The threat of global warming hangs over our planet like a storm
cloud. If not checked soon, it could some day soon cause untold --
possibly irreparable -- harm to our planet's ecosystem, triggering:
Threats to our food
and water supplies.
Rising sea levels.
thousands of plant and animal species.
The spread of deadly
But there is good news. The world now recognizes the problem.
Governments around the globe are taking action to cap carbon dioxide
emissions (which account for more than half of the greenhouse gases
that trap the sun's heat inside the earth's atmosphere), set
meaningful targets for fuel-efficient cars and offer incentives for
The U.S. government, unfortunately, has not led the debate on
climate change solutions and has been slow to embrace significant
change in these big areas. In short, the U.S. government either says
the threat isn't real -- despite almost unanimity among scientists
that the threat is real and imminent -- or that dealing with it will
harm the economy.
The U.S. government has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol most
of the nations of the world have signed in order to set mandatory
caps on carbon dioxide. And the U.S. has refused to set meaningful
fuel-efficiency standards for cars. These are two of the biggest,
most important actions the U.S. government can -- but won't -- take
to save our planet.
But that doesn't mean you can't do something -- right now -- and
make a difference.
Because here's the truth. If just a third of us take a handful of
meaningful actions in our daily lives to conserve energy -- thereby
conserving fossil fuels -- we stand a good chance of reducing our
nation's emissions to the targets set for the United States by the
Kyoto Protocol the U.S. government refuses to sign.
That's right. Us. If a third of us agree to stand against the
gravest threat in human history and decide to do our part in a
systematic way, then we can do collectively what our elected leaders
refuse to consider.
What's more, many of the ideas that we'll describe below can also
save us money. That helps the economy -- countering one of the main
reasons the U.S. government has refused to act on significant
climate change solutions.
So what should we do? Here's our top 10 list, which can apply to
individuals, organizations and businesses. There are dozens more
where these come from, but this should get you started. Take a look
through the ones that make sense for you right now; send an e-mail
to the Earth
Day Network with your pledge; and begin your own, personal
journey with the rest of us to save the earth we live on. The time
to act is now.
Project switch: Change your light bulbs!
Many consumers don't know this, but there are now highly
efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs that last for years, use a
quarter of the energy of regular bulbs and actually produce more
light. Look for the government's Energy Star label, which means the
bulb has been tested for quality and efficiency. While each Energy
Star-qualified bulb will cost more initially -- anywhere from $3 to
$9 each -- remember that there are two price tags: what you pay at
the register and what you pay in energy costs over the bulb's
lifetime. So you may pay more upfront, but you will actually save
hundreds of dollars in your household budget over the long term
because of their long life.
While CFLs were harder to find a few years ago, they're now
widely available and much more affordable. You'll find them at major
home improvement and hardware stores -- even grocery and some
Here's the impact. If every household in the U.S. replaced a
burned-out bulb with an energy-efficient, Energy Star-qualified
compact fluorescent bulb, the cumulative effect is enormous. It
would prevent more than 13 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from
entering the atmosphere -- which is like taking more than a million
cars off the road for an entire year.
There are other, simple things you can do with household lighting
to conserve: Turn off unneeded lights, dim lights when you can, and
bring natural sunlight into your home when it is feasible.
But changing those old light bulbs and replacing them with Energy
Star-qualified compact fluorescents that can last for a decade or
more is by far the best thing you can do.
Drive your car differently -- or drive a different car
The sad truth is that your car emits as much carbon dioxide as
your entire house. That's the bad news. The good news is that
anything you can do to improve the fuel efficiency of your car will
have an enormous impact on climate change. In fact, experts say that
paying attention to fuel efficiency in your car may be the single
biggest thing you can do to prevent global warming
Buying a fuel-efficient car -- like a hybrid -- is wonderful. In
fact, replacing your gas-guzzling car with a fuel-efficient one is
by far the best thing you can do, out of all your choices. But not
all of us can do that -- at least, not right now. Carmakers haven't
sold enough hybrids in the U.S. yet to make them as affordable as
they should be. That will change, but not for a few years.
