our rivers. The greenhouse gases emitted by cattle contribute more to climate change than all the transport industries put together. Indeed, the New York Times calculated in January 2008 that if Americans cut their meat consumption by 20 percent, that would have the same effect as if every car in the United States were suddenly transformed into a Prius.

It’s fascinating to see it confirmed that the best thing that we could do for Earth is also one of the elements most widely and uncontroversially recognized as protecting our own health as individuals. (A reminder: the World Cancer Research Fund, in its 2007 report, recommends a goal of no more than 11 oz of red meat every week).

Here are the examples given during our seminar. Each of these habits is good for the Earth and good for us, too.

Values Living simply, focusing on essentials

Build sustainable housing, go to and fro on foot or by bike, reduce consumption of water and energy, buy less and live better, taking the time for contemplation.

Local level Buy locally

Prefer local craftsmen and merchants and short distribution circuits: farmers’ markets, local organic collectives and shops that sell producers’ goods directly.

Cooperation and solidarity Buy seasonal, organic products

Food, cosmetics, textiles, household cleaners. Eat less meat

Humanity and Nature Maintain contact with nature

Cultivate a vegetable garden, walk in forests or on beaches, practice sports outdoors, visit farms…

Autonomy Fullfill ourselves

Practice a profession we like and are talented in; practice arts, sports, and other activities that we find meaningful, which satisfy us and promote our happiness

Happiness in sobriety Create links

Get to know our neighbors, get involved in activist groups in our neighborhoods or towns, organize meetings, sign up with groups that barter goods and services or use “special money”

Education Incarnate

Seek coherence between all our words and acts: educating, producing, transforming, purchasing, moving around, traveling and exchanging