The Earth Needs Your Help This Earth Day!

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. Seal windows and doors to control heat, air and moisture leakage. This can save 1,700 lbs of CO2 and $274 a year.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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%.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Buy Energy Star Appliances. While approved energy star products may be pricier, you can reduce your utility bill by as much as 30%.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Buy Minimally Packaged Goods. You will reduce your garbage, as well as save 1,200 lbs of CO2.

  14. 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 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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, 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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 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!

6 Responses to “The Earth Needs Your Help This Earth Day!”

  1. Jeff Bowman Says:

    I’m a willing convert. Took your list and sat down with the family on Earth Day to discuss how we can limit our impact. Given that my two teenage sons never turn out the lights I went right to suggestion #1 and asked my wife to buy the energy efficient fluorescent bulbs. Image my horror when I saw that they contain mercury. Now what?

  2. Jesse Peterson Says:

    I find that I’m constantly considerating the relative terms of the best environmental outcome of an act. For example at what point does it not make sense to turn your car off when you’re not moving because the car consumes more fuel when starting? A similar thing exists with your CFL example as with solar panels – their manufacture and/or materials aren’t particularly eco-friendly. I share your concern.

  3. Kendra Says:

    Did you know that 100 million trees are cut down annually to produce the junk mail for one year in America? Did you know that you are on track to recieve 70 pounds of junk mail this year?

    And most importantly, did you know that there is something you can do to stop this?

    GreenDimes will stop your junk mail and plant a tree for you each month. Tell your friends!


  4. Hilary Franz Says:

    First, I want to say CONGRATS Jeff on already taking steps towards limiting global warming.

    Second, with our activities, we often have to weigh the environmental impacts. In weighing the impacts, our consciousness and due consideration will most often lead to the best choice – though it is not always clear what is the best choice.

    The compact flourescent light v. incandescent lightbulb debate is one of those choices that I think is easier to make. Compact fluorescent lights are more energy efficient and have a longer use life than incandescent lights. Most incandescent (including halogen) bulbs waste 90% of their energy because they provide heat. Not so with the CF bulb, which uses 75% less energy to produce the same amount of light.

    Jeff brings up a real concern, but it is a concern that can be significantly reduced. The standard fluorescent lamp contains approximately 20 milligrams of mercury. There are no known health hazards from exposure to lamps that are intact. If a compact fluorescent bulb or fluorescent tube breaks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says your greatest risk is being cut by the glass because the amount of mercury in the bulb is so small. With approximately 800 million bulbs being replaced each year, improper disposal of fluorescent lamps can contaminate the environment. Mercury is most toxic when it leaches from landfills into the water and then into fish and humans.

    Mercury is also found in coal. When coal is burned, mercury is released into the environment. The largest man-made source of mercury in the atmosphere is fossil fuel combustion (58% of total). Coal burning power plants are the largest human-caused source of mercury emissions in to the air in the United States (making up over 40% of all domestic human-caused mercury emissions). “On average, fossil-fueled power plants emit 0.04 milligrams of mercury per kilowatt-hour sold.” When the mercury in a fossil fuel is heated in a combustor, it turns into a vapor and escapes into the atmosphere. This mercury eventually returns to the earth, settling in water or on land where it is washed into streams, lakes, and other waterways.

    The first step then is to reduce your energy use by turning off lights when not in use. This will extend the life of your bulb as well as reduce the amount of energy generated from coal burning power plants. (Going Green Power is also another way). After reducing your energy use, seek out more efficient energy sources, like compact fluorescent. “Reducing energy through compact flourescent energy-savings reduces more mercury in the environment than is added by the potential disposal problem of the bulb.” Also, seek out bulbs with low amounts of mercury. Recently, lighting manufacturers who are members of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) made a voluntary commitment to cap the total mercury content in fluorescent bulbs less than 25 watts at 5 mg per unit and for 25-40 watts at 6 mg per unit. Philips and GE make a very low mercury content already.

    The next step is to properly recycle your fluorescent bulbs. When this occurs there is a major reduction in environmental mercury from the energy savings, with little or no added mercury from the bulb. During the recycling process, the phosphor power, the glass, metal and other materials are sorted out for recycling. They claim that 100% of the glass, aluminum, and other materials can be reclaimed and reused, and that up to 99.9 percent of the mercury can be recovered and used for other purposes. When storing for recycling, store them in cardboard tubes and in boxes to protect them from damage. In the Washington state, go to for a list of retailers that will take your fluorescent bulbs and tubes and recycle them.

