Solutions require uncommon common sense — and
the will to change
---- from the Fall 2005 issue of The Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club
by Moisha Blechman
Moisha Blechman has been involved with the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club in many capacities over the year.
Common sense should tell us that if all of life evolved under a certain composition of the atmosphere, changing that condition by one-third will destabilize everything. And so it has. We have already kicked into gear a global warming crisis. Current concentrations exceed anything seen in the last 420,000 years, and probably the last 20 million years. Forecasts call for CO2 levels to rise dramatically from today’s 378 ppm of CO2 to 560 ppm or more by as early as 2050. The World Wildlife
Federation pleads that we must not allow CO2 to go as high as 500 ppm because Earth’s ecosystems cannot tolerate it and will fail. Thus, it can not be emphasized too strongly that radical change is not negotiable. While it is true that our federal government is actively obstructionist in that regard, there is much that both we, as consumers, and local governments, can do. The technologies exist. All we need is the will. Following is a beginning list of actions we can take.
• Trees. We need to develop a passion for trees and
put them in every possible place, including citywide roof-top planting programs.
Trees require water, but they return rain. 100 million additional mature trees
in U.S. cities would save $5 billion
per year in energy costs. They are the least expensive way to reduce the summer peak electricity load. They cool in the summer, and they shelter buildings in the winter. They absorb CO2. Deforestation causes 17 percent of global warming.
• Eat foods in season. Always consider shipping distances. Generally, locally grown produce is more healthful and encourages local farmers. Processed foods are also highly packaged and are wasteful of every kind of energy. As much as possible, eat unpackaged foods, the real foods, and bring your own bags to take them home. Improved health is a dividend.
• City gardens deliver significant quantities of
vegetables to their communities and should be protected at all costs. Every
deserted lot and demolition of a building is an opportunity for a garden.
Rural communities and new developments need to
set aside space for shared vegetable gardens as a component of zoning and normal community living. Add gardening to the required curriculum of both urban and rural schools.
• Eat organic. Organic farming builds carbon in the
soil instead of allowing it to break down and escape as CO2, which happens
in conventional farming. Nitrogen fertilizers (not used in organic farming)
contain N2O, which is a greenhouse gas
310 times more potent than CO2.
• Meat. If you are not a vegetarian, eat meat sparingly,
especially beef. Much more than any other domestic animal, cows release large
quantities of methane during the digestive process. Cattle and pig manure
release methane and nitrous
oxide when collected in manure ponds. Lamb is a better choice.
• Respect nature’s design. She put oil and coal in the ground for a reason. It’s her waste dump, and it’s where it was designed to stay. Whenever we go against nature’s design, it is at our peril. See how little you can use.
• Plastic is made of oil. Plastic packaging is ubiquitous
and terrifying in its consequences. As children we played tag and tried to
avoid being “it.” Try a new game. Try to avoid being caught with
“it.” This is a very hard game. But the attempt is worth it since
plastic has a double polluting life, first in manufacture, and second as waste.
It is littering the oceans and
making methane in landfills.
• Cars. Every gallon of gas used produces 20 pounds
of CO2. With millions of drivers commuting, how many excess pounds of CO2
are we putting into the atmosphere just because we don’t care, or because
we have allowed the automotive and oil
corporations to make that decision for us? If the Model T Ford got 24 miles per gallon 97 years ago, why do we let SUVs get 13 today? Sixty or more miles per gallon is feasible. We have to become passionate about insisting on the highest possible milage standards. When you buy a car, choose an electric hybrid. They work, and will soon be commonplace. We pay for speed with increased gas consumption. A cruising speed of 50 or 55 miles instead of 70 or 75 will significantly lower gas used.
• Car pool whenever possible. Use public transportation as a first choice.
• Oppose the NASCAR race track proposed for Staten Island. Cars in NASCAR’s premier-level races average four miles per gallon during 500-mile races. They use only leaded gas and trash up to 60 tires each per race weekend. Professional racers are allowed to use leaded gas. NASCAR alone puts 4 million pounds of CO2 in the atmosphere annually.
• Recreational gas consumption by off-road RVs, snowmobiles,
power boats and yachts, jet skis and the like cannot be justified. They all
need to be mothballed. This may be a hard sell, but we have a planet at stake.
