April 20th, 2007 by Hilary
Anyone with children has had the experience of waking in the middle of the night to a very sick child. I can remember one particular night, waking up to my child’s cries and feeling the intense heat radiating from his forehead. A tiny little body helplessly overheating. No thermometer was necessary – I knew by the temperature and his fast breathing that his body was waging a war against infection.
The Earth, like a small baby, is also helplessly overheating. We do not need a thermometer to know that the Earth has a fever. There are many signs that the Earth’s temperature has been climbing for the last 50 years. The most obvious signs are the melting glaciers in Greenland, the shifting ranges of plants and migrating animals, and the earlier onset of spring.
Unfortunately, humans have impacted the Earth so much that it is not possible to expect the Earth to regulate itself. There is also no quick or cheap fever reducing medicine we can give to the planet (though some scientists are exploring a Plan B of space mirrors, or pumping sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere if humans are unable to reduce CO2 emissions). The best chance at reducing the fever is for humans to make changes in their daily lives. This is the positive side: humans are causing global warming and humans have the power to reduce global warming.
On this Earth Day, we set forth this challenge to ourselves and to you our blog readers: to commit to doing at least 10 of the following items to reduce your carbon emissions. Here, in our offices we will be making individual commitments to this challenge, as well as committing our office to this challenge. We encourage you over the next year to continually write and update us about the changes you have committed to, the challenges to fulfilling this commitment, and the benefits you have received.
- Replace all of your light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. Replacing 6 frequently used light bulbs will bring a 600lbs of CO2 savings and approximately $120/yr to your savings.
- Turn off lights and machines when you are not using them. Around the office here, I am known as the Lady of Darkness. Using natural lighting as much as possible will have great savings. Turning off machines when not used will also result in savings. A screen saver is not an energy saver. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 75% of all the electricity consumed in the home is standby power used to keep electronics running when those TVs, DVDs, computers, monitors and stereos are “off.” The average desktop computer, not including the monitor, consumes from 60 to 250 watts a day. Shutting your computer off when not in use would reduce the machine’s CO2 emissions about 83%. Unplugging unused electronics can save over 1,000 CO2 and approximately $256.00 a year
- Seal windows and doors to control heat, air and moisture leakage. This can save 1,700 lbs of CO2 and $274 a year.
- Adjust Your Thermostat/Turn off the AC. Move your heater thermostat down two degrees in winter and wear sweaters. In the summer, open a window and turn off the AC. Turning your thermostat down in the winter will save 2000 lbs of carbon dioxide and $98 per year.
- Set Your Hot Water Heater Lower. Keep your hot water thermostat no higher than 120 degree Fahrenheit. This will save 550 lbs. of CO2 and around $30.00 a year.
- Wash Warm And Hang Your Clothes Up To Dry. A recent study by Cambridge University’s Institute of Manufacturing found that 60% of the energy associated with a piece of clothing is spent in washing and drying it. Over its lifetime, one T shirt can send up to 9 lbs of CO2 into the air. Washing your clothes in warm water instead of hot and washing in large loads will reduce your energy use. Using an energy efficient machine will also help – the newer ones use as little as 1/4 th the energy of the older machines. Finally, hang your clothes up on the line. These steps can reduce the CO2 created by your laundry by 90%.
- Install a Low Flow Showerhead. Using less water in the shower means less energy to heat the water. Save 350 lbs. of CO2 and approximately $150.
- Get A Home Energy Audit For Your Home/Office. The average family can shave 1,000 lbs of CO2 emissions each year by asking their utility provider to do a home energy audit. The audit shows where you are losing energy. It is free so what is holding you back.
- Buy Green Power. Check your local utility to see if it offers green energy. If it does, sign up. You can find out if your utility does here.
- Buy Energy Star Appliances. While approved energy star products may be pricier, you can reduce your utility bill by as much as 30%.
