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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fifty Ways to Help Save the Planet

The problem is so vast and the urgency so great that advice which suggests you turn off the tap while brushing your teeth or switch off lights and standbys when they are not needed or go vegetarian for one day a week seems, well, ridiculous. Global warming is probably the greatest threat our species has ever faced. The sheer scale of the processes under way in the atmosphere and the oceans makes it hard not to view anything an individual does to reduce emissions as being too little too late. Not true. The astonishing fact is that each of us can have an immediate impact on the production of greenhouse gases, and if enough of us act together in these minor ways, the cumulative effect will be dramatic. That's because so much of the way we live our lives is wasteful and, to put it bluntly, thoughtless. It takes nothing to switch off a lamp, unplug the phone charger, take a shorter shower, cook without pre-heating the oven, skip the pre-wash part of the dishwasher cycle, or, often, walk or bike instead of drive. And they all save money, which is one of the rather striking things about reducing your carbon footprint—the standard way of measuring the CO2 emissions each person is responsible for.

Some of the suggestions that follow may involve a little more effort—recycling, ditching plastic bags, and fixing leaky faucets and toilets; others require you to spend money—insulating your home, installing solar panels, or buying a fuel-efficient car. Even with these, however, there is almost always an eventual payback in terms of reduced bills.

The overwhelming and heartening point about the ideas here is that, if adopted by large numbers of people, they will have an immeasurable effect. When it comes down to it, the continued rise in carbon emissions is a matter of individual conscience: each of us can and should do something, however small. In 5 or 10 years' time that thought, together with everything written here, should be second nature to us. Ladies and gentlemen, this little booklet is the future—a more ingenious, more satisfying, and less wasteful future. Welcome to it.

Reporting for V.F.'s Green Guide by Daisy Prince and Emily Butselaar.

1. Lightbulbs Matter

Switch from traditional incandescent lightbulbs to compact fluorescent lightbulbs (C.F.L.). If every American household replaced one regular lightbulb with a C.F.L., the pollution reduction would be equivalent to removing one million cars from the road. A 30-watt C.F.L. produces about as much light as an ordinary 100-watt bulb. Although the initial price is higher, C.F.L.'s can last 12 times as long. C.F.L.'s are available at most home-improvement stores and at bulbs.com.

2. Ditch Plastic Bags

Californians Against Waste (cawrecycles.org), a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, estimates that Americans use 84 billion plastic bags annually, a considerable contribution to the 500 billion to one trillion used worldwide. Made from polyethylene, plastic bags are not biodegradable and are making their way into our oceans and wat

erways. According to recent studies, the oceans are full of tiny fragments of plastic that are

beginning to work their way up the food chain. Invest in stronger, re-usable bags, and avoid plastic bags whenever possible.

3. Rinse No More

According to Consumer Reports, pre-rinsing dishes does not necessarily improve a dishwasher's ability to clean them. By

skipping the wash before the wash, you can save up to 20 gallons of water per dishload. At one load a day, that's 7,300 gallons over the course of the year. Not to mention that you're saving time, dishwashing soap, and the energy used to heat the additional water.

4. Forget Pre-heating

Ignore cookbooks! It is usually unnecessary to pre-heat your oven before cooking, except when baking bread or pastries. Just turn on the oven at the same time you put the dish in. During cooking, rather than opening the oven door to check on your food, just look at it through the oven window. Why? Opening the oven door results in a significant loss of energy.

5. A Glass Act

Recycle glass (think beer bottles, jars, juice containers) either through curbside programs or at community drop-off centers. Glass takes more than one million years to decompose; Americans generate almost 13 million tons of glass waste a year. Glass produced from recycled glass reduces related air pollution by 20 percent and related water pollution by 50 percent. Go to earth911.org for local recycling information.

6. Banking on the Environment

Want to have a more energy-efficient home or office? Save green by being green. Purchase appliances and electronics with the Energy Star certification. Begun in 1992 by the E.P.A. to rate energy-efficient computers, the Energy Star program today includes more than 40 product categories, and it also rates homes and workplaces for energy efficiency. Energy Star estimates that, with its help, Americans saved enough energy in 2004 to power 24 million homes, amounting to savings of $10 billion. To learn more about Energy Star, visit energystar.gov.

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