    Thus, the right choice here I think is flourescent. Now the choice between flourescent bulbs and beeswax candles may be a more difficult one.

  5. Harley Sanders Says:

    I’ve always been fairly environmentally concious, and I’m glad to see that more people are becoming aware. However, I think there will be problems with convincing the non-choir members if we don’t get our numbers right. I’ve seen esimates on the CO2 savings for switching one 75 watt incandescent bulb to a 19 watt CFL reported as 1000 lbs, 455 lbs, 173 lbs, 55 lbs, and now 100 lbs. I think one of the last two are the most accurate, but I don’t know for sure.

    Similarly, claiming that 75% of a home’s energy usage is caused by standby power on a few computers, TVs, microwaves, etc. can’t possibly be accurate, unless the home owners don’t watch TV, use air conditioning, dishwashers, clothes dryers, etc. I went to the Dept. of Energy and found that the actual report states that up to 75% of the power of the machines that have a standby mode is used in the standby mode, not 75% of the total home power usage. And even that is assuming minimal use and maximal standby.

    I think it would behoove us all to make sure the numbers that are being thrown around are as accurate as possible, in order to not leave openings for the mass consumers to negate our arguments and issues. It’s going to be hard enough to make progress in this country as it is.

    Having said all that, keep up the good work here and Go Earth!

  6. Hilary Franz Says:

    Thank you Harley for your comments.

    I agree that getting our numbers is right and I also agree that there are alot of numbers out there. It is particularly difficult to get the numbers exactly right for each person because it is dependent on a number of factors, including the state you live in and who provides your energy. That is because the amount of carbon dioxide released depends on the mix of fuel sources your energy provider uses. Coal power, for instance, emits far more CO2 than hydro-electric power, and renewables, such as wind and solar, emit the least. So the numbers are often based on national averages and assumption of use.

    My statement of about 600 lbs CO2 was based on the following information and formula. A 100 watt lightbulb which is expected to last approximately 1000 hours equates to 100 kWh (100 watts divided by 1000 = .10kW and .10kW x 1000 hrs = 100kWh). 100kWh x 6 light bulbs = 600 kWh. We know that every kWh hour of electricity produces approximately 1.34 pounds of carbon dioxide. (This number is the national average emissions rate.) Thus, 6 incandescent 100 watt light bulbs will produce 804 lbs of CO2 ( 600 kWh x 1.34 lbs. = 804 lbs. of carbon dioxide). On the other hand, the comperable Compact Fluorescent or CFL produces around 25 watts (it ranges between 23 and 26) and has around 10,000 hours of use. This equates to .025 kW (25 watts divided by 1000 = .025 kW) and to 25 kWh (.025kW x 1,000 hrs(the same time that the incandescent bulb worked)). 25kWh x 6 CFL bulbs equates to 150 kWh for 6 bulbs. 150kWh x 1.34 = 201 lbs of CO2. The difference between the pounds of carbon dioxide 6 incandescent light bulb puts out and the pounds put out by the 6 CFL lights for the life span of the incandescent light bulb equates to approximately 603 pounds (804 – 201 = 603).

    There are ways you can calculate your personal energy use that are more accurate. I used the national average of 1.34 lbs. CO2/kWh, but you can find the multiplier for your state at For example, here in Washington, our average CO2 pounds/kWh emissions is .25. (Recognize that this information is based on data obtained between 1998-2000).

    Thus, if you know the wattage of an item or appliance, you can calculate the CO2 emissions with this formula (here I used a 75 watt bulb as an example): (75 Watts x 2 Hours Used Daily x 365 days)/1000 x 1.34 lbs. CO2/kWh = 73 lbs. CO2/year (or use your state’s carbon coefficient from the web site above).

    On the issue of the 75% of home energy use, you are right that my statement was not correctly stated. The Department of Energy actually says that in the average home 75% of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off. I should have been clearer that the 75% does not apply to all home energy use but to the electricity used to power home electronics. Thank you for helping clarify.

    Thank you again for your comments and for your support.