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Archive for Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ideas make it a little easier being green

May 11, 2006

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The United States represents 4 percent of the world's population, and yet we consume 25 percent of the world's energy.

Ouch! I hang my head in shame.

In 2005, the International Panel on Climate Change said humans' carbon emissions were reaching such a concentration that "immediate and very deep cuts in the pollution are needed if humanity is to survive."

Global action on such an enormous topic as climatic Armageddon may seem insurmountable. But according to most environmental experts, practicing small acts of conservation and living with a sense of balance can make a difference. MTV has launched a campaign to offer young people a voice about environmental issues. It's a 12-step, 12-month program to encourage small changes like recycling that amount to big earthly rewards.

Johannes Feddema, associate professor of geography at Kansas University, says the situation isn't as black and white as our polarizing viewpoints would indicate.

"You are either a green guy or an oil guy," he says. "We need to think about both sides of the issue and foster a balance between our standard of living and ways in which we could have a lesser impact."

So think globally, act locally? Yes, Feddema says.

"If you clean up in your own neighborhood, what are you really doing?" he says. "You are making your immediate environment more pleasant, therefore making your life more enjoyable. Acting locally can be as noble as a broader scale of defense."

Here are some facts to make Lawrence residents more environmentally aware and some tips for making a dent in this global catastrophe.

Light bulbs matter

If every American household changed one regular light bulb to a compact fluorescent light (CFL), the pollution reduction would be the equivalent of removing 1 million cars from the roads. And CFL bulbs can last 12 times longer than regular bulbs.

Plastic bags

It's estimated that Americans use 84 billion plastic bags annually, and 500 billion to a trillion are used worldwide. The fragments of these bags are entering our waterways, reaching oceans and even changing the estrogen levels in some marine life. Either recycle these bags or take a reusable cloth bag to the store.

Pre-rinsing dishes

Don't do it. The dishwasher will take care of the wash, and you'll save 20 gallons of water per dish load.

Recycle glass

It takes more than a million years for a glass bottle to decompose, and Americans generate 13 million tons of glass waste a year. Feddema has some interesting thoughts on the balance of recycling: "Aluminum is the classic case of recycling working. It is more expensive to make a new aluminum can than to reuse an existing one. Glass and paper are more expensive to recycle than just create new, but the question then becomes, is it worth saving the trees, or is the economic impact more important to you?"

Energy Star appliances and electronics

This line of products was started in 1992 by the Environmental Protection Agency to rate the efficiency of computers. Now 40 product categories exist. It is estimated that in 2004 enough energy was saved by the use of these products to power 24 million homes.

Air-dry laundry

Cloths dryers consume copious amounts of energy. Try the sunshine.

Green homes

Build green using solar panels, insulation, caulking and plenty of energy-efficient windows. You may even opt for a green roof; they keep the home at a level temperature all year, feed the birds and won't get harmed in a hail storm.

Window AC

If you have a window unit, keep it away from lamps, computers and other items that produce heat. They confuse the air conditioner, and it will run longer.

Eat local and seasonal

Foods that are shipped, trucked or flown all consume fuel to get to your plate and add pollution to the air.

Go vegetarian one day a week

It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef - 40 times more than a pound of potatoes. Cattle also expel a large amount of methane, which is the No. 2 greenhouse gas. Livestock is responsible for 20 percent of the methane in the atmosphere.

Eggs

Buy them in cardboard, not plastic or Styrofoam.

Leaks

Fix leaks in toilets, sinks and hoses. You also should shower instead of taking baths; they use less water.

Thermostat

Turning it down 1 degree can decrease your heating costs by 3 percent. Try adjusting the air at night when you're under the covers, and invest in a programmable thermostat.

Cut the butts

Cigarette butts are the most-littered item, with 4.5 trillion discarded worldwide every year. Find a trash can.

Grow your own

Empty out your change purse for a few packs of vegetable seeds. Add a little sweat and you'll have fresh, wholesome food all season.

Turn it off

When you're not using the computer, switch it off. Same goes for all of your chargers, including those for your cell phone, iPod, laptop, camera and cordless drill. Even when they're just plugged into the outlet, they're sucking up a lot of energy.

Catch the rain

Position a rain barrel under your down spouts to catch the flow. Your plants prefer rainwater because it is void of chlorine. Also, keeping your lawn longer will require less water.

Recycle newspapers

Sixty-three million newspapers are printed each day, and about 69 percent of those will be thrown away. If we recycled just the Sunday paper, it would save more than half a million trees every week.

Plant a tree

If 5 percent of the U.S. population were to germinate one tree a year, we would have 15 million more trees sucking the carbon from our air.

Bug bitten

Avoid ways to eliminate bugs that are unnatural. Instead, build a water feature with moving water to attract birds, bats and amphibians - all of whom eat the bugs who like to feast on you. A bat can eat 1,000 mosquitoes in a single evening.

Walk or bike

Try giving yourself the guideline that if your journey is less than 2 miles from home, you'll hoof or pedal to reach your destination. This will improve not only the air and your finances, but your waistline as well.

Hybrids

SUVs are out. It's hip to be tiny and compact. Try a hybrid that will give you 50 miles to the gallon. The typical SUV gets 15 miles per gallon.

Lawnmowers

A gas lawn mower that runs for one hour is the equivalent of driving a car for 93 miles. Next time you need a new mower, opt for an electric one: They're far less dirty and noisy.

Grills

Gas grills are much cleaner than charcoal. A gas grill avoids forest destruction and doesn't add to air pollution.

Big screens

Our bigger-is-better mentality has to stop, and big-screen TVs are a good place to start. These high-definition big boys consume two to three times more energy than an analog tube.

Carbon footprint

Find out how you compare to others in your county and around the world. This online test estimates your carbon emissions and the level of resources needed to maintain your lifestyle: carbonfootprint.com.

Sources: stopglobalwarming.org, earth911.org, energystar.gov, greenroofs.com, usda.gov, arborday.org, batconservation.org, greengrasscutters.com and carbonfootprint.com.

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