Being Green: One Step at a Time

Everyone knows how an avalanche can start. A few small flakes in the right (or wrong) places, some wind, maybe a little quake and… bingo! You have tons of snow and ice barreling down a mountain at breakneck speeds with destructive wrath. In Rocky Mountain regions, governments and communities take measures to mitigate this risk whenever possible – including using small artillery to knock small shelves of snow and ice free so that it doesn’t become a much larger problem later on.In many ways, mankind has done the same thing with many other problems. We wait and learn through the hard lessons of experience how to predict and even mitigate the risks of our future. For the most part, this methodology has served us well. However, we now face an issue so immense that simply waiting and learning is not an option. This is the issue of climate change and, were we to do so, it would be too late for mankind as a whole. “At the end of the day, when we all talk about saving the environment… in a way it’s misstated because the environment is going to survive. We’re the ones who may not survive. Or we may survive in a world we don’t particularly want to live in.” (Ausubel, Kenny. 11th Hour. 2009)And though the issue looms large, I believe that a few small changes made by many people could easily have a very large impact on the problem of global climate change. You and I or even the government or governments may not be able to come up with an agreeable solution to an issue so large. We don’t have to. While it is true that a vast array of photovoltaic cells erected in the southwestern U.S. would be able to power the entire country, this would take approximately $420billion in funds (Zweibel, K., Mason, J. and Fthenakis, V., A Solar Grand Plan, http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan). And though it is also true that a “moon shot” effort on the part of any nation would easily bring about massive change, that is also difficult to get started for a multitude of political and socio-economic reasons. Therefore, if we can break this huge problem into a lot of small solutions, we can see constructive change happen in the same way that destructive change has brought us to this point.A few of these small steps that I will highlight here include our choice of diet, use of solar at home, water usage, food issues and landfill use reduction. These are all steps that we can take on an individual basis. And, like the last few snowflakes that bring down the mountain, our efforts can and will quickly combine to form an avalanche of global change.Many of us hear every day about “going green.” One of the changes many of us could make with nominal effort is to switch to a plant-based diet. Though at first, this may seem like a daunting and seemingly impossible change to make, a little research can show how easy it really can be. There are a multitude of resources including goveg.com and many online resources from PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. And a quick stroll through the frozen food section of your local grocer will show many “meat replacement” options like burgers, hot dogs, “chicken” nuggets, and even barbecue riblets. The transition need not happen overnight nor does it need to be difficult or prohibitive. (Peterson, Josh. March, 2009. Eat less beef. Planet Green Online. Retrieved April 5, 2009 from http://planetgreen.discovery.com/food-health/eat-green-avoid-beef.html) As for its impact on the environment, take a look at PETA’s article “Fight Climate Change with Diet Change: Go Vegetarian.” Also, here are a few statistics from “Meat and the Environment” on the goveg.com website. • Eating 1lb of meat emits the same amount of greenhouse gases as driving an SUV 40 miles.• An area of rain forest the size of seven football fields is destroyed every minute to make room for grazing cattle, but each vegetarian saves 1 acre of trees per year.• Of all raw materials and fossil fuels currently used in the U.S., more than one-third goes to raising animals for food.• The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people – more than the entire human population on Earth.There are, of course, multitudes of other statistics available with even a quick search online. The point is simply that a small switch to cut back or even eliminate animals from our daily diets can make a very large impact that easily extends past our individuality.My next topics are closer to home – literally. First I’d like to address using solar energy at home. There are a plethora of products available today for home solar that include solar air heating panels, solar shingles, water heaters, and even paint that can produce electricity. Most of these technologies have reduced significantly in price since their introductions, though some are still fairly new. There are three points I’ll go over here and those are solar projects you can do yourself, return-on-investment (ROI) for solar products, and renting solar.Through a few online searches and a quick look at the library, you can easily find some DIY projects to make use of the sun’s power. From Mother Earth News, there are a few projects that are still quite relevant today from their 1979 and 1980 issues and can be done quite cheaply. For instance, this project costs just over $100 in 1979 dollars: Solar On A Shoestring: Mother’s Corrugated Collector: Building a 96 square foot solar collector. And, in the March 2009 issue of magazine Solar Today, there is a four page product showcase with over 11 products highlighted of varying costs. And from the article Home energy upgrades that pay in that same issue, “For many homes, solar water heating may make good economic sense.” (Crume, Richard. Home energy upgrades that pay. March 2009, Volume 23, Issue No. 2, page 32)The ROI on solar can be quite complicated. The costs of a system come in three forms: initial cost, lifecycle cost, and maintenance cost. When a system is fully considered from all three aspects, the initially perceived high cost quickly goes down. Bringing lifecycle and maintenance into the equation can rapidly and easily show large cost savings from installing even a small system. (Freed, Eric. Green building & remodeling for dummies. 2009. Pages 5-6)Other cost mitigating factors are incentives and rebates. The basics are to do plenty of research and find as many rebates and incentives as you can. And, though wind power is a form of solar energy, often the incentives are listed separately. Therefore, installing a small vertical wind turbine in addition to some solar panels (whether for heating air, water or producing electricity) might be good idea. Use websites like this one: http://www.dsireusa.org/summarytables/financial.cfm to check for rebates and incentives in your state.One more option is to “rent” solar panels. There are quite a few companies popping up around the country that are offering this now. The basic way it works is that they install the hardware and you pay them a monthly fee instead of the local power utility company. In this way, the costs associated with a large system are mitigated, you’re directly helping the environment and the equipment maintenance is done by the owning company. It’s a great option for people who don’t have the funds for a large system. Since most of these companies act more like a community than competitors, you could contact RecSolar in California and see what recommendations they have for local companies.