A year to change the world

You've lowered the heat and fitted low-energy bulbs.What else can you do for the planet in 2008? Esther Walker has a month-by-month guide



Gyms across the land must be laughing all the way to the bank throughout January as people sign up to them and then only go once, while their monthly subscription continues to drip out of their bank accounts. Instead of wasting your money, get involved in a Green Gym, in which a local group will meet once a week for a free four-hour session carrying out gardening and conservation work. To find a Green Gym near you, go to www2.btcv.org.uk/display/greengym.


She said yes: congratulations! Now it's time for the ring... Diamonds might be a girl's best friend, but mining them harms wildlife and the dust from mining contributes to respiratory diseases in miners and locals; and for years, diamond sales funded armed conflict in Sierra Leone. www.conflictfreediamonds.org has information about how to buy an ethical diamond; alternatively, you can buy an antique ring, which hasn't had to be newly-mined.


Around 10 million pairs of useable spectacles in Europe and North America are thrown away each year; at the same time, millions of people in developing countries can't afford the specs that would let them see clearly and get on with their lives. Donate your unused spectacles and they will go to someone who really needs them. Go to Vision Aid's website: www.vao.org.uk and find out the nearest collection point to you, or send your specs to Vision Aid Overseas, Crawley, West Sussex RH10 2FZ.


As well as cod, you should probably add shrimp to the list of things not to eat out of the sea; 75 per cent of shrimp are caught by dragging nets along the seabed, which wrecks it and drags up and kills everything else in the trawler's path. About 10kg of dead fish and turtles are discarded for every kg of shrimp caught. Almost 25 per cent of all mangrove forests in the world have been destroyed over the past 20 years by shrimp farms, according to environmental groups.


Junk mail is a pain in the neck; not only do you have to do something with it when it arrives, but also there's nothing worse than thinking you've got post and it's just some mail-out masquerading as a love letter. So instead of recycling your junk mail, why not go one step further and stop it at the source? Lighten the load on your postman and on the planet. Go to www.mpsonline.org.uk and unlist yourself from the junk mail companies' books. Your name will be taken off all lists for five years.


More than 50 per cent of the world's wildlife is made up of insects and their numbers and the ups and downs in their life cycles are a good indication of the general health of the environment. The easiest insects to spot and count are butterflies, which are out and about between April and September. The Butterfly Monitoring Scheme recruits volunteers who scout along a 2-4 kilometre route and monitor the number and type of butterflies. They then report back their findings to the scheme. Go to www.ukbms.org to register and to www.butterfly-conservation.org for more information.


There are 1,500 zoos in the world and they're not always as well-managed as they could be; there are few more depressing sights than a sad animal in a dirty cage. While on your travels this summer, if you should you come across bad practice in a zoo, either in the UK or abroad, rather than looking the other way or just feeling sad about it, blow the whistle. Take photos or film it and send them to Zoo Check, part of the Born Free foundation and they will investigate. Go to www.bornfree.org.uk.


Swimming in the UK's rivers and lakes costs nothing and has no environmental impact, whereas swimming pools gobble up energy for heating and lighting and pollute the world with disinfectants. Yet the Health and Safety Executive makes it hard to people to take a dip outdoors by insisting that there can be no swimming without a lifeguard. The fightback against this started in 2005, when outdoor swimmers in London's Hampstead Heath ponds won the right to swim without having to have lifeguards present. Join the rebels at www.river swimming.co.uk.


There are about 46,000 pieces of plastic litter for every square mile of ocean; they kill about one million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine animals a year. The International Coastal clean-up takes place in mid-September each year and over one weekend, 300,000 volunteers worldwide help clean up more than 11,000 miles of coastline. Log on to www.coastalcleanup.org and take part in the next event.


Are you a hedge-fund manager but would rather be a landscape gardener? Or perhaps you're an estate agent who'd rather be building wells in Africa. Whatever you'd rather be doing, The Escape Club can help you reach your goals. Set up to help people who wanted to swap spiritually unfulfilling jobs for something more meaningful, the website has links to courses, connections to people who can help and inspirational, real-life stories. Go to >www.escape-club.org and break free.


It's November, it's cold and rainy and thoughts tend to turn to a nice cosy pub. If you do choose to while away the winter by nursing a pint glass, reduce your "beer miles" by drinking a local brew thus cutting the distance that the beer has travelled to get to the pub. Choose natural cork stoppers over plastic ones as not only does cork decompose but it will also help to maintain cork woodlands in Portugal and Spain, which support a huge ecosystem.


Add someone else to your Christmas list and send a present-filled shoebox to Operation Christmas Child, the campaign run by Samaritan's Purse, which send the goodies to needy children. You can specify whether the box is for a boy or a girl and there are guidelines as to what to include in your box at www.samaritanspurse.org.

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