Despite all the talk about global warming, I can't help noticing that we seem to be growing less concerned over it instead of more so. Perhaps there is just enough uncertainty over how much damage we’re actually doing to make it all that much easier to keep doing it. Or maybe we just don't know what we, as individuals, can do about it. And many of us can't help wondering; how much of it is hype?
But when it comes down to it, how serious does it have to get for us to take real action? Do we have to see the onslaught of global warming first hand (we are seeing some indications of it already, but apparently not enough)? Must we wait for an actual disaster before we deal with a problem?
And, for that matter, do our rights of ownership extend so far that are entitled to do permanent damage to this planet to enhance our own, relatively short, lives?
I think a big deterrent for many of us is that the most obvious solutions for saving the environment are so far outside our abilities that we become discouraged. Electric cars and new, more efficient heating systems are terribly expensive, and creating natural energy with solar panels or windmills can be quite overwhelming for anyone without a science degree.
The good news is that there are a number of very simple things we can all do to save huge amounts of energy, and they don’t cost a cent. In fact, they'll save you money. And there are other benefits too...
Savings tip #1: PUSH IT
As spring approaches, there are three things on every woman’s mind (though not necessarily in this order); their relationship, the economy and getting in shape for the summer. You can make huge headway with all three by digging around the back of your garage for that old, push lawn mower.
Did you know that power mowers leave more bad emissions than cars do? It’s true. The EPA reports that gas-powered lawn mowers produce 5 percent of our nation’s air pollution! Various other reports make a host of other claims, but according to the most conservative estimate I could find, one gas mower emits the same amount of pollutants as at least eight cars running for the same amount of time (some sources put it much higher). There are also terrifying statistics about the various carcinogens you breath in while using these power mowers, all of which I found rather difficult to understand, but the bottom line is that gas powered yard equipment is extremely high on the list of environmental offenders.
By cutting out all power tools this summer, you would be putting a significant dent in the pollutants you release into the atmosphere this year. In addition, you would save money on gas, oil and repairs. Furthermore, mowing the lawn the old fashioned way gets your heart rate up while toning your entire body. It’s actually a great workout. And finally, I couldn't help thinking that this would be a great way to impress a husband or boyfriend. Remember, men are practical creatures. They often show love through useful deeds (although we often wish they'd express it in a more romantic way). But this is definitely something they can understand and appreciate. I can imagine how surprised and delighted my own significant other would be if he came home and found the lawn mowed (this is something he and his friends complain about all summer). I’m certain it would not go unrewarded.
With all these potential benefits just waiting to be had, why not give the push mower a try?
Savings tip #2: HOLD THE BEEF
Did you know that cows produce methane while they digest their food? I guess I would be gassy too if I ate grass all day. But I was shocked to learn that the meat industry in this country produces about 130 times the amount of waste as us humans! The Center for Science claims that the methane produced by the beef industry has the same global warming effect as 33 million automobiles. Whether these numbers are scientifically accurate or not (as always, my search for facts was thwarted by the many differing opinions out there), it is undisputed that raising cattle for food pollutes the environment to one staggering degree or another.
There are other incentives for cutting back on beef as well. Everybody knows that red meat has been linked to higher cholesterol and heart disease, but did you know that it could also increase your chances of getting colorectal cancer or even lung cancer by up to 25%? That’s what researchers at the U.S. National Cancer Institute are saying. Furthermore, red meat is considerably more expensive than white meat and most types of fish, so cutting back will produce instant savings to your budget. And once again, with summer (and bathing-suit weather) right around the corner, the lower fat intake could mean the difference between going to that pool party or staying home. And lastly, assuming you replace the red meat with more nutritious alternatives like fish or vegetables, you’ll start to feel more lithe and energetic, which will make it easier for you to get out there and mow the lawn.
Savings Tip #3: GIVE UP YOUR SPACE
Since our biggest energy consumption is through housing, it stands to reason that we could minimize that consumption by cutting down on the amount of house we use. There are many ways to do this. It could be as simple as turning off the heating or cooling vents in one room and closing the door. If you’re not using the room, why use energy to warm or cool it?
If you have more than just a room or two going to waste, perhaps you could consider an even more radical way to save money and energy. You may have a family member or friend who could use a room for rent. I realize that the very idea of this is appalling to many Americans, as it would mean having to put up with someone else, or worse yet, sharing our personal possession with others. But this concept of combining living quarters is not considered the least bit unusual in other countries. In fact it’s quite the norm. And I happen to know from experience that the advantages of living with extended family members can far outweigh the disadvantages. People have so many unique qualities to contribute to a household and, if everyone is doing their fair share, it can truly enhance everyone’s life, as well as saving money and a lot of energy. Literally, you could be eliminating the emissions of an entire house or apartment.
If you’re building a new home, this is particularly important to think about. How much space do you really need? People are building incredibly large homes for only a few people. Some statistics say houses being built today are on average 45 percent larger than homes built a generation ago, in spite of the fact that families are now much smaller. I just don’t understand it. What right do any of us have to create more than our share of pollutants that will affect future generations?
Savings Tip #4: A REAL TURN OFF
You can’t imagine how much energy you could save by simply turning off the electronic devices you're not using. And not just turning them off, but unplugging them too. Computers, chargers and all the other things we leave plugged in continue to draw from our energy source, even while we sleep. Most of us already have the power surge plugs (you know, the long strips with all the outlets). Simply plug all of your unpluggables into one of these strips, and then turn it off or unplug it each night. Once you get in the habit it’s easy. This is also a safety tip, because although it’s uncommon, it’s not unheard of for items left plugged in to start fires.