( Peterson, Josh. March, 2009. Rent solar panels. Planet Green Online. Retrieved April 5, 2009 from http://planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/rent-solar-panels.html) According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), “Americans spend about 90 percent or more of their time indoors.” (Buildings and the environment: A statistical summary. U.S. EPA, December 2004) The report doesn’t detail how much of this is at home as opposed to work or the coffee shop, etc., but it is sufficient to show that we’ve become indoor creatures. That being the case, while indoors, we tend to use a lot of water. Reducing that water usage in our homes can make a very big difference. With the new LEED-H certification program from the U.S. Green Building Council, improving the water efficiency of your home can be worth up to 15 points. (Groom, Sean. The LEED-H certification program. The Best of Fine Homebuilding: Energy Smart Homes. 2009. Page 18) Two of the ways we can do this are with gray water systems and low-flow showerheads.A gray water system is one in which water that was used once by things like the dishwasher and washing machine are recycled for use in toilets. These systems have become less complex over the years and can be very simple to install. The cost depends on the size and complexity of the system. Some systems can even collect and use rainwater for indoor applications or for landscaping. A little time will need to be spent checking with the local building authorities on what is/is not allowed by code.“A 10-minute shower can take some 200 litres (about 53 gallons) of water.” (Houtte, Van. Reducing water consumption is easy. http://www.sourceh2o.com/en/save-water.html#Showers. Retrieved April 15, 2009.) Installing a low-flow showerhead can reduce water use significantly. According to the online article “Reduce Hot Water Use for Energy Savings” by the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy department of the U.S. Department of Energy, installing low-flow faucets can show “water savings of 25-60%.”(http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/water_heating/index.cfm/mytopic=13050. Retrieved April 15, 2009) There is even a low-cost option that allows you to pause the water flow when soaping up – http://www.treehugger.com/files/2005/10/eco-showerhead.php.Americans love excess. Our average caloric intake is among the highest in the world and has increased significantly over the last 50 years (Profiling Food Consumption in America. USDA. http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.htm. Retrieved April 15, 2009) Luckily, we produce and have the ability to import plenty of food for our appetites. However, that also contributes to the problems of global climate change. Ever consider the carbon footprint on the out-of-season banana from Chile that you buy in November? These considerations can quickly add up to global consequences and lead to ideas that a global-sized solution is necessary. That is true, though the solution need not be as large as the problem itself.Almost all of us have some yard attached to our homes or apartments. “Consumers spent $39.6 billion on their lawns and gardens, an average of $466 per household, in 2002.” (How much do you spend on landscaping your lawn? http://www.backyardnature.com/cgi-bin/gt/tpl.h,content=382. Retrieved April 15, 2009) These expensive lawns could quite easily be transformed into garden spaces. Nearly every state has native crops and a growing season. Publications like Mother Earth News have detailed articles on what can be grown where and when to grow it. Eating as local as your own backyard and, therefore, eating seasonally will vastly reduce your carbon footprint and will have global impact when done globally.Another quick way to reduce the environmental impact of your groceries is to look into the growing locavore movement. A locavore is someone who gets the majority (if not all) of their foodstuffs from within a 100-mile or less radius of their home. The environmental impact of making this change is fairly obvious. And an easy way to do so is to find a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in your area. CSA’s are local farms that will deliver a box of seasonal goods to you for a fee. Your food is fresher, local, and you support the local economy and community. You can check here for a CSA in your area: http://www.localharvest.org/csa/. And, of course, if there isn’t one in your area, start one. Get your neighbors to set aside some lawn for gardening and all go in it together.A great way to add to your individual locavore efforts and simultaneously reduce waste is to start composting. Those of us with yards can use a portion of them to create a compost pile and integrate it with gardening efforts since it will create highly nutritious, organic soil for gardening. Composting is also doable in smaller environments like an apartment. There are various online articles and even a few videos on how to make an inexpensive in-house composter. There are a few available for retail sale as well, but the cost is higher. (Three (low cost) composters. March/April 1979. Mother Earth News Online. Retrieved April 5, 2009 from http://www.motherearthnews.com/Do-It-Yourself/1979-03-01/Three-Low-Cost-Composters.aspx) And, of course, there are the three R’s – reduce, reuse, and recycle. The EPA goes into detail about these on their website regarding waste – http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/rrr/index.htm. Recycling is becoming easier in many parts of the country as grocery stores begin to accept aluminum in greater frequency and as cities institute recycling programs. Reuse of items is sometimes more challenging since not everyone is very crafty. But, here again, the internet comes to the rescue. By using cites like freecycle.org and makezine.com, you can find someone who does want your item or find a creative way to reuse it. Make magazine is a collaboration of amateur inventors and craftspeople that find unique and creative ways to reuse or recycle everyday items.Hopefully I’ve pointed out a few useful tips that you can integrate into your life pretty seamlessly. And though these are all small changes on a small scale, they have exponential effect when applied from one person to the next. David Gershon, author of Low Carbon Diet: a 30-Day Program to 5,000 Pounds, said, “If you can get enough people to do things in enough communities, you can have a huge impact.” (Miller, Peter. Saving energy: it starts at home. National Geographic. March 2009. Volume 215, Issue No. 3, page78.)Our global crisis is, in fact, just that – a global crisis. But we don’t need some massive, global-sized solution. We can fix this crisis the same way we created it – one small step at a time.If you need an example of how one person can change the world, let me give you a few – Jesus, Ghandi, Einstein. Certainly we can each make our own positive difference as well.

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