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Easy Ways to Shrink your Carbon Footprint

With global warming a constant concern, and carbon emissions still being the main culprit for rising temperatures, reducing your carbon footprint has never been as important as it is right now. While simply driving less may be a great way to reduce the amount of carbon you consume, there are a number of other, less obvious ways that you can drop your carbon consumption.

Recycling Closet

Let’s face it: Everyone recycles these days. But is that enough? Instead of just going with the herd and tossing your plastic into a separate container, why not set up a small recycling center in one of your closets? Now, you can not only recycle your plastic, but your paper and glass as well. This helps ensure that as much of your used material as possible gets recycled back into production and stays out of a landfill.

Online Education

Going to school can be one of the best things you can do for yourself, but it certainly doesn’t help your carbon footprint. When you add up all the books, the gas spent driving back and forth to class and the facilities costs of those large lecture halls, it can wind up adding a ton of carbon to the atmosphere. Instead, consider going online to get your education. With online schools growing all the time, and many now offering advanced programs, like an online MBA program, this is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint while advancing yourself.

Unplug

Modern technology is now an indispensable fact of life, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way to reduce how much energy those technological devices use. Even if you turn these devices off, many of them continue to draw a small amount of power while they are plugged in. This power may be tiny, but when you add up all the devices in your life it could wind up being a serious waste of energy. Take the extra time to unplug devices when you are done with them and help save the planet.

Use Cold Water

It takes quite a bit of energy to heat up the water in your house, and while no one can really advocate for cold showers, there are plenty of water uses where the temperature of the water doesn’t really matter. For things like washing your hands, rinsing dishes and doing laundry, cold water works just as well as warm and by choosing to use cold you wind up spending a lot less energy heating up your water.

Focus on Local Solutions

One of the largest contributors to our carbon problem is the transportation infrastructure that is required to move goods from their place of manufacture to your doorstep. To help alleviate this issue, try to purchase goods, like foods, that are local in origin. Not only does this provide a boost to your local economy, but it significantly reduces the amount of energy that is wasted in bringing the products to you.

In today’s world it is everyone’s job to reduce the impact that their life has on the planet. Not everyone can simply walk off into the wilderness and live a life off of the grid, but there are plenty of small steps that everyone can take. These steps may not seem like they have a large impact, but when extrapolated across the entire population, they could represent a serious reduction in the global carbon footprint.

*Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.*

Polar Bears and Global Warming

You may have heard of a little polar bear named Siku (a name that means “sea ice”) who is currently living at the Scandinavian Wildlife Park in Denmark. This little cutie has been garnering international attention (including a recent appearance on The Today Show) as an ambassador for the plight of polar bears across the globe. His condition as a bear being raised in captivity (because his mother couldn’t produce the milk to feed him) highlights a concern that has been growing over the last couple of decades: the effects of global warming on our environment. And while this bear will live as long as forty years thanks to the efforts of biologists and a fabricated habitat, his brethren in the wild may not be so lucky.

It is estimated that the polar bear species has dwindled to about 25,000 worldwide, but the decline in their population is steady; and it is directly linked to global warming. Thanks to the many hydrocarbons (read: greenhouse gases) that are produced around the world as a byproduct of industry and transportation, the human race is creating a situation in which climate change is occurring, so that global temperatures are on the rise, extreme weather conditions are sweeping the planet, and ecosystems that were once in balance are now completely out of whack, providing a new set of challenges that many species may not survive.

Polar bears, in particular, seem to be one of the first groups to suffer from climate change, and it’s not hard to see why. This species depends on sea ice to live. Although these large mammals spend a good amount of time in the water, they rely on the sea ice to hunt seals (their main food source) and raise their young. But with warmer temperatures reaching the poles and extended summer seasons over the last several years, polar bears are facing a host of setbacks to their way of life that are proving detrimental.

The largest problem is food. A reduction in sea ice results in two drawbacks for the polar bear. First, there is less area on which to hunt, meaning fewer seals and more competition for food. Second, there is greater distance (across water) between ice floes. So not only are polar bears finding less food, in some cases they are swimming such great distances to find it that they tire and drown. And then there is the added problem of breeding. Without enough of the essential fats needed by female bears to breed, fewer cubs are being born and those that are may die off because their mothers aren’t healthy enough to produce the milk they need to survive (as in the case of Siku).

Luckily, there is a way to save the bears, and each and every person on the planet can do their part. By cutting down on the hydrocarbons we produce (mainly through vehicle usage) and seeking out consumer goods from companies that endorse conservation efforts (by utilizing cleaner, greener practices) we can all make a difference and slow the progression of climate change, or even turn it around. In truth, the alarming plight of the polar bears should be nothing so much as a wakeup call to all of us. If we don’t change, we stand to lose a lot more than just a single species.

