You Can Fight Global Warming, Authors Urge

National Geographic News
April 22, 2003
It's Earth Day and time to focus on what you can do for our planet.

If only one-third of the U.S. population would simply tweak a few daily habits, according to the authors of a new book published today, enough carbon dioxide would be saved to achieve the United States' original emissions-reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol.

What is more, they say, each household that makes the effort could save as much as U.S. $2,000 a year.

You Can Prevent Global Warming (and Save Money): 51 Easy Ways, is written by Jeffrey Langholz, environmental policy expert at Monterey Institute of International Studies, California, and Kelly Turner, an environmental writer based in New York City.

"We wanted to empower concerned citizens—to show them easy things they can do locally to help tackle an important global issue," the authors write in the introduction. "We wanted to put money back in their wallets—an average of [U.S.] $2,000 per household…Finally, we wanted to show that economic growth and environmental protection can go hand in hand."

In March 2001, the United States formally withdrew support for the international global warming treaty called the Kyoto Protocol. One of the major concerns cited was that trying to reduce the nation's gas emissions could hurt the economy. "This book addresses that concern head on," say Langholz and Turner, "showing clearly how we can prevent global warming and improve individual households' economic outlook."

The goal set by the authors is that if enough people (35 percent of the U.S. population) can be persuaded to follow their suggestions, they can reduce U.S. emissions to the level the Kyoto Protocol targeted. "As governments worldwide continue debating how to deal with global warming, individuals can choose to forge ahead now, helping both the planet and themselves."

You Can Prevent Global Warming focuses entirely on conserving energy, reducing the demand for fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, and natural gas) by becoming more careful and efficient in everyday usage of electricity, home heating, and gasoline. "By telling you how to conserve 'energy,' we're telling you how to conserve fossil fuels," the authors say.

Reduced burning of fossil fuels will cut the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, especially in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2). Greenhouse gases, which also include methane, chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) and a variety of other gases, trap the sun's heat in the atmosphere and cause a gradual warming of the Earth.

While some scientists dispute that the worldwide trend towards higher temperatures over the past century has been caused by industrial emissions, there is a large body of evidence to indicate that the warming of the Earth is changing climate patterns. This in turn impacts ecosystems, agriculture, and the spread of disease.

Warming is also causing glaciers to retreat and the ice caps to fragment and melt. If the trend continues, sea level will rise, posing the threat of inundation to coastal cities and entire island countries.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Making a contribution to reducing the use of fossil fuels can be as simple as changing a light bulb. "For some reason, Americans are being swindled," say Langholz and Turner in their book. "They are still using the same light bulb Thomas Edison invented when they could be using one that lasts ten times longer, uses one-fourth of the energy, and produces more light per watt. Why is this? No one is exactly sure—perhaps the compact fluorescent companies don't have enough advertising budgets."

Although the purchase price of compact fluorescent bulbs initially cost more than incandescent ones (around U.S. $15 each), they quickly pay for themselves and start saving consumers money thanks to their long life and lower energy consumption, the authors say.

"If every household in the United States replaced its next burned-out light bulb with a compact fluorescent," the authors say, "We would prevent more than 13 billion pounds of carbon dioxide being emitted—that's equivalent to taking 1.2 million cars off the road for an entire year."

The annual amount of money saved as a result of replacing four incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, taking into account the initial cost of the new bulbs, is U.S. $30, according to the authors. Over the lifetime of the four bulbs the total saved would be U.S. $205.

A refrigerator costs the average American household U.S. $120 a year in electricity, according to the book. There are many ways to reduce this by saving energy. Dialing up the appliance's temperature by 1 degree, placing the fridge in a cool spot (away from a sunny window), checking that the seals work properly, and keeping the door closed, are just some of the tips mentioned in the book. Simply dusting off the condenser coils at the back of the fridge twice a year would make it more efficient and save U.S. $32 a year in electricity.

Save water and energy by using them more frugally, the authors advise. Letting the sink run while you brush your teeth or shave wastes hot water and energy. Just one leaky faucet that drips every three seconds can waste 30 gallons (110 liters) of water a month.

An 8-minute shower compared with a 10-minute shower will save about 300 gallons (1,100 liters) of water a month, according to the book. Installing aerator faucets and low-flow showerheads can save much more water—as much as 11,000 gallons (41,500 liters) for a three-person family, saving U.S. $255 a year, say Langholz and Turner.

Phantom Loads

At least 5 percent of the annual electricity bill is consumed by appliances that are switched "off," according to the authors. "One-fourth of the energy consumed each year by the TV is used when it's turned off."

Most Americans don't know about this leaking effect. "Any appliance or piece of electronic or office equipment that has a remote control, battery charger, internal memory, AC adapter plug, instant-on feature, permanent display, or sensor will use electricity even when it's switched off…The only way to stop wasting that energy is to unplug them."

The annual amount of money saved as a result of enabling the sleep feature on your computer, monitor, and printer to go on after 5 minutes of inactivity is U.S. $22, the authors have calculated.

More Ways to Save Energy, Money:

• Your car is responsible for emitting as much carbon dioxide a year as your entire house is, the authors say. "Improving the fuel efficiency (miles per gallon) of your car is the single best thing you can do to prevent global warming." You can make a difference by choosing what kind of car you drive, how often you drive it, and how you drive it.

A tune-up could improve your car's efficiency by 15 to 50 percent. The more smoothly you drive, the less gas the car will use. Accelerating or braking rapidly when you're traveling at highway speeds can worsen your fuel efficiency by 33 percent. Keeping your tires properly inflated can reduce your gasoline consumption by 6 percent, saving the average car U.S. $40 a year in gas.

• You can save U.S. $24 a year by leaving grass clippings on your lawn after you mow, thereby reducing your lawn's need for fertilizer and water.

• The average American eats 260 pounds (120 kilograms) of beef per year. By eating one pound (half a kilogram) less per week U.S. $109 will be saved over a year. The electricity needed to water, feed, slaughter, and package just one pound of beef is the equivalent of burning one gallon (3.8 liters) of gasoline in your car's engine, the authors say.

• Save U.S. $293 a year as a result of buying 15 percent of your groceries in bulk sizes instead of smaller sizes.

Source: You Can Prevent Global Warming (And Save Money): 51 Easy Ways, by Jeffrey Langholz and Kelly Turner (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $10.95).

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