The kickers and screamers
might learn to love the serenity and excitement of sailing, gliding, crosscountry skiing, biking, surfing, etc. The dividend is air you enjoy breathing and less polluted lakes. The underlying problem is that fossil fuelbased recreation is heavily promoted
by corporations who benefit from it.
• Fly less. If you took half as many trips, and made
each one of them twice as long, it would be a significant savings of CO2.
Air travel has an unfair advantage over other modes of transport because airlines
do not pay a fuel tax. It is the world’s
fastest growing source of greenhouse emissions and is responsible for about 10% of total greenhouse emissions.
• Reduce lawn size with alternative plantings. When there is a large area to be mowed, try mowed paths instead. The mowing of the lawns of America consumes huge quantities your lawn.
• Wearing layered clothing — see how low you
can keep your home temperature. In the winter, your body can adjust to somewhere
between 60°F and 64°F on the thermostat and be comfortable. Have lap
blankets for inactive times like reading.
In the summer do the reverse. In the summer your body will adjust up about 20% higher. Fans help.
• Electricity. First conserve, and then make your
own. If you own your home, it is easier and less expensive than you think.
Extend this idea to all public buildings in your community, such as schools,
town halls, clinics and hospitals. Change
town building codes to require green building from all developers. “Green building” can mean “off the grid” in the many small towns of New York.
• Utilization of residential and commercial rooftops across the U.S. for solar energy could provide 710,000 of the current electrical capacity of 950,000 megawatts. Make the electrical wires marring the landscape obsolete, an artifact of the past.
• Architects and contractors as professionals are proving
lazy. They are not promoting alternative systems. Sierrans need to
wake them up. Passive solar heat is a functioning successes. GE, for example,
is offering roof-integrated tile photovoltaic
systems to create electricity. These tiles integrate seamlessly into a roof of even a traditional home. They can save up to 60% in fuel costs. The smallest unit cuts emissions as effectively as 50 trees. State aid is available to help with initial costs.
• All appliance purchases should be Energy Star models,
which conserve energy. Wherever possible, unplug appliances not in use as
well. Most plugged-in appliances draw electricity. Dishwashing by hand can
be just as time-efficient —and save
more water — than a dishwasher.
Ms. Blechman can be emailed here.
Compact fluorescent bulbs are a light but effective step
--- By Bob Muldoon
Scientists agree that what we do to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions
in the next 10 years will make a dramatic difference on global warming’s
impact on our climate. Luckily, our homes and offices can be much more energy-efficient
when we use such everyday items as compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFs).
If every American household used
just one compact fluorescent light bulb, it would prevent enough pollution to equal removing one million cars from the road. They are also excellent for apartments, schools or offices where lights are on continuously throughout the day or night.
There are two significant advantages to compact fluorescents — they use less energy and they cost less in the long-run.
Since CFs use one-fourth of the electricity compared to a standard incandescent bulb, they use much less energy and give off much less heat. Environmentally, CFs have a ripple effect. First, they avoid power plant pollution by using less electricity.
They also help reduce power used for air conditioning by lowering heat released in a building. And they reduce the amount of manufacturing, transportation and labor involved in maintaining lightbulbs. Compact fluorescent bulbs are usually more expensive than standard incandescent light bulbs but the price difference is declining as they are becoming more and more
common in hardware stores and drug stores. The higher initial cost of compact fluorescent bulbs will easily pay for themselves by lasting up to ten times longer than regular bulbs.
What we can do:
• Convert your home to CFs. Try a few out and find the brand you like before using them throughout your home.
• Do a quick count of incandescent bulbs in your apartment building, school or office (in hallways, conference rooms, bathrooms). Then calculate the potential savings and ask the building manager why they are not using compact fluorescent bulbs. Share this article with them.
• Ask your local grocery store to stock CFs.
• Share this article with local governments and groups.
• Become active with the Chapter’s global warming committee.
One word of caution — all CFs contain trace amounts of mercury.
Look for CFs with low levels of this toxic heavy metal
Recycle used CFs. If you can’t find a recycler, dispose of these bulbs as a hazardous waste.
Bob Muldoon is associate regional representative in the Sierra Club’s New York City field office.
Carl Pope can be reached via email.
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