12 Simple Steps for Going Green in 2012

As we head into 2012, many of us will be resolving to lose those few extra pounds, save more money, or spend a few more hours with our families and friends. But there are also some resolutions we can make to make our lives a little greener. Each of us, especially in the United States, can make a commitment to reducing our environmental impacts.

Hunger, poverty, and climate change are issues that we can all help address. Here are 12 simple steps to go green in 2012:

(1) Recycle

Recycling programs exist in cities and towns across the United States, helping to save energy and protect the environment. In 2009, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require all homes and businesses to use recycling and composting collection programs. As a result, more than 75 percent of all material collected is being recycled, diverting 1.6 million tons from the landfills annually—-double the weight of the Golden Gate Bridge. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for each pound of aluminum recovered, Americans save the energy resources necessary to generate roughly 7.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity—-enough to power a city the size of Pittsburgh for six years!

What you can do:

Put a separate container next to your trash can or printer, making it easier to recycle your bottles, cans, and paper.

(2) Turn off the lights

On the last Saturday in March—-March 31 in 2012—-hundreds of people, businesses, and governments around the world turn off their lights for an hour as part of Earth Hour, a movement to address climate change.

What you can do:

Earth Hour happens only once a year, but you can make an impact every day by turning off lights during bright daylight, or whenever you will be away for an extended period of time.

(3) Make the switch

In 2007, Australia became the first country to “ban the bulb,” drastically reducing domestic usage of incandescent light bulbs. By late 2010, incandescent bulbs had been totally phased out, and, according to the country’s environment minister, this simple move has made a big difference, cutting an estimated 4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. China also recently pledged to replace the 1 billion incandescent bulbs used in its government offices with more energy efficient models within five years.

What you can do:

A bill in Congress to eliminate incandescent in the United States failed in 2011, but you can still make the switch at home. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use only 20-30 percent of the energy required by incandescents to create the same amount of light, and LEDs use only 10 percent, helping reduce both electric bills and carbon emissions.

(4) Turn on the tap

The bottled water industry sold 8.8 billion gallons of water in 2010, generating nearly $11 billion in profits. Yet plastic water bottles create huge environmental problems. The energy required to produce and transport these bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year, yet approximately 75 percent of water bottles are not recycled—-they end up in landfills, litter roadsides, and pollute waterways and oceans. And while public tap water is subject to strict safety regulations, the bottled water industry is not required to report testing results for its products. According to a study, 10 of the most popular brands of bottled water contain a wide range of pollutants, including pharmaceuticals, fertilizer residue, and arsenic.

What you can do:

Fill up your glasses and reusable water bottles with water from the sink. The United States has more than 160,000 public water systems, and by eliminating bottled water you can help to keep nearly 1 million tons of bottles out of the landfill, as well as save money on water costs.

(5) Turn down the heat

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that consumers can save up to 15 percent on heating and cooling bills just by adjusting their thermostats. Turning down the heat by 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours can result in savings of 5-15 percent on your home heating bill.

What you can do:

Turn down your thermostat when you leave for work, or use a programmable thermostat to control your heating settings.

(6) Support food recovery programs

Each year, roughly a third of all food produced for human consumption—-approximately 1.3 billion tons—-gets lost or wasted, including 34 million tons in the United States, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Grocery stores, bakeries, and other food providers throw away tons of food daily that is perfectly edible but is cosmetically imperfect or has passed its expiration date. In response, food recovery programs run by homeless shelters or food banks collect this food and use it to provide meals for the hungry, helping to divert food away from landfills and into the bellies of people who need it most.

What you can do:

Encourage your local restaurants and grocery stores to partner with food rescue organizations, like City Harvest in New York City or Second Harvest Heartland in Minnesota.

Go through your cabinets and shelves and donate any non-perishable canned and dried foods that you won’t be using to your nearest food bank or shelter.

(7) Buy local

“Small Business Saturday,” falling between “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday,” was established in 2010 as a way to support small businesses during the busiest shopping time of the year. Author and consumer advocate Michael Shuman argues that local small businesses are more sustainable because they are often more accountable for their actions, have smaller environmental footprints, and innovate to meet local conditions—-providing models for others to learn from.

What you can do:

Instead of relying exclusively on large supermarkets, consider farmers markets and local farms for your produce, eggs, dairy, and meat. Food from these sources is usually fresher and more flavorful, and your money will be going directly to these food producers.

(8) Get out and ride

We all know that carpooling and using public transportation helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as our gas bills. Now, cities across the country are investing in new mobility options that provide exercise and offer an alternative to being cramped in subways or buses. Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. have major bike sharing programs that allow people to rent bikes for short-term use. Similar programs exist in other cities, and more are planned for places from Miami, Florida, to Madison, Wisconsin.

What you can do:

If available, use your city’s bike share program to run short errands or commute to work. Memberships are generally inexpensive (only $75 for the year in Washington, D.C.), and by eliminating transportation costs, as well as a gym membership, you can save quite a bit of money!

