Friday, April 21, 2006

Earth Day

Tomorrow is Earth Day! I am not as "green" as I want to be. Here are 10 things we can do right now to make a difference for our planet! You can find more ideas and stuff at!

Project Switch: Change your light bulbs!

Many consumers don't know this, but there are now highly efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) 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 a piece – remember that there are two price tags: what you pay at the register and what you pay in energy costs to over the bulb's lifetime. So you may pay more up front, 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 convenience stores.

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 CO2 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 with household lighting you can do 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 altogether!

The sad truth is that your car emits as much CO2 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 that trend. Telecommuting and public transportation are great options – once a week saves a ton of CO2 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 tune-up often improves fuel efficiency by half. If 100,000 of us went out and got a tune up, we save 124,000 tons of CO2.

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 gasoline.

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 save 70 tons of CO2 per car. The technology exists. Unfortunately, consumer demand does not.

Your house – not too hot, not too cold!

The bad news is that half of your household energy costs go towards just two things – heating and cooling. The good news is that 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, but not very practical for most of us. Things you can do right now to make sure you're setting the right temperature in your house include:

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 AC thermostat in summer, and two degrees in winter. If everyone did this, the cumulative impact is significant.

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 AC, can reduce your cooling costs by more than half.

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 10-15 percent of the electricity you use each month.

Older refrigerators, as a rule, are far less efficient than the newest ones – 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 1 degree will make a big difference.

If your refrigerator is near a heating vent, or always in the sun, then change the location, cover up the heat vent near it or drape the window.

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 energy.

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 conservation" setting.

Buy insulation for your hot water heater at a local store and insulate the pipes as well.

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.

Don't pre-rinse 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, 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 wind breaks 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 that need more water and put in 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 conserve energy.

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 CO2 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 (if not better) than all of the unfiltered funds.

Go organic.

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 CO2. 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 CO2 from the trucks that ship it.

Eat fruits and vegetables in season. Again, that saves the enormous transportation costs.

Plant your own vegetable garden. It's not as hard as you might think.

Buy recycled.

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 non-recycled, 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 paper.

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 energy-wise. It's a simple equation.

This last item on our Top Ten 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 things – 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 large indeed.

So how about some specific things? Here are a few:

Buy in bulk. In short, bulk items use less packaging, which translates into less energy.

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.

Buy quality 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. Re-use in creative ways.


At 4/21/2006 5:05 PM, Blogger Adam said...

These are great suggestions! Brad and I cut ourselves down to one car and typically we don't use it on the weekends and instead walk everywhere. Most people are shocked that we share one car but really its fine, its not necessary, especially in an urban area, that each person has a car.

At 4/21/2006 11:12 PM, Anonymous sweettooth120 said...

John, is it difficult to become organic in Israel. I can't imagine how people over there would be able to afford it.

Also, one more suggestion. Fill up your gas tank and mow your lawn in the evening during the summer.

"Since heat and sunlight are two of the necessary ingredients for smog formation, it is no surprise that NOx and VOC emissions released during the day will be more likely to become smog. If these emissions are instead released in the evening, they have time to dissipate with wind, before heat and sunlight are present to complete the reaction. Mowing your lawn in the evening instead of at midday will therefore decrease smog-formation, and keep you out of the heat! Also, consider replacing your gasoline-powered lawnmower with an electric or manual model. Even with new gas pumps and cans, designed to prevent the release of VOCs into the atmosphere, some gasoline will still evaporate and release VOCs when you fill up your gas tank on a hot summer day. These emissions can be avoided altogether! By filling your gas tank in the evening, you can prevent gasoline evaporation, and the release of VOCs. Also, never top off your gas tank."

At 4/22/2006 2:21 PM, Blogger Yael K said...

These are fantastic suggestions, thanks much for putting them up here!!

Here's a tip for refridgerator efficiency that I'm going to try to implement myself: clean your fridge out often of all those half-used and past their prime things that hide out in the back of the fridge for far far too long. The fewer things in a fridge to be cooled the less hard the motor has to work to keep them cool.

At 4/22/2006 4:24 PM, Anonymous Aviv said...

Sweettooth, I agree. Public transportation here is not as good as European systems, it's too hot for fans or two-wheeled vehicles and most Israelis live in apartments, so solar energy is not an option. However, organic food is common and not very expensive.

At 4/23/2006 10:37 AM, Blogger John said...

Thanks everybody for your contributions. I think that if we all jsut changed one behavior it can make a big difference.

Adam: Y and I have just one car too. We live close to where we work and shop. Plus Jerusalem and Israel has a pretty good transit system (when it's not being blown up - knock on wood - seriously) But I am shocked that you kids have just one car - in Dallas! That's real dedication. Good for you!

ST: I think eating ordanically is more expensive everywhere. But you're right, organic foods aren't as widely available here as in the US or Europe. But, Aviv's right too - it's growing. Thanks for your suggestions and link!

Yael: Good to see you the other day, tired camper! Hope the folks at BG aren't making you loose your cool - get it? get it? I am such a dork!

Aviv: Even though we're not as mass-tranist friendly as Europe, I think that Israel is way beyond most US states. Israel is making serious investments in local and intercity rail - commuter lines etc...but you're right, there's a way to go.

At 4/23/2006 1:17 PM, Blogger RR said...

Thanks for the great suggestions, John. Electricity is so expensive here that I'm always looking for ways to be more energy-efficient.

Just wanted to add that while Yael is right about refrigerators, I think the opposite is true of freezers- the more packed they are, the more efficient they are. I could be wrong, but I think I remember hearing this a while back.

At 4/23/2006 3:38 PM, Blogger John said...

The suggestions I posted came from but thanks!

At 4/25/2006 12:02 PM, Anonymous Kari said...

Great website... and get ideas to post!

At 4/26/2006 10:49 PM, Anonymous sweettooth120 said...

Yael, my husband has the opposite theory as you regarding the refridgerator. He believes the more pack it is, the more efficient. Also, according to him (but not like he's an authority on these topics) it's less efficient and waste more energy when you turn on and off the air or heater. Supposely it's better to just turn it way down or up (heat/ac), unless you know for sure you won't be using it for a long stretch of time.

John - how is the environmental movement in Israel? I knew of some Israelies that were doing fellowships with some American envir orgs and were planning to carry the work on in Israel, but that was almost 10 yrs ago. I hope public awareness is growing.


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