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Greening your life #1: let's take 3 little baby steps

"What to do, where to start, how do I green my life?" Perhaps it seems like an overwhelming question, so why don't we break it down into baby steps to make it more doable and so you can congratulate yourself for doing your part. This post will focus on reducing carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) which are currently causing our environment the most trouble.

A little bit of editorial from me: there is nothing inherently wrong with a high-CO2 emitting lifestyle. I'm not making a lifestyle judgement when I encourage you to decrease your CO2 emissions. I don't think that a high-CO2 lifestyle is "bad" or "evil." I mean, when we breathe it is CO2 that we exhale...so how bad can it be?

The problem is the increasing per person rate of CO2 emissions, caused by our high energy-used lifestyles, multiplied by the explosive population growth our globe has experienced, 1 billion new people in the last 10 years, which has raised CO2 emissions to a point where our ecosystem, planet Earth, can not process the CO2 fast enough, via plants, etc. This is the problem. Too much CO2 and too many of us. This is why we need to individually reduce our "carbon footprints," the amount of carbon we each contribute, to reduce emissions to a point where the Earth isn't over-taxed and our ecosystem can go back into balance. Incidentally, the per capita CO2 emissions for Americans are 10,000 pounds annually the global average is a little over 2,000 pounds.

We are all familiar with the 3-R's "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" however, many people don't realize that the three words are in that specific order for a reason. Reduce is first because it eliminates waste by limiting consumption. Reuse is second because it means taking something that has already been created and using and reusing it until its spent, like turning old clothes into rags. The last step, and least important in the hierarchy, is to recycle. The reason why it's the last step is because recycling uses energy and materials too, just not as much, so while it's great, it's not as great as reduce and reuse in terms of limiting waste/consumption/etc.

Because reducing is the best way to save the environment, we start with that one today:

On to the steps:

1. Make sure your to set your computer's energy savings. One journalist wrote that by changing his settings so that his "computer and display both go to sleep when inactive for 10 minutes (as opposed to my original setting of three hours), I would save about 250 pounds annually."Talk about low-hanging fruit! For the PC I'm on right now this means going to "Start > Control Panel > Display > Screen Saver > Power." The author in article above said that on his Apple he had to go to"System Preferences > Energy Saver."


2. You've heard it before but replace your incandescent lightbulbs with compact flourescents (CFL) wherever possible. It's impossible to overstate the potential impact of CFL lightbulbs on reducing CO2. CFL bulbs use about 1/4 of the energy of a standard bulb and last anywhere from 8 - 12 times longer representing a savings of anywhere from $25 - $50 over the life of the bulb in energy savings and replacement savings. Replacing a standard bulb with a CFL bulb saves from 100 - 400 pounds of CO2 emissions annually PER BULB depending on how often the light is used. There are already new CFLs that correct the two issues people hate most about them: their odd shape and the blue-ish color they cast. However, if you already have first generation CFLs installed, know that the light color issue can be corrected by using lamp shades that have a yellow - bronze tinge which will color the "cast light" and make it a more pleasing yellowish glow like incandescent bulbs. I've used this trick for the 7 CFL bulbs I have in my living room/dining room area and it works like a charm. Whenever possible, buy Energy Star certified CFLs so you know what you are getting.

3. Lower (or raise if it's summertime where you are) your thermostat by 1 - 3 degrees. Heat and AC are the biggest costs in home energy use. The U.S. spends approximately 1/4 of all energy consumption on AC alone. By lowering or raising your thermostate 1 degree you can prevent about 300 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Now, just so you don't think I'm basking in my perfectly temperate house while you are too hot or too cold, the fact is you probably won't notice a single degree different or even 2 or 3. Personally, I hate forced air heat and AC...it makes my skin so dry and my contacts feel like they will pop out of my head, and we turn our heat/AC on only a handful of days a year. Call us masochists but we regularly wake up to a house that is 54 degrees in the winter because our house was built in the 1950s and has zero insulation in the walls. At some point I hope to correct that, but for now we simply dress accordingly and in the winter it is not unusual for us to sleep with 5 blankets and a hat on.

Three baby steps that can lower your family's carbon emissions by thousands of pounds annually. It's a great start...pat yourself on the back!


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