EDF Climate 411 Blog - November 13, 2007
Personal Impact: Does It Really Matter What You Do?

Have you ever been on weight-loss diet, gone to a function with delicious-looking desserts, and told yourself, "One cookie isn't going to make me fat"? One cookie may not make you fat, but how many "cookie moments" occur during your day, your week? If your answer is always that this one little cookie can't hurt, you will not lose weight.

Conserving energy is sort of like going on a group diet where every person, dozens of times a day, has a "cookie moment". Does it really matter if I leave on the lights in my home when I go out? Does it really matter if I don't recycle this container? Does it really matter if I keep my chargers plugged in when not in use?

The short answer is yes, it matters. There are a myriad of things you can do to conserve energy and fight global warming. Each action by itself is small and painless, but taken together the effect can be huge. Here's a list of easy things you can do that will make a big difference.

Most of the electricity in this country comes from coal-fired plants that emit huge amounts of carbon, so:

  • Turn off the light when you leave a room, and turn off all the lights when you leave your home.
  • Change your bulbs to compact fluorescents (now - don't wait for the old bulbs to burn out).
  • Don't leave chargers plugged in when not in use. They suck up electricity just sitting there.
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances.
  • Turn off your computer at night rather than leaving it in stand-by mode.
  • Many appliances, such as televisions, can't be completely turned off except by unplugging them. Appliances in stand-by mode account for 5 percent of the electricity used in the U.S. To turn them off completely, use a power strip.

Paper comes from trees, which suck up carbon, so:

  • Buy recycled paper products. Visit our Paper Calculator to learn more about why this helps.
  • Use only the paper towels and toilet paper that you need.
  • Only print out emails and articles when you really need to.
  • Recycle paper - newspapers, magazines, scratch paper, junk mail, everything you can. You can cancel unwanted catalogs at Catalog Choice.

  • Bring a reusable shopping bag with you to the store.

Manufacturing products of any kind uses energy and creates emissions, so:

  • Don't buy things you don't need and won't use.
  • Borrow from your local library instead of buying books you'll read only once.
  • Give away or recycle what you no longer want. Give old eyeglasses to your local eyeglass store - they can pass them onto people in need. Bring your old cell phone back to the cell phone store for recycling. Give away old appliances, computers, clothes, etc. Earth 911 can help you find recycling resources.

It takes a significant amount of electricity to supply municipal water, so:

  • Take showers instead of baths, and don't linger in the shower.
  • Turn off the water while brushing your teeth.
  • Don't run dish washers and clothes washers half full.
  • Don't water your lawn unnecessarily.
  • Fix leaky faucets, and install low-flow faucets and shower heads.
  • Check out more water conservation tips from the EPA.

Heating and cooling use a lot of electricity, so:

  • Make sure your house is adequately insulated. If snow melts quickly off your roof, you need more insulation in the attic.
  • Wrap your water heater in insulation.
  • Wash clothes in cold water - they will still be clean, and they'll last longer, too.
  • Line-dry clothes if you can, instead of using a clothes dryer.
  • Keep your thermostat down in winter and up in summer - don't overheat or overcool your home.

Cars are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, so:

  • Group your errands so you only drive into town once for all the things you need to buy and do.
  • Have your car tuned regularly, and check tire pressure. An untuned engine burns more gas, as do cars with underpressurized tires.
  • When buying a new car, buy the vehicle with the best mileage that meets your needs.
  • Walk, bike, or use public transportation instead of driving whenever possible. If you have to drive, carpool where possible.
  • See our previous post for more tips for cleaner driving.

If you're willing to go to greater lengths, that's wonderful. See "No Impact Man" for how a New Yorker completely eliminated his carbon footprint. Many homeowners are finding that lowered costs and state subsidies are making solar panels much more affordable. But you don't have to do the hard stuff to make a difference. Every little bit counts.

You can find more tips and ideas on our Fight Global Warming Web site.

This post is by Sheryl Canter, an online writer and editorial manager at Environmental Defense.

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