Category Archives: climate change

50 Energy Saving Tips

Much of the energy consumed in the U.S. each year is wasted through inefficient technology and transmission. This causes families and businesses to pay higher energy bills and results in increased carbon pollution. Energy efficiency is a simple and cost effective solution to combat climate change, prevent further air pollution and reduce the cost of energy for consumers. 

Sometimes there is great need to consider your impact on the planet. Sometimes you can change the way you are living in order to promote cleaner air. Sometimes you set out to write a great blog post describing all the wonderful things you can do to create a better world. Sometimes your blog post is just a list. Sorry, I’m not sorry.

General

  • Consider powering your home with renewable energy. Many companies offer partial or full renewable energy plans.
  • Get off the grid by adding solar panels to your home. You may actually make money by selling energy you don’t use to the power company.
  • Be sure your windows seal properly and are energy efficient.
  • Check for air leaks, fix the ones you find.
  • Make sure your home is completely insulated.

Lighting

  • Switch to low-energy fluorescent lightbulbs. They last up to 10 times as long as regular lightbulbs.
  • Use motion sensing bulbs for your outdoor lights. They are both efficient and convenient.
  • Save energy (and lower your electric bill) by turning off the lights when you leave a room.

Appliances

  • If you’re in the market for new appliances, opt for energy efficient ones to save energy and money on your bill.
  • Clean the lint filter in your dryer regularly. A dirty filter uses up to 30% more energy to dry clothes.
  • Better yet, instead of using the dryer, try a drying rack, especially on sunny days. You will save energy AND your clothes won’t shrink.
  • Do all your laundry in one day so the dryer doesn’t have to heat up again for each load.
  • Set the temperature of your refrigerator to between 30 and 42°F, or use the energy save function if available.
  • Check the coils behind your refrigerator for dust. The refrigerator doesn’t have to work as hard when these are clean.
  • A full freezer full uses less energy than one that is empty.
  • After the rinse cycle, turn off your dishwasher and open the door a crack to let your dishes air dry.
  • Only run your dishwasher when full.
  • Use less energy by heating up leftovers in a microwave or toaster oven instead of the oven.
  • While in use keep your oven closed – every time you open the door the oven loses 25°F of heat.
  • Turn your oven and burners off toward the end of baking and cooking. It will continue cooking using existing heat without using additional energy.
  • Use copper-bottomed pots and pans, which use energy more efficiently.
  • Conserve energy by keeping your pots and pans covered while cooking.
  • Match pots and pans to similar sized burners to prevent energy loss around edges.

Electronics

  • Unplug your chargers and kitchen appliances when not in use – they draw energy just by being plugged into the power outlet.
  • Better yet, plug your electronics into a power strip and turn it off when not in use.
  • Instead of a desktop, purchase a laptop if you are looking to buy a new computer – it will require less electricity to run.
  • Come to that, don’t forget to turn off your computer when you aren’t using it to save power. Or if you prefer to leave it on use the hibernation option instead of a screensaver.
  • Look for energy efficient televisions, if you are looking to buy a new one.

Heating

  • Cover bare floor with area rugs for insulation and comfort.
  • Raise heat gradually by a couple of degrees each time instead of jumping the heat up.
  • In winter, set your heater between 68 and 70°F during the day and 65 to 68°F at night.
  • When not in use close the flue to your fireplace and install glass doors to keep heat in and cold out.
  • Change the filters in your heating system every month.
  • Let the sun help you heat your home by leaving blinds and curtains open during the day and closed at night.
  • Lower your thermostat when you are out. If you go on vacation don’t turn it below 55°F to save energy and to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting.

