It seems only human to sympathize with the environmental cause and the advancement of alternative energies. On the other hand, it is often hard for people like me, an average, middle-class, working city-dweller, to truly give back to the environment. There is no denying of the fact that anyone living in an urban environment (more than 50% of the world’s population as of May 2007) has a difficult time greening asphalt jungles. The United States Green Building Council reports that as of 2004, total emissions from the buildings that we are used to living in and going to work at contribute about 38% to the country’s overall CO² emissions. This form of pollution is expected to grow faster than any other form over the next 20-odd years.
What I am suggesting is that we continue to live and work, more or less, the way that we are accustomed to. However, I think that it is very feasible for us to offset some of our “dirty” habits, by making small, if important shifts in the way we view our daily lives. In hoping to lighten my own carbon footprint, I have compiled the following beginners guide to saving the environment, from the comfort of civilization:
Generally, in considering each of the following, have in mind a few factors that are unique to you. Consider where you live geographically, how you consume, and the relativity of your efforts (i.e. if you have a limited amount of time to work on offsetting your contribution to pollution, spend that time wisely).
1. Electricity: Some 50% of the electricity pumped into our homes and offices comes from coal, one of the dirtiest substances we can release into our atmosphere. One way to reduce your impact is to unplug any electrical device you have that is not in use (phone chargers, stereo equipment, light fixtures). Another thing to consider for the summer is to turn off all of your air conditioning until you get home.
The greenest idea, however, is to call your local natural gas and electricity provider to ask what options are available to you. Here in New York, we have the option to switch to wind power for our electricity supply, or to a slightly cheaper wind and water power combination. The cost will only be about 10% higher, but if you really want to get down to the dollars and cents of it, do some research on all of the tax benefits of going green.
2. Plastic: While the Japanese are working on a solution, the U.S. is not. One of the biggest ways that plastic enters our oceans is through the plastic particles we wash down our drains (in soaps, hair gel, and other beauty products). If you are living in a city, chances are it’s not too difficult to get your hands on soap made from aloe particles, natural rather than synthetic. One great company that I like is called Method. Aside from hand soap and body wash, they offer cleaning materials for the house that are all non-toxic and biodegradable. The key here is that there are no plastic ingredients, but it is also nice to breathe in natural cleaning products around your home. Remember, you don’t have to buy into any specific brand, just check the ingredients list before you purchase a shampoo or facial cream. You want to make sure that the main ingredient is something like jojoba seeds, walnut shells, grade seeds, apricot hulls, coarse sugar, or sea salt. Most else is plastic and is extremely harmful to the environment.
3. Food: Another critical issue to consider is what your body physically consumes. Consider the following, buying organic Californian strawberries in New York is a good idea for health reasons and for contributing to a greener, pesticide-free economy. However, relative to the amount of travel that the strawberries undergo, it is actually has a negative net effect. When you are buying produce and food in general, try to buy the local variety, it will be healthier and “greener.”
4. Transportation: The last point gets me thinking about another huge contributor to pollution—transportation. A great idea, as mentioned by a very insightful Goal Green reader, in a comment, is to ride a bicycle to work. I live in New York City, and I have to say that this is the ideal location to ride a bike (unless you are in walking distance of work). A bicycle is a completely green method of transportation, with no emissions, and the perk of staying in shape. However, remember to keep things in perspective; if you are traveling by bicycle to your local supermarket, remember that most of the food arrived there by plane, so again, try to eat local products.
5. Garbage: This one is really simple. If you don’t have labeled garbage bins outside (i.e. a green one for paper and a blue one for metal, glass, and plastic), you can simply throw these materials out in clear bags. If you remember to keep paper separate from the metal, glass, and plastic, sanitation workers will take care of the rest. This step is critical towards the greening of our society, as most green magazines complain that they are not printing on recycled paper because there is a very finite supply that is available to them.
Although these seem like the same banal rules that are on every “green” list, we must still value their importance. Ironically, teenagers and young adults are the biggest polluters, so we have to try to reinforce these ideas by action, in order for this age group to follow.
Thanks for reading and I hope that you find these helpful.