Even without bike share programs, many cities and towns are incorporating bike lanes and trails, making it easier and safer to use your bike for transportation and recreation.

(9) Share a car

Car sharing programs spread from Europe to the United States nearly 13 years ago and are increasingly popular, with U.S. membership jumping 117 percent between 2007 and 2009. According to the University of California Transportation Center, each shared car replaces 15 personally owned vehicles, and roughly 80 percent of more than 6,000 car-sharing households surveyed across North America got rid of their cars after joining a sharing service. In 2009, car-sharing was credited with reducing U.S. carbon emissions by more than 482,000 tons. Innovative programs such as Chicago’s I-GO are even introducing solar-powered cars to their fleets, making the impact of these programs even more eco-friendly.

What you can do:

Join a car share program! As of July 2011, there were 26 such programs in the U.S., with more than 560,000 people sharing over 10,000 vehicles. Even if you don’t want to get rid of your own car, using a shared car when traveling in a city can greatly reduce the challenges of finding parking (car share programs have their own designated spots), as well as your environmental impact as you run errands or commute to work.

(10) Plant a garden

Whether you live in a studio loft or a suburban McMansion, growing your own vegetables is a simple way to bring fresh and nutritious food literally to your doorstep. Researchers at the FAO and the United Nations Development Programme estimate that 200 million city dwellers around the world are already growing and selling their own food, feeding some 800 million of their neighbors. Growing a garden doesn’t have to take up a lot of space, and in light of high food prices and recent food safety scares, even a small plot can make a big impact on your diet and wallet.

What you can do:

Plant some lettuce in a window box. Lettuce seeds are cheap and easy to find, and when planted in full sun, one window box can provide enough to make several salads worth throughout a season.

(11) Compost

And what better way to fertilize your garden than using your own composted organic waste. You will not only reduce costs by buying less fertilizer, but you will also help to cut down on food and other organic waste.

What you can do:

If you are unsure about the right ways to compost, websites such as HowToCompost.org and organizations such as the U.S. Composting Council, provide easy steps to reuse your organic waste.

(12) Reduce your meat consumption

Livestock production accounts for about 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 23 percent of all global water used in agriculture. Yet global meat production has experienced a 20 percent growth rate since 2000 to meet the per capita increase of meat consumption of about 42 kilograms.

What you can do:

You don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan, but by simply cutting down on the amount of meat you consume can go a long way. Consider substituting one meal day with a vegetarian option. And if you are unable to think of how to substitute your meat-heavy diet, websites such as Meatless Monday and Eating Well offer numerous vegetarian recipes that are healthy for you and the environment.

The most successful and lasting New Year’s resolutions are those that are practiced regularly and have an important goal. Watching the ball drop in Times Square happens only once a year, but for more and more people across the world, the impacts of hunger, poverty, and climate change are felt every day. Thankfully, simple practices, such as recycling or riding a bike, can have great impact. As we prepare to ring in the new year, let’s all resolve to make 2012 a healthier, happier, and greener year for all.

About the Worldwatch Institute

Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues. The Institute’s State of the World report is published annually in more than 20 languages. For more information, visit www.worldwatch.org.

How to Protect Rivers from Pollution

The supply of fresh water in the world is not what it once was. In fact, it could be considered a dwindling resource. Although 70% of our planet is covered in water, the majority is salt water, which cannot be consumed by humans (at least not those who want to stay hydrated). In fact, only 1% of the current water supply on our planet is drinkable, and considering the way that the human population has exploded in the last couple of centuries, it might not take long for us to use it up. Because of this, it is important that we make efforts to preserve the drinkable water that is present, and that means protecting rivers from the massive pollution that some people seem intent on spewing into the water supply. But how do we do it?

There are several ways to go about putting a stop to pollution, and the first one is education. Many people don’t realize the massive negative impact that manufacturing and big business have had (and continue to have) on the environment. When people understand how much pollution is seeping into our waterways and what it means for the continued existence of mankind, it could spur them to action. Of course, all you really have to impress on people is just how much a bottle of water will cost once we start having to desalinate ocean water. That ought to get them moving.

And with education comes a chance for reform, which is to say, a large group of people speaking with one voice has the power to change policy (of the governmental variety). The road to stopping pollution hinges on higher standards regarding environmental protection. In short, it means stricter government regulations on levels of pollutants and toxic waste that are the byproducts of many manufacturing operations. But it’s not only manufacturing at the root of this growing problem.

