11/19/2010 03:32 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Quick and Dirty 5 Part Carbon Diet

The BP Gulf oil spill off the coast of Florida was a disaster for the environment, but a wake up call for humanity.

While governments, environmentalists, and oyster farmers blame BP, I think the consequences of the disaster should be shouldered by everyone who enjoys a carbon intensive lifestyle - namely all the products we can afford to buy and enjoy because of cheap oil. If we made no demands for cheaper food, cheaper products from China or cheaper fuel to drive our trucks, there would be less chances of oil spills like this ever happening.

Obviously renewables are still a long way off in terms of giving Americans energy independence, even though major initiatives like the solar company BrightSource has broke ground in California. So in the meantime, a quick and dirty carbon diet may be the key. Of course there are a million websites on the Internet giving effective weight loss advice, and these are useful for the individual. But I am suggesting a carbon diet for the whole of America and Canada, for all of us, so that future oil spills, bought on by our intense hunger for oil, can be quelled.

I was inspired to write this post from a visit to Florida last year - Panama City Beach - where my snowbird Canadian parents hide out from the inhuman Canadian winters. One weekend, on the urging of my Scottish expat mother, we headed to a Scottish festival in town. To my shock, every athlete in the Scottish games seemed to be about 200 pounds overweight, competing more with the pot-belly of Big Daddy (see picture below of really fat Floridians in kilts), than shot put, log tossing, and the other Medieval sports featured at the event.

fat florida men scottish kilts
Fat Florida Men in Kilts

But maybe I shouldn't be surprised after all: "treats" at the Scottish festival included scrumpuous delights like deep fried Mars bars.

Now for the tips:

1. Too scared to go totally vegetarian? Go vegawarian.

Eating meat has damaging effects on both yours and the planet's waistlines, with the meat industry among the top offenders of global carbon emissions. Going totally vegetarian (or, heavens forbid, vegan) may be too extreme for you so how about going vegawarian? Vegawarianism, where you're aware of the effects of a carnivore diet on the planet but also aware that it's not realistic for you to give up meat completely, is a good compromise for many people. It means swapping out some meat meals every now and then, and integrating other kinds of protein into your diet.

If the buttons on the shirt stretched over your carbon gut are bursting, maybe it's time for another shirt - one that's used or second hand. By buying second hand items (whether they be clothing, books, kitchen appliances or even children's toys), you're avoiding all the carbon emissions associated with creating, transporting, and marketing a new item. Why create new stuff when there's plenty of usable stuff out there already? And buying used doesn't have to be frumpy - you can take second hand items and get creative repurposing them (check out "New Dress A Day" for inspiration).

Feeling a little extra bulge around your middle? Stop using your personal vehicle and get moving. Whether that means walking to the nearest bus or train stop, pedaling to where you need to go, or going totally old school and taking the heel-toe express, try to avoid using your car as much as possible. This will have a big effect on your carbon footprint and your silhouette.

Handmade, locally produced crafts (or food products, for that matter), are more fun to use and better for the environment. Local items require less energy to transport, and handmade items don't use up all the electricity that machine-made items do. Don't have any crunchy local handmade shops around? You do - it's online and it's called Etsy.

If the above statement has you cringing with fear that I'm about to advocate lighting your home with kerosene lamps, have no fear. That may be a little extreme (although having the occasional candlelit evening is green, romantic, and fun). Many of us end up using lots of electricity that we don't need, and since most electricity is produced by burning coal that means creating a lot of carbon emissions for nothing. Don't leave appliances plugged in unless you're using them, and try to ensure that your major appliances (such as refrigerators, washing machines, and dishwashers) are as energy efficient as possible.

*Remember* : acknowledging you have a problem is the first step in any recovery program, whether its alcoholism, drug addiction, carbon addiction or food addiction. The definition of obesity is determined by a person's body mass index, the BMI. Losing a few pounds and then points from your BMI can start with avoiding deep fried Mars bars. Getting off our carbon addiction will require a major lifestyle change, and admitting that we have a problem.

Karin Kloosterman is the editor and founder of Green Prophet, the leading environment news source on the Middle East.

Image credit: Karin Kloosterman, 2010.
Research credit: Karen Chernick