Giving Back to Earth

Giving Back to Earth

pan6Three hundred sixty four days a year, we humans take some part of Mother Earth to sustain ourselves.

Mostly, it’s food, but fuel for our vehicles is another big bite. So is the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, in huge power plants, to provide energy for our interior lighting, heat, and the electricity needed to power our electronic devices.

Most of these uses are essential: we have to work. We also need to be able to see at night, to stay warm in the depths of winter, and – if we don’t actually need it – some of those very 21st century electronics take us out of our safe spaces and into the world of imagination and possibility. They make us human, in the best ways possible.

We might never be able to go back to early 19th century lifestyles. Most of us are not “old order” Amish, nor are we Luddites or survivalists (except possibly on male-bonding camping trips to shoot deer, grouse or pheasants). But we can cut our carbon footprints (the amount of carbon dioxide, or CO2, we generate to live our 21st century lifestyle). And if everyone reduces consumption just a little – by, for example, eating meat only once a day – we could cut CO2 emissions by at least 5 tons per year.

In fact, according to Scientific American, if every one of America’s 111 million households installed “smart” power strips to operate their electronics (from televisions to computers), we could eliminate more than 10 million metric tons of CO2.

But it’s hard to be good alone. Rather, it’s too easy to cheat; who is going to check? So rather than set goals this coming New Year that will get dropped for lack of interest by February, start a group challenge to mounting levels of CO2. Start with your family. Add friends (both actual and “virtual”, or over the Internet). Entice neighbors and coworkers, the more the merrier, and to make the project irresistible, have everyone throw $20 in the pot. Twenty dollars is a very manageable amount in today’s inflationary economy, and represents slightly more than three specialty coffees.

Once you have the group, and the reward, in place, set up contest rules. Have individual goals, such as eating more local food, or eating vegetarian for one week a month. Calculate how much CO2 each goal would remove from the equation by surfing the web; this site offers some interesting tips. We already know what a meatless meal is worth, but how about a bus commute eliminating a gallon of fuel? That is worth 19.6 pounds, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE. And while you’re busy calculating, consider this: a new medical device which measures CO2 prior to and during surgery is also an excellent tool for determining individual levels of overall health. The higher the level, the worse the health score, which means CO2 is no longer just a climate-change metric but an indicator of human health!

And here is a list of pledges:

  • Wash all clothes in cold water.
  • Take 5-minute showers.
  • Don’t run water while brushing teeth.
  • Use the dishwasher no more than once a day (or, better yet, once every two days for small families on the go).
  • Eat more vegetables and fruits, and less meat – watch your energy and good spirits explode!
  • Turn off the lights when leaving a room; better yet, install an occupancy sensor that does that automatically.
  • For every item you buy new, acquire one through a free service like Freecycle or a “gently used” thrift store.
  • Buy bottled water in 5-gallon containers (about $30 a month), and fill your reusable steel water bottle (s) daily.
  • Don’t preheat, no matter what the packaging says. Just pop that frozen dinner in and add five minutes – the time it takes most ovens to heat properly. Also, don’t open the oven door to see how the food is cooking, which just dissipates the heat already generated; use the oven light and the window.
  • Wash your car in a car wash instead of your driveway.
  • Forgo envelopes, stamps and being late if you can’t find one (stamp, that is). Pay bills online, and set up reminders in your electronic calendar.
  • Organize your shopping trip based on distance from your home and the items needed, and save at least a gallon of fuel.
  • Use cruise control on highway commutes and don’t get a fuel receipt unless you need it for expensing.
  • If you have a freezer, try to keep it full. It will use less electricity per portion of food, and you will always have something for dinner – without last-minute shopping.
  • Don’t use the “sleep” mode on your computer at night; it’s still awake even if you are not. Also, don’t use the “hibernate” setting; your computer is not a bear. Go for a full shut-down to save energy and prevent trolls from sneaking into the mainframe.
  • Give up your gas-powered lawnmower, ditto your electric lawnmower. If you are under 40 and have a small yard, buy a push mower to cut your grass, develop your biceps and improve strength and cardiac health by at least 20 percent!
  • When ordering fast food (and why are you still doing that?), go inside instead of using the drive-through, which wastes gas as you idle toward your sack of mystery meat and GM fries.
  • Recycle, but also “precycle”, thinking about how your purchase will impact your carbon footprint before you buy. If it’s enough to keep you awake a few minutes longer at night, you may not need it as much as you think you do.

There are likely at least a dozen more ideas that will occur to you as you develop your new green competition. All are welcome. All that remains is deciding how many points it takes to make a winner, and what winning is worth in terms of dollars. Remember, this is a long-term project, so don’t spend all the money in one place!

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