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We can do little things to save the whole world

Whether it's genuine prognostication or wishful thinking, lots of people are predicting the 1990s will be the decade when concern for the environment overcomes the desire for things. It's about time.

Maybe it took the sight in recent years of medical wastes and gasping, dying dolphins washing up on beaches or the news pictures of a loaded garbage barge lurching from country to country looking for a place to dump. It could have been the Alaskan oil spill, though oil spills have been going on for decades.

Or it might have been the vision of Wall Street staggering and collapsing under the weight of worthless paper profits and its own greed.

Whatever the motivation, it's not just the sandals-and-herbal-tea crowd concerned about conspicuous consumption and for the future of the planet anymore. The rest of us are awakening to the fact that the Earth's resources are finite and its ability to absorb wastes is limited.

We can't continue to squander what we have on things we don't need or use.

Unfortunately, politicians and the defense industry remain absorbed with either fighting the old wars or trying to stir up new ones (waging war does provide a higher and quicker profit margin than solving the complex problem of supply, demand and disposal), but, fortunately, everyday people are sitting down to think of ways to save the Earth.

Although the task seems formidable, it's an effort that can start with the individual.

Maybe that's what makes reading a slender volume titled 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth is so gratifying. Printed on recycled paper with recycled ink and dedicated "to the not-yet-born," the booklet proceeds on the principle put down by Edmund Burke: "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little."

On page after page, it outlines little things each of us can do to clean up the world.

Not surprisingly, it was conceived and printed in Berkeley, Calif., by an outfit called Earthworks Press. Copies are available in bookstores everywhere for less than $5. It's simple to read and follow, but better yet, it tells where to send off to get those little items that can add up to a big difference.

For example, the book points out that it takes one whole 15- to 20-year-old tree to make enough paper for just 700 grocery bags. At that rate, it takes little more than one household to use up a tree a year just to carry home the groceries. What a waste.

Save the Earth suggests buying four easy-to-carry string bags for groceries and a washable canvas sack for other shopping. If you don't want to make your own bags, the book tells you where to buy them. The canvas bag even has "Save a Tree" emblazoned on it.

At the bottom of each page is a little tidbit of information that's as encouraging as a cheer at a Weight Watchers meeting.

"A recycled aluminum can is typically re-melted and back in the store within six weeks," says one. "In six months, a leaky toilet wastes 45,000 gallons of water," says another. That kind of data makes the effort worth the trouble.

There are pages for savings at the office, in the neighborhood and in the home. There are even two pages on recycling newspapers, which could save 25-million trees a year.

In a year when people such as Leona Helmsley and Donald Trump are turned into stars, it's encouraging to see that there's a company worrying about what's going on with the ground beneath our feet.