Get ready to shrink your footprint on Mother Earth. No Birkenstocks necessary.
SO, YOU WANT to save the earth.
While that's noble and all, figuring out which are the must-dos amid the slew of should-dos bandied about by talking heads can get mighty confusing pretty quickly. Luckily, you have us to cut through all that chatter.
We checked in with some experts to find out their top tips for decreasing your impact on the earth - otherwise known as reducing your carbon (or ecological) footprint.
"A carbon footprint is really a visual metaphor for what kind of energy and resources each of us [uses as we go through our day]," says Lisa Wise, executive director of the Center for a New American Dream. "If you have a large footprint, it means you require a large number of environmental resources to sustain your place on this planet. The smaller the footprint, the more sustainable your lifestyle is."
To put it more scientifically, a carbon footprint measures "the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide," according to CarbonFootprint.com (a website where you can measure your own usage). Nowadays, Americans are among the leaders in using up the earth's resources - which is not exactly something you want to be known for. The average American "generates about 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year from personal transportation, home energy use, and from the energy used to produce all of the products and services we consume," according to ClimateCrisis.net. And that, the World Wildlife Fund's Living Planet Report says, gobbles up nearly 24 acres' worth of natural resources during a lifetime. Compare that with the average carbon footprint of the Italians, which is seven acres; of the Japanese, which is 12 acres; and of the Indonesians, who tread lightly, using just three acres per person.
But no matter how well (or poorly) each individual country is doing, it all adds up to a not-so-pretty picture: Since the late 1980s, the footprint of the collective population on earth has exceeded what can be sustained by a whopping 20 percent or more. If we keep it up, by the year 2050, the world's population will have used up between 180 and 220 percent of the earth's biological capacity.
Most environmental agencies aim for an 80 percent reduction in overall carbon emissions by 2050. "That is really almost a nonnegotiable number," says Wise.
Swap out your incandescent lightbulbs for compact fluorescent bulbs. "They use about 66 percent less energy, and they last 10 times longer," says Anca Novacovici, president of Eco-Coach. Worry not - bulb technology is finally catching up to your design aesthetic. The latest compact fluorescent bulbs don't throw off that odd blue light, and they even look like their incandescent counterparts, so your lamp shades will continue to sit snugly.
Recycle - seriously. Yes, it's almost painful to say it to you, because of course you already separate out the paper and the plastic, right? But just in case you don't, soda cans make it clear why you should: Aluminum has a 99 percent recycling rate. "You can recycle it forever," says Novacovici. And recycling just one little aluminum can saves the same amount of energy it would take to run a TV for three full hours. One can!
Put the kibosh on junk mail and catalogs (as much as possible). Direct marketers send out about 60 catalogs for every man, woman, and child in the United States annually, according to Novacovici. And all that junk mail? There's 100 million trees' worth sent out per year, which is "equal to deforesting the entire Rocky Mountain National Park every four months," says Wise. Stop in at the Direct Marketing Association's Consumer Assistance site (www.dma consumers.org/cgi/offmailing) to opt out of mailings from the association's members, and visit the Center for a New American Dream's "Declare Your Independence from Junk Mail" page (www.newdream.org/junkmail/index.php).
Paper or plastic? Go fabric instead and you could keep up to 1,500 plastic bags per year from making their way into landfills, says Wise, adding, "It takes 1,000 years for plastic bags to biodegrade."
Layer on clothes instead of giving your thermostat an extra twist. Take your thermostat down a mere two degrees this winter (and up two in the summer) and you'll save 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year. And if the environmental benefit isn't enough to get that thermostat moving, just think how much money you'll save. "Being green doesn't take more green," says Wise. "You can actually save a lot of money."
Give power cords a tug. There’s still a little something surging through all those electric cords around your house after you turn off your appliances. “Between 10 and 40 percent of energy used is actually used when the appliance is turned off but still plugged in,” says Novacovici.
Take public transportation when you travel, or if you must drive, rent a hybrid vehicle. How much does a hybrid really save? A Toyota Prius emits four tons of greenhouse gases and uses 7.4 barrels of petroleum per year, while a Toyota Camry emits 7.7 tons of greenhouse gases and uses 14.3 barrels of petroleum annually.
Lend your voice to the earth by encouraging your local representatives “to support a national mandatory cap on global-warming pollution,” says Ben Dunham, staff attorney for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “The biggest step … an individual can take is to [ask] their member of Congress to support a science-based solution to global warming.” Two bills currently under consideration in Congress are the Safe Climate Act in the House of Representatives and, in the Senate, the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act.