This column gives me the chance to share info about environmental trends and ideas, and at the same time, to examine my own lifestyle with an eye toward improving it. So while we covered the past year's worth of greening education, we now turn to the new year. Here's some tangible, actionable commitments that will make me (and you) measurably better citizens of Earth:
1. In 2012, I will make greater use of solar power. Not photovoltaic power, but the sun's drying power. Electric clothes dryers use 6 percent of a home's total energy use. Shifting to a clothesline or drying rack saves energy and money too. After a couple hours in the sun, throw the clothes in the dryer for five minutes and eliminate wrinkles!
2. In 2012, I will compost more. Know why the word "trash" conjures up that foul smell? It's all the organic matter—mostly food scraps. Removing that from the wastestream, and putting it into your own yard where it decomposes and becomes useful nutrient supply for gardens, diverts a significant amount of waste that would otherwise be landfilled. Here's an assortment of composting products, and keep an eye out for instructional composting classes (like ), available through the County.
3. In 2012, I will turn off my cable boxes (and use sleep modes on other gadgets). Have a Comcast set-top box? The standard, non-DVR unit uses about 30 watts—all the time. Each cable box in your home accounts for 20 kWh per month of electricity consumption. This year, we'll be using more power strips, and continue using the "sleep" setting for PCs.
4. In 2012, I'll know—with accuracy—my personal carbon footprint. Websites that calculate this have been around for some time, but today they're not just gimmicky novelties. The Nature Conservancy offers this handy one. The average two-person household in the United States emits 53 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Why bother with the exercise in the first place? You can't manage what you can't measure. This yardstick will give us a scorecard as we go.
5. In 2012, I will use a rain barrel. Sometimes the simplest technologies are the most effective. Rain barrels sit under your gutter's downspout, and collect a large volume of water that can then be used for landscaping needs or to water a home garden. Every gallon of rainwater harvested is one that doesn't need to be chemical-filtered and pumped for miles—gravity does all the work!
6. In 2012, I'll create and use a custom in-home recycling bin. Staying organized at home with dedicated recycling containers will get it out of sight but keep it ready for its eventual proper disposal. Mine will have these five compartments: #1 and #2 plastics, paper, other recyclable plastics (like #5 and caps/lids), scrap metal, and electronic waste.
7. In 2012, I will eat meat only once a week. The toll meat production takes on the environment is a stupendous one. Between water use, air pollution and loss of arable land, beef is far and away the most energy-intensive foodstuff we have. A shift in diet—even from two nights a week to one—would have enormous positive consequences if adopted by a majority. And with so many right in our area, there's no shortage of substitute calories.
Such a list could go on for a while. But it's when you have a list of 50 "to-dos" that it becomes impossibly daunting. Can you accomplish these seven resolutions in the coming year? Have alternative projects planned that will preserve our natural resources, and maybe keep some extra money in your pocket? Shout it out! The sharing of info is a two-way street, and when it comes to saving our world, it most definitely takes a village.