When the world needs saving, superheroes seem tailor-made to get the job done, what with their extraordinary powers and spiffy suits. Unfortunately, they only exist in the realm of comic books, television shows and movies. In the real world, everyday people play the hero's -- and sometimes the villain's -- part. This is particularly true when it comes to saving the environment. With Earth providing the one and only known spot in the universe that's hospitable to the human race, preserving a healthy environment isn't just a nice ideal, it's an imperative. Mankind has the power to be either the hero or the villain in the quest to save the Earth, but certainly playing the hero will yield better results for everyone. So, though we may not have superhuman abilities or flashy outfits with capes, that shouldn't stop us from being heroes when it comes to saving the environment. Here are 10 steps we can take to do just that.
10: Cut Energy Consumption
The human race has grown to nearly 7 billion strong, and our seemingly insatiable consumption of energy plays a major role in destroying our environment. One of the most important steps we can take to save the environment is to significantly cut down on this consumption. On a personal level, this translates into a host of simple actions:
- Buying and using fluorescent light bulbs
- Insulating our homes so they heat and cool more efficiently
- Turning off lights and other electronic equipment when we leave a room
- Using cold water when possible, instead of hot or warm
- Turning the thermostat up or down (depending on the season) when we're not at home
- Turning the hot water thermostat down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius)
- Washing only full loads of laundry and dishes in the machines
There are so many more ways to cut your personal energy consumption than we can list. While these actions may seem relatively insignificant on an individual level, they have considerable impact when millions of people make the same smart decisions. What's more, consuming less energy also means smaller utility bills, and everyone likes a little extra money in the bank.
9: Produce and Use Sustainable Energy
Mankind will inevitably continue using energy, even if we all make a concerted effort to cut down on our consumption. So another important step to take if we want to save the environment is to find alternative ways to produce and use sustainable, clean energy.
You may have seen buildings adorned with gleaming solar panels or wind farms covered in turbines that stand like sentinels in the breeze. These are two forms of "green" energy that can help reduce our reliance on energy derived from burning fossil fuels. In addition to making decisions about using already existing sources of alternative energy, it's crucial to promote and invest in research that will help harness other sources of sustainable energy. The world will always have a high demand for energy, regardless of how we change our personal habits, so we need to find ways to make sure that we're using clean and renewable sources of energy to meet that great demand.
8: Conserve Water
We can't live without water, and anyone who's experienced a drought can attest to the preciousness of H2O. The natural world around us needs water just as much as we do, so we can't save the environment without saving our water supply, as well. Conserving water starts with looking at it as a limited resource and consuming it with that in mind.
A good way to force ourselves to cut down on water use is by installing WaterSense labeled appliances, such as low-flush toilets and low-flow showerheads and faucets. These water-saving devices can reduce water consumption by more than 30 percent. Such solutions can translate into saving millions of gallons of water when even a relatively small number of people choose to implement them [source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, WaterSense].
We can also make choices about how much water we use in our daily lives by, for example, taking shorter showers or not running the water while we're washing dishes. Choosing to conserve water can have a significant impact on the overall goal of saving the environment.
7: Buy Energy-efficient and Eco-friendly
Low-flow aerators and low-flush toilets aren't the only products we can choose that will help us save the environment. It's now possible to buy household appliances with an ENERGY STAR® label, and these newer appliances can sometimes reduce energy use by approximately 30 percent [source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency].
Refrigerators are an excellent example of an appliance that's worth upgrading. It may be slightly painful to cough up the dough for a new fridge, but in the long run, you'll save on energy costs. You can sometimes save hundreds of dollars each year, and you'll be doing the environment a favor. Once you have the new fridge, make sure to set it at a temperature a few degrees warmer than you might usually (36 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit or 2 to 3 degrees Celsius), while your freezer should work just fine at 0 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 to -15 degrees Celsius) [source: Sustainable Environment for Quality of Life]. Even these slight changes will have an impact on your energy bill. And, of course, don't leave the refrigerator door open unnecessarily!
In addition to buying energy-efficient products, it's a smart idea to buy household cleaners and other items that are eco-friendly. Steering clear of chemicals that harm the environment is always a good choice. But if you aren't thrilled about paying for "green" cleaners that may come at a price premium, you can make simple, safe household cleaners with ingredients like baking soda or vinegar. Your kitchen may not smell like "mango sunrise" or "pink grapefruit passion," but it'll still be clean, and the Earth will thank you.
6: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
This trio of "R" words has become almost as pervasive as the old "reading, writing, arithmetic" combo. But it's no less important today than when it was first introduced. The overwhelming amount of garbage produced each year -- hundreds of millions of tons in America alone -- is one of the biggest hurdles to a healthy environment [source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency].
We can each play a part in improving the trash situation by reducing our waste. This can mean buying fewer items and reducing our overall consumption. If we consume less, we use less energy and produce less waste. But regardless of how we limit our consumption, we're bound to produce some waste. We can buy in bulk to reduce packaging we throw away, but to make a difference, we also have to focus on recycling and reusing.