So, in the interim, there are things you can do with the car you
drive now to conserve energy and be more fuel-efficient.
Drive less. Every
year, Americans as a whole drive more miles than they did the
year before. Stop this trend and we drive a stake in the trend.
Telecommuting and public transportation are great options --
once a week reduces a ton of carbon dioxide emissions a year --
but even piling multiple errands into one trip helps. If you can
walk instead of drive, even better.
Get your car tuned
up. Just a simple tuneup often improves fuel efficiency by half.
If 100,000 of us went out and got a tuneup, we would cut 124,000
tons of carbon dioxide.
Slow down, don't
race your car's engine, and watch your idling. All of these save
on gas -- saving you money -- and have a big impact on burning
Horribly inefficient SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks now make up
more than half of the cars on American roads. The real tragedy is
that automakers could double the current average fuel efficiency of
SUVs if they wanted to, which would cut 70 tons of carbon dioxide
per car. The technology exists. Unfortunately, consumer demand does
Your house -- not too hot, not too cold!
The bad news is that half of your household energy costs go
toward just two things -- heating and cooling. The good news is that
this means you have lots of room for improvement, and even small
changes make dramatic improvements in household fuel efficiency.
Older heating and cooling systems are a third less efficient than
the new systems. So replacing the old with the new is a wonderful
idea, although not very practical for most of us. Things you can do
right now to make sure you're setting the right temperature in your
Tune up your
heating system. This one thing every couple of years can reduce
your heating costs by 10 percent a year.
Clean vents, close
unused vents, and change filters in the vents. Again, just these
simple things will save you 10 percent.
Buy a programmable
thermostat, which can regulate different temperatures at
different times of the day. And if you have one, use it! Right
now, three-quarters of people who have programmable thermostats
don't use them at all.
Add two degrees to
the air-conditioning thermostat in summer and two degrees in
winter. If everyone did this, the cumulative impact is
Make sure windows
and doors are sealed. Again, this will dramatically improve your
household fuel efficiency.
Of course, if you
can stand it, by far the best approach is to avoid air
conditioners at all. Ceiling fans, instead of air conditioning,
can reduce your cooling costs by more than half.
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Tame the refrigerator monster!
Did you know that your friendly refrigerator has a voracious
energy appetite? It is, by far, the single biggest consumer of
electricity in the average household, responsible for 10 percent to
15 percent of the electricity you use each month.
Older refrigerators, as a rule, are far less efficient than the
newest ones, which are as much as 50 percent more efficient in many
cases. But buying a brand-new, energy-efficient refrigerator is
almost certainly not in the cards for most of us. Fortunately, other
things will help.
Don't set the
thermostat too high. Even one degree will make a big difference.
refrigerator is near a heating vent or always in the sun, then
change the location, cover up the heat vent near it, or drape
Turn on your
"energy saver" switch near the thermostat.
Clean the condenser
coil. This one, very simple thing can improve the efficiency of
your refrigerator by a third!
Get rid of your
second refrigerator. If you don't need it, don't waste the
Make sure the doors
seal properly, and keep the cool in.
Twist the knobs on your other household appliances!
The other big users of energy in your household are your hot
water heater, your washer and dryer, and your dishwasher. Each, in
its own way, can be inefficient. Here are some things to try:
Either turn the hot
water heater down a couple of degrees, or turn on the "energy
Buy insulation for
your hot water heater at a local store and insulate the pipes as
Install a timer on
your water heater to turn off at night and just before you wake
up in the morning.
When possible, wash
a few dishes by hand. Over time, that will save a few loads in
the dishwasher, conserving energy.
dishes. Today's detergents are powerful enough to do the job.
Wait until you have
a full load to run the dishwasher.
Wash clothes in
warm water, not hot. The clothes will be just as clean, and
you'll cut energy use by 50 percent.
Don't over-dry your
clothes. That will save 15 percent.
Green plants with less water; plant more trees to provide shade.
