With global warming upon us and our increased exposure to toxic chemicals which will be made even worse by our toastier planet, Earth Day has become even more relevant. We are now at the point where Earth Day needs to be an everyday celebration to battle our environmental crises. Otherwise, we are in for a rough road the rest of the half-century.
About six years ago, the City of Chicago initiated a strong push as to what its citizens can do as a city to make a difference in the fight to conserve more energy and water resources. The website http://www.chicagoconservationcorps.org will update you on their progress and how they package together issues and actions to make a difference. Other communities have created similar action plans and have made strident steps to advocate for change. I am reminded of the African saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.” I believe that these on the ground community efforts will be where a lot of action transpires.
If we can get the state and federal government to step even further into the debate, we will be better positioned to combat our environmental crises. I was pleased to learn in my own state of NC with to its requirement in 2007 on energy utilities to have a larger percentage of alternative energy, the solar energy industry has a better foothold than in other states and is growing. This is helping the cost of solar energy production to decline from $9 a watt to $3 a watt. This is a good lesson for other states and the converse is true of good measures done elsewhere – NC should look to those good examples as well.
Yet, getting back to the Chicago example, there are many things we can do as citizens to conserve energy. The CEO of Duke Energy, Jim Rogers, who has been outspoken in the need for alternative energy notes this as a key component of a renewable energy strategy – conserve energy usage. This should be expanded to include water usage as well. Building on several sources of input ranging from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Duke Energy’s 2030 Strategic Plan and three keys from Dr. Sandra Steingraber as presented in her book “Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis” here are a few ideas below to conserve energy, water and other resources and be smarter how we dispose of waste products.
Water is a dear commodity around the globe, much more so than in the US. Yet, even here water shortages are more prevalent – Texas is facing a severe crisis and many lake beds and water tables are dry. And, three years ago there was a sever water shortage in the southeast in places like Atlanta and Charlotte. This is by no means a complete list, but shows some ideas that could be easily done or may spawn other ideas.
- Restaurants should not serve water with meals unless the patron asks for water. Encourage places you frequent to do this.
- When shaving or brushing your teeth, turn the water off when not in use. This sounds simple, but can make a big a difference and was one of the ideas gleaned from Chicago.
- Take shorter showers. My dad was in the Navy. On ship, they had 25 seconds of water – five to wet, fifteen to soap and wash and five to rinse. You can go longer than that, but you get the idea.
- Purchase a low water usage toilet or create one on your own. You can do so by placing a jar filled with sand, pebbles or water in the housing which will limit refills. I have also seen toilets that can be plumbed to reuse shower water for flushing.
- Plant more indigenous grass and ground cover that require less watering. And, water less. Many people over water to begin with.
- A California County has gone to an extreme to reuse run off and sewage water for drinking after a significant cleansing process. This stops you in your tracks, but it is actually working pretty well.
Waste Conservation and Discarding Measures
We create a lot of trash and garbage in the US. It boggles the mind. We can make a huge difference by doing some of the following:
- Create a compost heap. This is one of three key ideas advocated by Dr. Steingraber. Coffee grounds, food waste, pet waste, etc. can become soil nutrients for gardens, shrubs, and flowers. We pay for bagged products that can do the same things we can can do ourselves and we can end up withe better outcomes.
- Locate where in your communities non-biodegradable trash can be dumped or taken. In our community, Goodwill Industries has an electronics recycling business where they partner with computer makers to find usable machines and parts. Most counties have places for hazardous waste drop offs and sometimes run prescription drug drop offs for expired pills that should not be dumped down the toilet. Locate and use them. Many in my own community are unaware of places to drop off paints, construction materials, etc.
- Stop buying bottled water and use filters. If you use plastic bottles, please recycle. There is an island of floating plastic in the Pacific Ocean which is a metaphor to what we are doing to our planet.
- Mulch your grass and leaf clippings rather than bagging them. In Readers Digest this month, it is noted one of the 13 things your lawn person won’t tell you is if you spread your clippings your yard will not need additional nutrients and will do just fine.
- Invest in a more fuel-efficient car whether it by a hybrid, electric or increased gas MPG car.
- Drive less and walk more on short trips. I have several stores within a mile of my house, so I can kill two birds with one stone and get some exercise. Plan errands to maximize utility on trips. Drive smarter by driving the speed limits, coasting into stops and accelerating easily and turning off the car when idling awhile.
- Use mass transit and advocate the building of more alternatives. It would be harder today to build a Metro with our divisive political climate, but mass transit is critical to the success of a region and the environmental dividends are huge.
- Retrofit homes with more green appliances and insulation. I mentioned the shower water redeployment, but there are more solar-powered appliances and better insulation techniques that will help in reducing energy usage that will pay for themselves over time.
- Change the thermostat and water heater by a few degrees. This will pay dividends to your energy bill and help us conserve less energy.
- Power down electronics overnight and shut off lights when not in use. These will not only save money, but also reduce a fire hazard. And, your computer will be protected from cyber thieves when it is not on.
- Mow your grass with a non-gas powered motor. Dr. Steingraber advocates the use of a rotary mower, which she uses for exercise as well. A gas mower causes as much environmental damage as a car does over a 100 miles.
- If your neighborhood permits, dry your clothes on a clothesline. Dryers are huge energy drains. This is the third suggestion by Dr. Steingraber who actually sorts and hangs the clothes on their hangers as they dry.
- Advocate the use of less fossil fuels and more alternative energy such as solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and hydro. Per Dr. Steingraber, it takes 15 years to make a difference in the environment, so we must start today.
- Advocate against extreme measures of fossil fuel retrieval such as fracking, mountain top coal excavation, deep-sea oil drilling and oil sands harvesting. The impact on the environment is huge. I would add fracking not only has a chemical impact, it takes a huge amount of water that cannot go back into the water supply – so this issue alone affects water conservation issues.
These are just a few ideas for your consideration. I am sure you have many more and I would be interested in seeing them. If I have spawned at least one action by each reader or reinforced someone doing something already, then this post is worth the effort. Many thanks for taking a few minutes to read this. Happy Earth Day.