Cooling

  • Consider installing an evaporative cooler instead of air conditioning. How Stuff Works has written an article outlining the pros and cons of each.
  • Keep your exterior doors and windows closed when AC is on. Keep them slightly open if you have a swamp cooler to promote air flow.
  • Keep interior doors open so air flows freely throughout your home.
  • Change your AC filters once a month.
  • Turn your thermostat to the highest possible comfortable temperature and set it to “auto.”
  • Close air vents and doors to rooms you aren’t using.
  • Use ceiling fans to circulate air more efficiently. Additionally, the breeze from ceiling fans can make you feel 3-4° cooler so you can set your thermostat a little higher and still feel cool.
  • Provide shade over your home with trees. Plant a new one every Arbor Day.

Water Heating

  • Always launder with cold water or make sure you only wash a full load if you use hot water.
  • Install low-flow shower head and faucets.
  • Turn off your water heater if you are leaving town. Most heaters can reheat water in a few hours after you return.
  • Set the temperature of your water heater to 120°F.
  • When buying a new water heater, look for one that is energy efficient.
  • Take shorter showers and only allow the water to run while you are wetting your hair and rinsing off.
Check out Energy Savers: Tips on Saving Energy and Money at Home from the U.S. Department of Energy for further, more detailed information about these ideas and quite a few other ideas to help you save money and energy in your home.

Which of these tips are you willing to try?

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Green is the New Black: An Info Guide for Fashionistas

About a week ago I read an article about consumerism. Basically the author was suggesting that in order to be sustainable you should stop purchasing. Anything. My response was that this is an unreasonable request. This may work for some people but it isn’t practical for the majority. Being green should be an attractive lifestyle to all kinds of people. I think the more important lesson for the green fashionista is to be conscience of WHAT your buying and both the quality and quantity of these items.

In Greening Your Home Part 1 (Big Purchases) and Part 2 (Decorating), I talk about learning your personal style for home decor instead of following every current trend. The same applies to your wardrobe and this an info guide for all you fashionistas because green is the new black (I always love in books or movies when a character says the title).

Make the cuts

The first step to a greener wardrobe is to edit it. I don’t mean get rid of everything that isn’t made of sustainable materials and replace these things with pieces that are more environmentally-friendly. That would be the opposite of green. What I mean is find the time to look at every article of clothing that you own. Assign a spot on the floor for YES and a spot for NO.

Look at each item carefully; try them on if you need to. Ask yourself:

  • Do I like this item?
  • Does it look good on me?
  • Do I feel good while wearing this?
  • Is it torn or have holes?
  • Can I fix it within a week?
  • Do I dread seeing someone while wearing this?
  • Do I only wear it on laundry day?

If you haven’t worn something for a year, you probably don’t need it anymore. Some things (a wedding or bridesmaids dress, Halloween costumes, etc.) are exceptions. If you can’t think of a good reason to keep something, don’t! Put it in the NO pile and get it out of your life.

I don’t believe in MAYBE piles. I always end up keeping everything and it’s just a waste of time trying to kid yourself. Give yourself clear guidelines about what stays and what goes, and stick to them. Purging your wardrobe is oddly satisfying.

Develop a Shopping Strategy

If you have a game plan before you leave your house about how you plan to shop you will be more likely to keep on the righteous path toward green (I’m officially a green crusader after that statement). Here are a few tips that might help you on your journey.