While it is true that planting more trees will help in the short
term because they essentially soak up carbon, they also release
carbon dioxide when they die. So it just postpones the problem. But
there are other reasons to plant trees -- as windbreaks to save
energy and as shade to lower cooling costs. And even the short-term
help while we get our act together is a good thing.
As for plants, do everything you can in your yard and garden to
create ways in which plants use less water. Choose hardier plants,
plant things in groups if they need more water, and add mulch to
help keep moisture in. When you mow your grass, make sure you do it
smartly -- with sharp blades and only when the grass needs cutting.
Finally, make sure you water your lawn sparingly. All of these will
Buy green energy and invest in green energy stocks.
Imagine if we ran out of fossil fuels tomorrow. What would we do?
Well, we'd get our electricity from renewable sources -- solar
panels, geothermal and wind power sources. Many utilities now give
consumers the option to buy green power. Ask for it!
Learn the truth about nuclear power and natural gas as viable
green options. They aren't. Radioactive waste will be a problem for
tens of thousands of years into the future, and natural gas kicks
out almost as much carbon dioxide as coal and oil. Natural gas can
help us make a transition, but it isn't the solution.
Finally, if you invest, invest in green stocks and renewable
energy companies through socially responsible funds. They perform
just as well as all of the unfiltered funds -- if not better.
Even with our vast reservoir of scientific knowledge about
farming, most American farmers still spray a billion pounds of
pesticides to protect crops each year.
Now here's the kicker: When chemical pesticides are used to kill
pests, they also kill off microorganisms that keep carbon contained
in the soil. When the microorganisms are gone, the carbon is
released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. And when those
organisms are gone, the soil is no longer naturally fertile, and
chemical fertilizers become a necessity, not a luxury.
But besides going organic -- thereby saving the carbon release
from soil -- there are other simple things you can do with food that
will also make a difference:
Eat locally grown
food. If the food doesn't have to travel far, there's less
carbon dioxide from the trucks that ship it.
Eat fruits and
vegetables in season. Again, that saves the enormous
Plant your own
vegetable garden. It's not as hard as you might think.
This may sound simple, but it takes less energy to manufacture a
recycled product than a brand-new one. So if you and every other
consumer buy recycled, you'll help create a market and conserve
energy along the way.
Because many manufacturers don't go out of their way to tout
their recycled products, you should know that aluminum and tin cans,
glass containers, and pulp cardboard have a fair amount of recycled
content. So buy away!
Recycled is often considerably cheaper than nonrecycled, so it's
cost-effective as well as conservation-minded. For instance,
recycled paper can be as much as a third cheaper than non-recycled
Finally, before you buy, check to see if the product or its
packaging can be recycled. The recyclable logo -- three arrows
forming a triangle -- is fairly common now.
Be a minimalist.
We know it's difficult, but in today's consumer economy, an easy
way to conserve energy is to simply use -- and buy -- less. Every
time you buy something, energy has gone into getting that product to
you. So the less you buy, the more you save energywise. It's a
This last item on our top 10 list may, in fact, be the single
biggest way to make a dent in the global warming problem. Again, we
know it sounds obvious, but buying less -- some of which you just
don't need -- changes the energy equation across the board, on every
single consumer product. If everyone used less, the impact would be
So how about some specific things? Here are a few:
Buy in bulk. In
short, bulk items use less packaging, which translates into less
Buy one of
something, not 21 of something. You don't need 21 pairs of
shoes, if one pair works just as well.
Go through your
closet. Donate or recycle what you really don't need, then make
a pledge not to replace everything you just got rid of.
products that will last longer. Over time, you'll obviously buy
fewer products that way.
Be creative in what
you use for work, play and leisure. You don't always have to buy
new products for activities. Reuse in creative ways.
Well, that's it -- Earth Day Network's top 10. As we said at the
start, if just a third of us in the United States follow through on
most of what's on this list, we can all collectively make a
difference -- and keep greenhouse gas emissions where they might
otherwise be if the U.S. government stepped in and imposed mandatory
carbon dioxide caps and fuel-efficiency standards.
We can make a difference.
Earth Day Network]
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