A few tips to ensure our world doesn't come to an end this year.
We’re not really the gloom and doom types, so despite what some apocalypse-happy interpreters of the Maya calendar may say, we’re pretty sure our wonderful world isn’t coming to an end in 2012. More likely this 3rd rock from the Sun is sticking around for at least the next 7 billion years, all the more reason to make it a more pleasant place to reside. Resolutions? We’ve got too many, but (keeping in theme) here are 12 to kick off the new year, plus one extra special bonus to round out a baker’s dozen. Unless noted otherwise, numbers below are based on calculations from UC Berkeley.
1) Eat What You Buy, Buy Only What You’ll Eat (or Compost)
The average American family throws away $2,100 worth of (what was once) perfectly delicious food each year, according to NRDC. All that wasted food annually sums to a tremendous amount of wasted resources: 25% of all freshwater, 4% of US oil consumption, $90 billion in economic losses, and 31 million tons of landfill waste (which releases the potent greenhouse gas methane as it degrades). If that moldy can of cranberry sauce has truly transcended the bounds of edibility, toss it in the compost bin instead of the trash (which won’t revive the wasted resources, but will significantly reduce methane emissions).
2) Become a “Weekday Vegetarian”
We’ve written before about how meat makes up the largest part of food’s footprint for most of us. So the less (red) meat (and dairy) you eat, the better your dinner looks for the planet. If you don’t already have vegan tendencies, start with meatless Mondays and work your way up to become a weekday vegetarian, which allows you to eat as omnivorously as you please over the weekend. Besides cutting support for inhumane factory farms, weekday vegetarianism should save you over $1,000 and ~2 tons of CO2 per year.
3) Live Close to Work (&/or Telecommute)
The closer you live to your place of employment the better it is for all of us: you waste less time commuting, save energy, save money, and contribute less to congestion. So live within walking or biking distance of the office, if possible, or scheme up ways to telecommute. If you can’t cut out your fuel-fueled commute entirely, carpooling and public transportation are the next best things. Here are some tips to help you calculate how your options stack up.
4) Bike for Buns of Steel (& a Better Tomorrow)
That’s right, biking is not only the greenest way to roll around town, it’s also great for your gluteus maximus (and pretty much all your other parts, assuming you can avoid agro taxis, rail ruts, and car doors). Who knows, pushing pedals may even inspire you to become the next Danny MacAskill. If not, you’ll at least look less ridiculous than these guys.
5) Take the Pedal Off the Metal
When you do have to drive, try to resist the hot inner Indycar driver. Cutting down on speeding, excess cargo weight, sudden acceleration and deceleration will save both gas money and break pads (and perhaps your life as well). Just reducing highway cruising speeds from 75 to 65 MPH will save the average driver about $500 and 2 tons of CO2 per year. Properly inflating tires and changing air filters can lop off an additional annual savings of $200 and 0.75 tons of CO2.
6) Cash-in That Clunker (for a Fuel-Sipper)
Upgrading from a car that gets 20 MPG to 35 MPG will save the average driver about $750 and nearly 3 tons of CO2 per year. Really want to blow your neighbors’ minds in a cacophony of cognitive dissonance? Try an electric Hummer HX-T. Euro pop techno music apparently comes standard!
7) Cool Water + Warm Sun = Lasting Laundry
Your clothes really don’t need hot (or even warm) water to clean, thanks to the miracles of modern laundry detergent chemistry (including the best biodegradable brands). That’s good, since washing hot means 90% of the energy in a load of laundry goes to heating water. Then there’s the dryer, another major energy hog. Line drying (either outside, or indoors on a rack) saves not only energy and emissions, it also extends the life of your clothing, avoiding up to $70,000 over 30 years (if you believe estimates from The Daily Green).
8) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
It’s cliche to say, but the less stuff you buy the less of a footprint you leave behind. When you do buy, try to buy reused (Goodwill and Craigslist being great places to start). If you’re not motivated by things like climate change, resource scarcity, and habitat loss for cuddly critters, consider the human cost of making cheap stuff via the Slavery Footprint calculator. Recycling is great too, though many products can only be recycled into lower value materials, so even better to have less to recycle to begin with.
9) Slay Your Energy Vampires
We’ve already warned you that your DVR and satellite/cable box may be sucking more energy than any other appliance in your home (refrigerator included!), even when you think they’re switched off. You may also have plenty of other appliances out there sucking electrons in stand-by mode, adding up to hundreds of dollars of wasted energy. The only real way to stop the energy vampires is by putting everything you can on switchable power strips, which you turn off whenever you’re not putting gizmos to use. There are now even smart strips that cut phantom power to other plugged-in electronics once a controlling device (like a TV or computer) is turned off.
10) Don’t Procrastinate, Insulate (& Go Solar!)
A well-insulated home is a happy home, since over half of home energy use leaks out the cracks. If you really want to upgrade your crib into the green stratosphere, ask your utility about buying green power or put some solar panels on your roof. With prices below $1 per watt, solar PV has never been cheaper, and you can virtually eliminate your home’s carbon footprint with the right set-up. Group buying services like 1BOG can help you get the best deals out there.
11) Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is
If you’re a lucky ducky with a nest egg to hatch, make sure it’s incubating in companies you believe in. We’ve compiled a few tips to help you green your 401(k) portfolio. Give ‘em a gander (or a goose, if you prefer).
12) Take a “Staycation”
The more scientists look at aviation impacts, the less friendly flying looks for the planet. It’s not just CO2 emissions from jet engines that are a problem; high altitude NOx, soot and water vapor also directly contribute to global warming, potentially doubling to quadrupling the impacts from CO2 alone. So a roundtrip flight across the US is at least akin to driving a 15 MPG Chevy Suburban all by your lonesome, or worse. Perhaps a staycation is in order instead? Just kick back, relax, catch up on your blog reading, and enjoy the fruits of your post(poned)-apocalyptic resolutions!
Extra Special Bonus: Kill Your Catalogs
Each year about 19 billion catalogs are mailed in the US, chopping down 53 million trees and guzzeling 56 billion gallons of wastewater to produce piles of paper that mostly go straight to a recycling bin. Go to catalogchoice.org to stop the madness in your mailbox.
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