  • Always keep at least one reusable shopping bag by your front door or in your car. There is so much information about the evils of both plastic and paper bags but this post has neither the time nor the space so in the meantime you’ll have to take my word for it. When asked if you want paper or plastic always respond by saying, “Neither, I care about my planet and have brought my own bag.” Or something along those lines.
  • Make a list and stick to it. If you make a list you will (hopefully) only include the things you really need, and you will resist the urge to go shopping out of boredom. Think of all the things you can do with your time now. Also, by sticking to the list you won’t be caught off guard by those strategically placed items that stores are so good at setting up in order to encourage you to buy on impulse.
  • Opt for organic or sustainable materials. As I mentioned in Greening Your Home Part 2, conventional cotton  farming practices are the most pesticide-intensive in the world. Organic cotton is more expensive but is also more luxurious and used in better quality clothing, which means you won’t have to buy clothes as often. Silk, cashmere, and wool are all sustainable materials, linen and hemp come from plants that even when not grown organically require very little treatment with pesticides.
  • Consider vintage, consignment and thrifting. Now I could go on for pages about how much fun I find thrift stores (and I probably will at some point, so look forward to that). But the main thing you should take away from this post today is that clothes that are used require no additional energy to manufacture, the energy is already used and gone. Also you won’t be wearing the same outfit as a hundred other people.
Some e-cards is really helping me tell a story today. They just really understand my life.
  • Don’t get suckered by sales. Sales are a clever ploy to get you to buy things you don’t need. There is a sale for every occasion: Father’s Day, Labor Day, After-Christmas, 4th of July. I know when you look at that label for 75% off it can be tempting, but just because you can get a brand-new shower head that also brews coffee for $19.95 doesn’t mean you need it.
  • Treat everyone you come across with respect. No matter where you are shopping or what you are buying, everyone deserves  to be treated with dignity, respect and friendliness. If you are unhappy about a policy or product, the people you come in contact with are not to blame.

Where to Buy

Now is the time I give you a list of the places you should be making purchases from. This list comes from A Better World Handbook and is ranked based on five factors: Human Rights, The Environment, Animal Protection, Community Involvement and Social Justice. They also have a Shopping Guide.

  • A Companies – are social and environmental leaders
  • B Companies – tend to be mainstream companies taking social/environmental responsibility seriously
  • C Companies – have either mixed social and environmental records or insufficient data to rank them
  • D Companies – engage in practices that have significant negative impact on people and the planet
  • F Companies – have the worst social and environmental records

The Pros and Cons of Wind Power (repost)

I wrote this piece during my internship at the Society for Range Management for the SRM Outreach Blog. It’s about the positive and negative aspects of wind power based on an article I read. I thought it would be appropriate for Monday since I usually write about some environmental topic or other on Mondays… Anyway enjoy! 🙂

CQ Researcher is a periodical that covers some of the most debated social and political topics of today. I recently read a CQ Researcher article titled, “Wind Power: Is Wind Energy Good for the Environment?” written by David Hosansky, which I found to be especially informative.  

Photo by Maggie Haseman,
 National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO

In his article Hosansky outlines the history of how humans have harnessed the power of wind. Between 5,500 B.C.E. and 1,400 A.C.E., wind power was first employed in Southeast Asia to sail boats, and in windmills to pump water and grind grain. In the 18th and early 19th century and during the Industrial Revolution, steam began to replace wind, a well established energy source throughout Europe, as a power source. By the late 19th century, however wind reclaimed its early importance when scientists began developing windmills to bring electricity to rural areas, especially in Scotland, the United States, and Denmark. In the 1900s to 1980s most of the U.S. was reliant on nuclear energy and fossil fuels for electricity, farmers however used small windmills for irrigation pump operation. Between 1990 and present day, interest in alternative energy has increased due to rising oil prices, among other factors. Today, Hosansky cites China as the wind power world leader with a wind-energy capacity of 42 gigawatts, followed closely by the U.S. at 40 gigawatts.

A wind turbine works by capturing energy when the wind blows past the blade, there is a “lift” effect causing the blades to turn. As the blades turn, a shaft that is connected to the generator spins, creating electricity.

