Last week a number of readers e-mailed asking what each of them can do to help combat global warming. Since 193 countries meeting at the U.N. climate conference in Cancun were unable to reach any consensus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it’s up to each of us to lend a helping hand because global warming is a citizen’s issue.
Going green is the new “normal” for the coming decade. In addition to being ecologically sound, going green will save each family a couple thousand dollars a year.
The first step is to calculate how much energy you use at home, traveling and at work. We call this calculating your carbon footprint (visit www.ecofoot.org). Once you determine how much you and your family are spending, it is simple to begin to cut back.
Reducing is the most important habit that we can all easily change. Reduce what you use by buying quality products. This is both important for retailers and the economy. Quality products cost more but last longer, save you money (from having to buy inferior products again); and quality products reduce the amount of waste we are putting into landfills.
Re-using also makes good sense. Every year, North Americans drink more than 110 billion cups of coffee. Approximately 16 billion disposable paper cups are thrown away — that’s enough cups, when placed end to end, to wrap around the planet 57 times. Instead, get yourself a stainless steel mug and most coffee vendors offer customers a 25 cent discount. At five cups a week that’s a savings of $65 a year.
There are about 265 million cars in North America or 38 percent of the global fleet. It takes about 9 million barrels of oil a day or about the equivalent of what Saudi Arabia produces daily to fuel these cars.
Make fuel conservation an important factor when purchasing your next car. The European Smart Car is a winner. You will spend $884 less on gasoline a year. Invest that savings at an 8 percent rate of return and in 10 years you will have saved $14,000. In 20 years you’ll have almost $43,000 and in 30 years you will have over $108,000.
Or consider the new array of electric vehicles. I’ve test driven a few of them and my favorite is the General Motors, Chevrolet Volt. As more and more households become reliant on solar panels for their electricity, the electric vehicles will truly embrace the meaning of “leaving a zero-footprint” because when you arrive home you’ll plug your car into the solar power system to recharge its batteries.
All cars and trucks must have their tires inflated to the correct tire pressure. In doing so, you will save 18 cents a gallon. Also, make sure that your trunk is kept empty — extra weight reduces fuel efficiency.
Forty percent of all car trips in North America are less than two miles. Ride a bicycle or walk that distance and get exercise instead of spending fuel. At the end of the year you will have saved $215.
The average home emits about twice as much CO2 compared to the average car. Most energy utility companies offer a whole-house evaluation. An energy audit will save you as much as 30 percent on your yearly bills (visit www.eere.energy.gov).
Roughly half of our home energy expenses comes from heating and cooling — that means furnaces and air conditioning units must be serviced bi-annually and air filters changed at least twice a year (visit www.energystar.gov).
By setting your winter thermostat to 68 degrees and your summer thermostat to 79 degrees you’ll save $250 a year. Also, put your clothes, after washing them in cold water only, out to air-dry and you’ll save an additional $300 annually.
Use a smart power strip and plug-in as many electronic devices that have stand-by mode in your home, you’ll reduce your power bill by a further 5 to 15 percent, translating into another $97 savings a year. Phantom electricity or standby power in the U.S. alone wastes $4 billion of electricity a year and contributes at least 28 million tons of CO2 emissions, annually.
Turn off all lights when you leave a room, shut down computers and printers when not in use, and unplug all cell phone, laptop, camera, mp3 players, iPods and toothbrush adapters when not in use — save $105 a year.
When buying a new appliance ensure that they have an Energy Star label. In 2008, North Americans saved enough energy by using Energy Star appliances, and reduced CO2 emissions equivalent to taking 29 million cars off the road or $16 billion on their utility bills.
Turn off the tap when you brush your teeth and only use the dishwasher when it’s completely full and save another $72 a year.
Install ultra low-flow toilets and showerheads and conserve 9,235 gallons of water a year — a savings of $165 on your yearly water bill.
North Americans’ spend about $20 billion on cleaning supplies, most are highly toxic and can end up contaminating rivers, lakes and the oceans. Consider using environmentally-certified products from Seventh Generation (visit www.seventhgeneration.com).
Lastly, plant a tree for every member of your family. Trees reduce heating and cooling costs around homes and buildings by as much as 40 percent. They also suck CO2 from the atmosphere, filter storm water runoff, purify the air and provide habitat for urban critters.
It turns out that each of us can do a tremendous amount to help our environment by simply changing a few habits. For instance, each year in California 19 billion single-use plastic bags are manufactured, many of them are winding up in the Pacific Ocean and senselessly suffocating millions of animals. It is neither expensive nor difficult to buy six organic cotton bags and re-use them each time you visit the grocery store. Make it your 2011 resolution — just do it!
Dr. Reese Halter is a Science Communicator: Voice for Ecology, conservation biologist at Cal Lutheran University, public speaker and author of “Wild Weather.” Contact him through www.DrReese.com