And while we’re on the subject, a couple of other good energy saving tips for around the house are to decrease the temperature on your hot water heater, and during the day, open the shades or curtains instead of using lights. None of this is difficult, and yet it will save you money while considerably lowering the amount of pollutants you leave behind.
Savings Tip # 5: RE-RECYCLE
Most of us are already recycling our trash, but what I’m thinking about is a more aggressive kind of recycling. More specifically, it's using stuff that’s already here.
There are so many ways we can save through recycling. Shopping flea markets and yard sales is a fun and entertaining way to save money and energy. Everything being sold at a flea market, whether it’s new or old, has already had an impact on our environment. It’s already here and therefore needs to be made use of. And it’s cheap. Yard sales, meanwhile, offer previously used items that can be quite unique. Many of the more expensive catalogs offer items that are “distressed” to look like older stuff, but they don’t have half the charm of the things you could find at a yard sale. Some of the most interesting pieces I’ve seen always seem to have their own “story” of how they were discovered at a sale on the side of the road and treated to a little TLC. Suddenly they resemble something like a work of art. Beauty (and usefulness) is in the eye of the beholder. So think twice before you throw it away and buy something new.
On a side note, we could all save a lot of energy by simply taking better care of the things we have - and teaching our children to do the same. There’s something to be said for appreciating what we have. We discard things too readily in this country, even in our poorer areas. Computer and gaming technology seems to demand this (I wonder why), creating an environment where equipment is obsolete in less time than it takes to finish making the final installment on it. Whenever possible, we should try to avoid replacing perfectly useful things.
Savings Tip # 6: STEP AWAY FROM THE PUMP
It seems obvious that we have to cut back on our gas consumption, but I don't see many people doing it. Gas guzzling SUV's are more popular than ever, when the most obvious solution is for us to drive smaller, more efficient cars.
But there are other things you can do too. Depending on your location, you might be able to take the bus, ride a bike, or even walk. All these are good alternatives on a nice day or when we’re not in a hurry (they can really help us get in shape too).
But on the more practical side, I really love the idea of car-pooling. Especially for “stay-at-home” moms who spend their entire days taxiing their children everywhere. These kids are busier than most Hollywood agents, with sports and lessons and school events and social affairs. The last time I attended a soccer game I was surprised by how many people were there. I’m sure the spectators outnumbered the players by about three to one. Car-pooling is an excellent way to make friends while saving money and the planet. And incidentally, if you carpool to work and back, you’ll qualify for added savings on your taxes.
This is something we’ve been talking about for a long time. With all that's happening, both ecologically and politically, I wonder that gas consumption isn't higher on our list of concerns. Are we going to wait for a crisis? With a little extra planning and awareness, we can all cut back on our gas use now. A great way to start is to set a goal for yourself. Simply compute the average amount of gas you use each month, cut it by 10% or so, and you’ve got something to work toward next month. Once you become more aware of what you’re using, you’ll find lots of very easy ways to cut back.
Savings Tip #7: HAVE A PARTY
Have you noticed that people don’t invite their friends over to dinner that much any more? We don't seem as social as we used to be. Online social networks are one reason for this, but also, we’re working more hours, parents are more involved in their children’s lives than ever, and it's just plain easier to go out to eat. I, too, was hosting fewer and fewer dinner parties until recently, when I fell in with just the right crowd and, suddenly, dinner parties became a multi weekly thing. I couldn’t help noticing that, even though we were the ones hosting most of the dinners, we were saving money! This is because going out to eat, especially if you have wine or alcohol with your meal, can be quite expensive. It's cheaper to cook. And you're saving energy when you cook for a large group, because instead of everyone cooking their meals individually there’s only the preparation for one big meal. Our guests generally return the invitation, so we get our night out in the end. It all works out really well and it’s FUN.
Savings Tip #8: TAKE A STAND
It's discouraging how relatively sedate most people are over the issue of global warming. We get fired up over politics, the economy, religion and a host of other things depending on our experiences in life, but we’ve yet to get truly upset about the destruction of our planet. Why? Well, I think its because we haven’t really suffered the consequences of it yet. Unlike politics, which affects us today, we don’t see global warming as an immediate problem. It will be our descendents who argue vehemently over what is to be done about the problems we left behind.
I really believe that individuals, like you and me, taking a stand now could have an enormous effect later. As we discover new ways to become more environmentally responsible, why not share them with others? Peer pressure has always been a huge motivator, as all successful marketing executives know. We need to talk about global warming. Forward emails about it (or blogs like this one) to as many people as you can.
There’s a political significance here too. As one of the most powerful nations in the world, can we really afford to allow greed and laziness to become our national anthem? This matter of environment is a case in point. Much less developed countries are more globally conscious than we are. By all rights we should be the leader in the crusade to fight global warming, but we are, in fact, the worst offenders. And I hate to point this out ladies, but as American women we hugely represent the consumer, because we do more shopping than anyone else (some statistics say women make up to 80% of the buying decisions in the home). We buy the lion’s share of food, health and beauty products, clothing, shoes, household items and so on. This gives us an enormous power to impose standards on these industries through our spending. Whatever stimulates us to buy is what the industry will do.
You might say that we are ultimately the ones who decide whether under-age children in China will work in sweatshops or not (and it seems we've decided that they will). When it comes right down to it, if there is abuse to the planet or its inhabitants in the course of industry, we are the oppressors, not the industries themselves. The industries are merely adapting to what we’ve communicated is most important to us, their biggest consumer.
If you think about it, many of the issues we're facing today could be positively impacted by our efforts to preserve the planet. Consumer debt, obesity and abusive labor practices are just a few. With all these incentives, there truly has never been a better time to go green.