Wind Turbine Diagram and Parts

Blades: Every turbine usually has either two or three blades.
Rotor: The blades and the hub together are called the rotor.
Pitch: Blades are turned, or pitched, out of the wind to control the rotor speed.
Brake: A disc brake, which can stop the rotor in emergencies.
Low-speed shaft: The rotor turns the low-speed shaft at about 30 to 60 rotations per minute.
Gear box: Gears connect the low-speed shaft to the high-speed shaft and increase speeds from about 30 to 60 rotations per minute (rpm) to 1,000 to 1,800, rpm, the speed required by most generators to produce electricity.
Generator: Produces 60-cycle AC electricity.
Controller: The controller starts up the machine at wind speeds of about 8 to 16 miles per hour (mph) and shuts off the machine at about 55 mph.
Anemometer: Measures the wind speed and transmits wind speed data to the controller.
Wind vane: Measures wind direction and communicates with the yaw drive to orient the turbine properly with respect to the wind.
Nacelle: Contains the gear box, low- and high-speed shafts, generator, controller, and brake.
High-speed shaft: Drives the generator.
Yaw drive: Keeps the rotor on upwind turbines facing into the wind as the wind direction changes.
Yaw motor: Powers the yaw drive.
Tower: Towers are made from tubular steel, concrete, or steel lattice.
Caption Source:  Department of Energy
Photo Source: Turbine Zone


Some of the issues I found interesting in Hosansky’s paper include the problem of wind intermittency, the financial constraints involved with wind power, the effect wind energy can have by displacing some emissions and pollutants, concerns about wildlife protection, and the land requirements for a wind farm.

Photo by Charles Haseman,
Along I-80 near Des Moines, Iowa

 Living in Colorado, a relatively windy state, I don’t notice a lack of wind but this article reminded me that not every place in the U.S. or the world receives gusts as powerful as those throughout the Great Plains and the west coast. The article discusses that wind power seems to be a perfect fit for the U.S., according to Hosansky, If wind turbines had the ability to operate at 100% of their capacity, wind power has the potential to supply 16 times the electricity needs of the United States; however wind turbines only generate 25-40% of their capacity due to wind intermittency. Another challenge is that the locations with the most persistent wind tend to be in sparsely populated areas away from major population centers and not necessarily when the demand for energy peaks.  As a result, a large network of transmission lines is necessary to deliver the wind energy to the consumers, which could be costly.

I find the financial controversy outlined by Hosansky particularly fascinating. In order to reach the current U.S. goal of generating 20% of energy by wind power, the estimated cost is $200 billion, likely to be burdened onto ratepayers. This money would be used for turbines, improved transmission line capability and other infrastructure. Wind farms can also lower property value by up to 40%. On the other hand, turbines can result in local governments receiving “higher real estate tax revenue” and landowners leasing their land to build towers for $3,000 to $5,000 a year. The renewable energy standard President Obama presented will protect consumers from unstable fuel prices, save money, boost the economy and create green jobs. In addition the price of wind power is less than other renewable-energy sources.

Photo by Charles Haseman,
Along I-80 near Des Moines, Iowa

To me, Hosansky’s summary of the effect of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, which are often noted as the culprits for climate change, and the way wind power impacts them is enlightening. “The extraction, transport and combustion of… fossil fuels can affect water and air quality, wildlife habitats and the global climate.” Additionally green energy does not necessarily include all renewable energies; cycling fossil fuel plants up and down in response to the intermittent wind is expensive and “can emit excessive pollution” and reduce the “effectiveness of environmental-control equipment.” In order to reduce emissions it would be more efficient to directly address that problem. Conversely, wind energy is a key energy source to reducing air pollution and carbon dioxide and other emissions from coal and natural gas. Besides hydropower, wind energy generates the most amount of electricity compared to every other renewable energy sources, and it is considered safer than nuclear energy. A combination of diverse mixed fuel sources such as wind, solar and a back-up system of newer and more efficient gas-fired plants that can be quickly ramped up or down can reduce emissions significantly because fossil fuel plants won’t be running as often.

Photo by Charles Haseman,
Along I-80 near Des Moines, Iowa

Possibly the most popular argument against wind power that I have heard is about the detrimental effects it can have on wildlife, particularly birds and bats; Hosansky explains this captivating argument. Thousands of birds, including rare raptors such as golden eagles and burrowing owls have been killed by the blades of wind mills, and others have been electrocuted by wind-farm power lines. Additionally, in one year 2,000 bats may have been killed by a single wind farm. However, others suggest that wind farms can be placed far from migratory paths and “major populations of birds and bats” where such effects are less likely. Experts say that many reports of wildlife death were made prior to technological advances; modern wind mills are taller and kill far fewer animals. One report stated that turbines are low on the list of reasons why birds and bats die; pesticides, attacks by domestic and feral cats and collisions with windows kill much greater number of birds.