- Give Your Hot Water Heater A Blanket. Wrapping your hot water heater in an insulated blanket, about $10 to $20 at home centers, can save your household between 250 to 1,000 lbs. in CO2 emissions a year, and $40 per year.
- Ride The Bus Or Get On Your Bicycle, or Carpool. Transportation accounts for more than 30% of U.S. CO2 emissions, and 53% of Washington State CO2 emissions. Riding the bus can save an estimated 1.4 billion gallons of gas a year. This means about 1.5 million tons of CO2. Ride a bicycle and the savings increases.
- Buy Minimally Packaged Goods. You will reduce your garbage, as well as save 1,200 lbs of CO2.
- Buy Local Organic Food and Grow Your Own. Fruit, vegetables, meat and milk produced closer to home rack up fewer “petroleum miles” than products trucked cross-country to your table. How do you find them? Search localharvest.org by ZIP code for farmers’ markets, greengrocers and food co-ops in your area. Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project, which lets you buy shares in a farmer’s annual harvest. In return, you get a box of produce every week for a season. If you buy organic, you avoid polluting the water supply and you save energy that would have been used to produce the chemicals.
- Plant native trees – lots of them. Trees sequester carbon through photosynthesis, converting carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and plant matter. Save 2,000 lbs of CO2 per year with a tree.
- Pay Your Bills Online. This act will not only reduce your paper trail but also reduce fuel consumption by the trucks and planes transporting the checks. If every U.S. home viewed and paid its bills online, the switch would cut solid waste by 1.6 billion tons a year and curb greenhouse-gas emissions by 2.1 million tons a year.
- Reduce Junk Mail. C’mon admit it – you don’t like it so just stop it. More than 100 million trees are destroyed each year to produce junk mail. More than 62 million pieces (4 million tons) of junk mail are produced each year, wasting 28 billion gallons of water between production and recycling. To top it off, 44% of it goes to the landfill unopened. It is easy to do with several organizations out there like greendimes and 41pounds, www.41pounds.org/ which pledge to cut your junk mail back by 80-95%. The name 41 pounds refers to the amount of junk mail the average adult receives each year.
- Reduce Your Meat Intake. The international meat industry generates roughly 18% of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions—even more than transportation—according to a report last year from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. If you switch to vegetarianism, you can shrink your carbon footprint by up to 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide a year, according to research by the University of Chicago. Compare this to trading a standard car for a hybrid, which cuts only about one ton of CO2 emissions.
- Reduce Paper Use and Use Recycled Paper. Americans recycled 42 million tons of paper last year—50% of what they used—but still pulverized the rest. Paper does grow on trees: 900 million of them every year become pulp and paper. We can reduce that number by buying recycled paper. It uses 60% less energy than virgin paper. Each ton purchased saves 4,000 kW-h of energy, 7,000 gal. of water and 17 trees, and a tree has the capacity to filter up to 60 lbs. of pollutants from the air. Using recycled will save 5 lbs of CO2 per ream of paper.
- BYOB: Bring Your Own Bag – to the Store. The question is not paper or plastic. The answer is your own reusable bag. Both paper and plastic have environmental impacts. Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic bags every year, mountains of plastic that can last for 1,000 years, give or take a few centuries. And when they are not properly thrown away, they litter the countryside, killing birds or choking creatures like sea turtles. Look in your local store to see if they sell totes or go online at www.1bagatatime.com. The cost is $1.99 per bag with a minimum order of 10 (go in with a friend), plus about $6-$8 for shipping. These bags also use energy to produce.
Our Earth is ill and it needs healing. We cannot have healthy humans on a sick planet. Thus, the Earth’s well-being and our well-being depend on us resolving to heal the Earth’s broken systems. Each of us can and must do this. To start to do this, I ask that each of us commit to reducing our environmental footprint and CO2 emissions by accepting the challenge to do at least 10 things from the above list this year. We look forward to hearing about the challenges you choose and your progress towards a cleaner, cooler tomorrow.
Happy Earth Day!