The grandson of famous explorer Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the heir to his deep-sea-diving family's throne, Philippe Cousteau, Jr. would like you to think before you shop—but not just about the oceans that three generations of his family have lovingly worked to protect. Think instead, he said, about yourself. "Bono said, 'Shopping is politics.' I wish I had come up with that," said Cousteau. "[Consumer issues are] one of the most important places we intersect with choices that make a difference—not just for the environment, but for our health, for our kids, and for our families."
Cousteau is upholding his family's legacy in research, conservation and exploration through his nonprofit foundation, EarthEcho International, and his work as a television host on Animal Planet and Planet Green. He and his sister are the hosts of Planet Green's month-long Blue August programming, which focuses on water conservation. But you don't have to have the last name Cousteau to protect our oceans. Philippe sat down with U.S. News to share five green things that his grandfather and father would have wanted everyday consumers to do to protect our oceans and planet.
1. Bring your own bag.
"One of my big pet peeves is single-use plastic bags. I think it's one of the stupidest ideas in the world. I mean, fair enough if you're at the supermarket and have a lot of things, and nothing else to put them in, but I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone put some little item in a plastic bag, and I say, 'I can put that in my pocket.' I'll use that bag for 10 seconds or 10 minutes, but it will exist on this planet for eternity. Don't use them, as much as possible. Get a reusable bag. Just stop and think—put [the item] in your pocket, put it in your purse. I'm in favor of a ban. That's how people used to shop. We're spoiled in this country for convenience. Before we had plastic bags in this country, we survived, and there weren't plastic bags in our water, choking fish."
2. Use your own bottle.
"I hate plastic bottles. Just think about it before you buy one. We pay more for a gallon of water than we do for a gallon of gas. I think people will realize that water quality standards in most municipalities are as good or better for the stuff coming out of the tap than bottled water companies. You'll save money, and save the environment too. It's a petroleum product, and we're going to war over this stuff. Let's use less of it."
3. Buy local.
"I think food is a big issue. The average piece of food travels over 1,200 miles in this country. Think of all the pollution that's caused by that. Buy local food from farmer's markets whenever you can —even if you buy just an apple, just one local thing. It's the power of a supply-and-demand economy—the more that's purchased, the lower the price gets. So as much as you can, support local farms. It helps the system. That's how you grow a whole new sector in this country of sustainable agriculture."
4. Use green household and personal products.
"The biggest organ in your body is your skin and it's a permeable membrane. Anything you put on it goes into you. If you can't pronounce most of the words on the back of the bottle, it's probably not good for you. I always find it ironic that you have chlorine bleach commercials with kids laughing, 'Thanks mommy, for making the kitchen so clean.' Chlorine is one of the biggest causes of methylmercury pollution in the environment, which affects kids first. Buy healthy products—they're available at the CVS and Safeway, not at the hoity-toity grocery stores, for pretty much the same price as name brands. You want to use brands that are better for you, your kids, your family, the environment."
5. Carefully consider what fish you eat.
"Sustainable seafood is something we feel strongly about. Don't eat shrimp—it's one of the most unsustainable fish. For every pound that's caught, 10 or 20 pounds of other stuff is killed and dumped back overboard. Its the number one killer of juvenile sea turtles in Mexico. Two good sustainable seafood guides that I'd recommend are from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Blue Ocean Institute."