The United Nations Climate Change Conference began this week in Copenhagen. Go Team!
Not unlike the well-worn mantra to “remember the children starving in …” and clean our dinner plates, I also caution my family to think of the polar bears on this warming planet. One particularly poignant image of global warming sticks in my head: the exhausted polar bear swimming from iceberg to iceberg in search of food. With rapidly melting ice caps, a solid (frozen) landing place is becoming harder to find. Polar bears are drowning and children are starving.
For me, the struggling polar bear has become a symbol of all that needs fixing. For unlike cleaning our plates, reducing greenhouse gas emissions truly will help those people starving in other parts of the world. Drought, famine, extreme weather — they will continue to worsen as the world heats up. As Al Gore describes in Our Choice, as many as 75% of Himalayan glaciers smaller than 15 square kilometers could be gone in 10 years.
Since half of the drinking water and agricultural water in India and much of China and Indochina comes from the seasonal melting of these same glaciers, the human consequences could soon become catastrophic.¹
I am in the camp that believes that we need big changes — now. I’m talking about whole countries adopting huge energy conservation programs, cap-and-trade incentives, city-wide changes, etc. However, I hope that even relatively small changes made by a very large number of people will help to bring down the Earth’s raging fever. I have just a few tips I’d like to pass on, figuring that every little bit does count.
Idling the Car
I was astounded to discover how much energy is wasted by an idling car. Did you know that for every 10 minutes that you idle, your car engine consumes 0.026 gallons of gasoline? That 10 minutes translates into about 9.5 ounces of carbon dioxide. Thirty minutes of idling uses up almost a tenth of a gallon of gas.² Another way to look at it is every two minutes you idle uses about the same amount of gas you’d need to drive one mile.³ Think of how many times you idle the car in one day — waiting for someone, at the bank, at drive-through windows.
I know that I’m guilty of this one, especially on super cold mornings when the car is coated in ice. Instead of having the warming car do all of the work, I’m now trying to scrape as much as I can without the aid of the car’s engine. In fact, if ice isn’t a problem, you don’t need to warm the car up for more than 30 seconds. A moving car warms up much more efficiently than one at rest. Idling a car for more than ten seconds costs more money than it does to turn the car off and on again.
I’m a huge believer in power strips. We keep major appliances plugged into strips, and turn the whole strip off each night when we go to bed. The phantom energy costs are greatly reduced because appliances aren’t drawing electricity when not in use. Normally appliances that are plugged in continue to use electricity even when they are turned off. Some of these “energy vampires” can use almost as much electricity as when they are on!
It’s pretty easy to make turning off a power strip part of your nightly routine. In fact, I use one for my computer and peripherals that has a couple of “always on” outlets, so that the cable modem and router can stay on for other users, while my printer, scanner, computer and other appliances are off.
We also plug the TV, DVD player and VCR into a strip and keep it off when not in use. The cable box needs to be reprogrammed every time it’s unplugged, so we keep it plugged in separately.
Green Up Your Electricity
Okay, this suggestion will actually cost you a little more money.
We have the option to “green up” our electricity. What this means is that, for an additional 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour, we choose to have all of our electricity come from renewable sources, in our case wind and hydro. GreenUp helps to encourage the further development of renewable energy sources as it reduces our carbon dioxide output. I’m hoping that as more people demand electricity from renewable sources, the more options there will be and the less expensive it will become.
More from Our Choice:
The single largest source of man-made global warming pollution is the production of energy from fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas. Consequently, the most important solutions for the climate crisis require accelerated development and deployment of low-CO2 substitutes for producing the energy needed for the global economy.4
More Green Tips
Check out these sites for great conservation ideas.
All the little things we do add up. So, if you can, turn down your heat, turn off your power strip, and spend less time idling. But, also raise your voice, vote your conscience and stay informed!
1. Gore, Al. Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis
4. op. cit., Gore, Al.