Most environmentalists agree that government, with its power to regulate, is critical in finding and enforcing solutions to global warming. But consumers represent 70 percent of US economic activity–indeed, the average American’s carbon footprint is twenty metric tons, five times the global average. Individuals can be a powerful engine for change by demanding green products and reducing consumption of fossil fuels. This can make you healthier and save you money too, says Mindy Pennybacker, editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices, to be published in March. Here are some of her recommendations for small steps that make a big difference.
1 Use less paper, and replace paper towels and napkins with reusable cloths. Buy recycled products containing at least 30 percent postconsumer waste and bearing the Forest Stewardship Council logo, which means they come from well-managed forests (fscus.org/paper).
2 Buy shade-grown, fairly traded coffee and chocolate. According to the Rainforest Alliance, tropical deforestation accounts for about 20 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, more than all vehicles combined. Consumer demand for products grown under the rainforest canopy provides economic incentive to preserve these habitats for migratory birds. Look for products certified by the Rainforest Alliance or labeled "bird friendly" by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (nationalzoo.si.edu/ConservationandScience/MigratoryBirds/Coffee and transfairusa.org).
3 Lower your household thermostat below 70 degrees in winter and raise it above 72 in summer. Heating represents about 41 percent of the energy bill in the average home; lowering your hot-water temperature from the standard 140 degrees to 120 will save 200 pounds of carbon a year, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. For more information, see the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (aceee.org).
4 Replace light bulbs and appliances with Energy Star-approved models. Lighting takes up 15 percent of a home’s energy use, and regular incandescent bulbs waste 90 percent of the energy they consume as heat. If you replace five incandescent bulbs with five compact fluorescent or light efficient diode Energy Star bulbs, you’ll save at least $60 a year, the EPA estimates. If every US household did so, it would save the equivalent of the output of twenty-one power plants and keep smog, particulates and carbon out of the atmosphere.
5 Plug electronics into power strips and switch them off when not in use. Televisions, DVD players, game consoles, computers and cellphone chargers quietly suck electricity out of sockets even when they are turned off. Breaking the connection can save the average household $100 on its electricity bill and reduce carbon output.
6 Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less meat–livestock production is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Choose certified organic and/or locally produced foods (localharvest.org) to preserve your regional economy and reduce the burning of fossil fuels.
7 Rid your home and garden of synthetic pesticides–nervous-system toxins that have been linked to lower birth weights and developmental problems. Call 1-800-CLEANUP to find out how to safely dispose of these poisons. For DIY nontoxic pest control, see birc.org and watoxics.org.
8 Water-efficient fixtures like faucet aerators, shower heads and low-flow toilets can save households thousands of gallons a year, the EPA says (epa.gov/watersense).
9 Cut back on plastics. They clutter the environment, and they’re made from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource. Many also contain toxic bisphenol-a (BPA) and phthalates, which can migrate into food, water and baby formula. Keep vinyl, which has been linked to reproductive and developmental problems as well as cancer, out of your household. For more information, go to greenerpenny.com.
10 Drive less, and drive sensibly. We can’t all afford a hybrid car, but many other cars get nearly as good mileage. Save on fuel and greenhouse gas emissions by following the speed limit and keeping your engine tuned and tires properly inflated. For more information go to the Union of Concerned Scientists (ucsusa.org).
CONCEIVED by WALTER MOSLEY with research by Rae Gomes