We can make simple changes, like shopping with reusable bags and keeping food and other items in reusable containers, rather than defaulting to plastic bags and disposable containers. And recycling obviously refers to buying recycled products and sorting waste into the appropriate categories: aluminum cans, glass, plastic, paper and cardboard. However, the definition of recycling can be expanded to encompass donating items you no longer need or want to Goodwill or the Salvation Army so others can reuse them. Many cities have "freecycle" e-mail lists that fill a similar role. If you can't reduce your consumption or find a way to reuse a product, recycling is a better choice than simply throwing something into the trash.
5: Drive Less and Drive Smart
Cars not only guzzle gas, they also emit loads of CO2 into the atmosphere, making them a major player when it comes to damaging the environment. While it may not be possible to give up driving completely, it's entirely possible to cut down on driving and to drive in a smarter way. One easy way to reduce driving is by joining a carpool. This not only benefits the environment by reducing the number of cars on the road, but it can also help get you into the HOV lane during rush hour. This had two advantages: it shortens your commute time, and that means you use fewer resources and pollute less.
When possible, forego the car and take public transportation, instead. If public transportation isn't a viable option, transportation of the two-wheeled variety (i.e. a bike) is an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint and stay in shape. Who doesn't like killing two birds with one stone?
If you are going to drive, at least make sure to drive smart by always having enough air in your tires and by staying within the speed limit, which will also help you save on gas. Drivers with some cash to burn on making their commute more earth-friendly can consider investing in a hybrid car, which will go even further in saving the atmosphere from CO2 and saving you from exorbitant gas prices.
4: Support Climate Change Initiatives
For the last 10 to 15 years, world leaders have been attempting to make meaningful progress on climate change. One of the ways they've tried to do this is through climate change initiatives. These initiatives generally focus on setting firm deadlines for reducing CO2 emissions, and they often place caps on the amount of CO2 that can be produced.
A number of such initiatives have been successfully adopted on the local, regional and national levels in the United States. On the international level, initiatives like the Kyoto Protocol have garnered support and ratification from a large number of countries. But the world hasn't yet succeeded in coming up with a climate change initiative that involves all countries, including big polluters like the U.S. and China.
That said, climate change initiatives have still had a positive impact where they've been adopted, and voicing support for them contributes to the adoption of more such initiatives in the future. Another way to help further the cause of climate change is by supporting political candidates who support the passage and ratification of these initiatives.
3: Live Where You Work, Eat Where You Live
It may seem like living near your place of employment is just common sense. After all, if you spend eight or more hours working every day, that's a pretty big chunk of your time. Living near your work means that you can cut down on what would otherwise be a lengthy commute. That's a good thing for the environment, as well as for your daily schedule. But what about eating where you live? Does that just mean eating at home or never venturing downtown for a nice dinner?
Actually, it refers to an idea known as the "100-mile diet." The concept behind this diet is that you only eat food that is produced within a 100-mile radius of where you live. The focus is on eating locally grown and produced food. This not only tends to support smaller farms, which generally use more sustainable and organic practices, but it also cuts down on the monetary and physical costs associated with transporting food across long distances. If everything you're eating comes from relatively close by, your food isn't contributing nearly as much to the world's CO2 emissions as it would if it were being shipped, flown or trucked from distant lands. It may be difficult to commit 100 percent to the 100-mile diet, but even making the decision to get a significant part of your food from local sources can have an impact. Moreover, many people find that buying locally means they get much fresher, better-quality food and have more delicious meals -- a delightful upside to saving the environment!
2: Plant Trees and Protest Deforestation
This list has talked a lot about ways to cut down on undesirable CO2 emissions, but what about proactive ways to put good things back into the atmosphere? One of the best ways to do this is by planting trees, which is a favorite Earth Day activity. Trees play a critical role in keeping our air clean, both by releasing oxygen into the air and by trapping carbon. The more trees we have, the better our air quality, and that's why planting trees is an excellent step to take toward saving the environment. While you're at it, plant a tree in a spot that will give your house shade, as that will help reduce your need to crank up your air conditioning in the summer months
It's also important to take a stand against deforestation. Losing large swaths of forest, such as the rainforest, to development or industry means that we're losing millions of trees that would otherwise be cleaning the air for us. Protesting deforestation, both through activism and by refusing to buy products that are created at the expense of the world's forests, can help slow and even halt deforestation.
1: Encourage Others
Gandhi wisely said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." That's certainly true when it comes to saving the environment, and each of us has an individual responsibility to make the changes and decisions that will benefit the natural world around us. But even our most concerted efforts will have a minimal impact if we're the only ones making them, or even if we're part of a small group making such environmental choices. The power in the steps on this list comes from getting everyone to take them together. After doing all the other things mentioned here -- cutting energy consumption, conserving water, driving less and everything else -- the most important thing is to be bold and vocal about encouraging others to do the same. The environment won't be saved by a handful of activists or even by a collection of powerful world leaders. It will be saved by the collective action of mankind. So play your part by taking the first nine steps and then asking everyone you know to join you. You never know … you might just end up being one of the heroes that help save our environment.
Lots More Information
- Renewing The Grid Pictures
- Man's Destruction Of The Environment Pictures
- Fact or Fiction: Living Off The Grid Quiz
- Environmental Protection Puzzles
- Climate Classification Puzzles
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