Farming also plays a huge role in the pollution of rivers. Since most farming operations rely on water to grow their crops, it is only reasonable for them to set up shop near a source of fresh water (rivers, lakes, and so on) rather than having to transport it. This means that chemical fertilizers used to grow crops and toxic pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides used to keep bugs away are seeping into the soil and making their way to the water supply. And these chemicals not only get into nearby rivers, which may eventually wash them away; they also trickle down into the groundwater where they will remain for years, slowly releasing into the soil and of course, other water sources. Then there are mining operations to worry about, along with just about every other industry that uses the power of water to run their factories.

These are the concerns that keep you up at night, wondering if the world you’re leaving to your children will even be able to support life. However, you can make a difference every day. By opting for organics, eschewing mass-manufactured goods, and steering clear of metals whenever possible, you are using your consumer dollars to state your preference. But you can do more; write to your congressmen (and women) and representatives to demand stricter environmental protections, especially in the area of river conservation, and urge friends and neighbors to do the same. One small voice may get lost in the crowd, but politicians simply can’t afford to ignore the united voice of their constituency.

Looking for creative ideas to get your family excited about a greener lifestyle? The What You Can Do series spotlights fun and easy ways to make a positive impact on important green issues such as global warming, water conservation and deforestation. New one minute episodes screen online each weekday this year on the What You Can Do series web site (www.whatyoucando365.com), You Tube and Facebook. Challenge your family to join What You Can Do’s “one minute movement” to take small steps to solve big problems in our communities and around the world.

Note: For ideas involving electrical appliances, ensure that you or another adult perform the task and put the kids in charge of reminding you.

What You Can Do series: If you have even one minute, you can change the world.

Check out 10 favorite one minute ideas on going green with your family from series creator Jessica Arinella and production team On the Leesh. Click on each link to view the corresponding What You Can Do video:

1. Switch the light bulbs in your house to compact fluorescent (energy efficient) bulbs. If every family in the country changed just one bulb to an energy efficient bulb, we could save enough energy to light over 2 million homes for one year.

View What You Can Do video on Global Warming.

2. Unplug home electronics and appliances when they are not in use. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that in most U.S. homes, 75 percent of energy used to power home electronics is consumed while the product is turned off.

View What You Can Do video on Phantom Power.

3. Recycle – even if it is just your newspaper. If every American recycled their newspapers, we could save approximately 25 million trees a year.

View What You Can Do video on Deforestation.

4. Make small changes in the way you use water – the EPA estimates that a family of four can use up to 400 gallons of water per day. A few ideas to start conserving water:

  • Shut off the tap when you brush your teeth or wash your face.
  • Instead of running the tap until you get cold water, keep a pitcher in your fridge.
  • Put a bucket in your shower to catch the run off and use it to water plants or wash your car.

View What You Can Do video on Water Conservation.

5. Consider walking your child to school, using public transportation or carpooling with other moms or dads a few times a week. The EPA estimates that using public transportation just twice a week will reduce green house gas emissions by an average of 1600 pounds a year.

View What You Can Do video on Green School Commuting.

6. Buy local! It has been estimated that the average American meal needs to travel approximately 1200 miles to get on your plate. Buying local cuts down on the fuel needed to move your food.

View What You Can Do video on Climate Change.

7. When you are dining out, decline your waiter’s offer to refill your water glass if you are no longer thirsty. If 25% of Americans who dine out declined the complimentary glass of water, 26 million gallons of water would be saved.

View What You Can Do video on Water Conservation at restaurants.

8. If you and your family enjoy seafood, you can download a pocket guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium that shows the safest options for both you and the environment. Our oceans make up 97% of our Earth’s inhabitable space, and are home to most of the world’s wildlife.

View What You Can Do video on Sustainable Seafood.

9. When you and your family order food out, bring your own containers for the food and decline the napkins and plastic silverware. You can also bring your own “doggy bag” when you eat out for leftovers.

View What You Can Do video on enjoying a greener lunch at work.

10. Approximately 60-80% of all trash in our oceans is plastic, so cut down on plastic bags whenever possible. Always keep a cloth bag in your car for unplanned shopping; and if plastic bags are your only option, make sure to reuse and recycle if possible.

View What You Can video on banning plastic bags.

Watch What You Can Do videos at http://www.whatyoucando365.com/, to learn ways to go green at home, at school, at work and on vacation. The series also features important environmental and social issues such as ocean conservation, arts in education, wildlife extinction, and hunger.

*Image courtesy of What You Can Do.*

Furry Vengeance, starring Brooke Shields and Brendan Fraser, opens in theaters nationwide April 30, just days after Earth Day‘s 40th Anniversary! This adventure-filled, family-friendly film nails today’s ecological issues with humor, teaching the kid in all of us about the environmental consequences of man’s encroachment on nature.

In addition, Furry Vengeance offers young eco-activists the opportunity to take part in a Social Action Campaign that highlights the importance of habitat preservation and protecting endangered species. This unique package will be distributed to elementary schools nationwide, to engage and educate students on our environment. For more information and to take part, click here.

*Information & image were provided by Different Drummer.*