Photo by Maggie Haseman,
 National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO

Another interesting argument discussed by Hosansky concerns land requirements. “Wind farms require far more land… than traditional forms of electricity generation”; estimates say “45 times more than nuclear power and several times more than coal and natural gas plants”. Furthermore, the location of wind farms can damage sensitive ecosystems and destroy beautiful landscapes. Alternatively, ”the turbines take up relatively little space and [the] land around” them can still be utilized for other purposes such as farming, ranching and recreation, thus taking up less space than fossil fuel plants overall. Additionally, improvements in technology continue to allow for larger turbines, meaning fewer are necessary to generate the same amount of electricity. Moreover, between smog and a windmill, one person stated they’d take the windmill.

This article was eye-opening to me and really gave some insight into benefits of and current issues with wind power. I now believe I have formed an educated opinion around wind energy and based on the issues discussed above I personally support wind power. It seems that the issues with it can be solved and, in my opinion, the issues, when they are compared to the benefits, are minor. I enjoyed reading the story-like writing and the political perspective on wind energy. If you would like to read this article too, here is the citation:


Hosansky, D. (2011, April 1). Wind Power: Is wind power good for the environment?. CQ Researcher, 21, 289-312.

10 Myths About "Green" Living

You may not notice it in everyday life but current trends show a decrease in agricultural lands and wilderness as urban areas spread. Consumerism rules the hearts and minds of U.S. citizens and pollution and species decline are on the rise. Turning these trends around will take action on the individual level. We can’t leave it up to the arguably corrupt political system in this country, which panders to exploitative special interests. We can’t leave it up to the extremist organizations. If the individual learns their own behavior and realizes their own impact and how these contribute to destructive trends we can create opportunities.

Adopting better habits doesn’t require wealth, unreasonable time commitments or a complete overhaul of your life. These are just a few of the misconceptions about “green” living that many Americans believe. Consider these and the following myths and their corresponding truths in order to take the first steps in your commitment to creating a better world.

1. “Green” living is a virtuous trait, not an obligation

While some people do make their commitment to green living a personality trait, we have to remember that it is the obligation of every individual to leave the planet in the same or better condition than how we found it. Since it is now commonly known that human activities are the biggest threat facing the global ecosystem, the only solution is for humans to clean up their mess. Do you expect the hummingbirds to do it? Maybe some rocks will help out.

2. It will be too disruptive and difficult to change my current lifestyle

There will probably be a period of adjustment as one makes the commitment to living more simply and reducing their impact, but difficult and disruptive are not necessarily the descriptive words I would choose to describe this period. Especially since it will probably have to be a gradual change, little things over the course of many weeks. This study gives some insight into how to develop new habits including a Japanese technique called Kaizen. Any activity repeated over a period of time can become a habit.

3. “Green” products are hard to find and expensive

In some cases, for example energy efficient appliances, this is true however in the long run these products save money in other areas, like your energy bill. On the other hand many earth-friendly products are actually less expensive than their conventional counterparts because they are often made using recycled or reclaimed materials, which require less processing and output less waste. Additionally the sustainable products industry is growing as more and more costumers prefer the earth-friendly alternative. Just remember that every purchase you make is a vote for more of that product, and producers listen.

4. Earth-friendly preferences and behaviors will make me look cheap and eccentric

To some, yes, but only those that do not understand the needs of our society and environment. Anyway acute intelligence and enlightenment have always been perceived as eccentric. However, there are ways to be thrifty and chic, something I will elaborate more fully on in a later post. Additionally Dr. Seuss says it best, “Those who matter don’t mind and those who mind, don’t matter.” Remember that.

5. “Green” living requires a frugality that will deprive me and my family of comforts and conveniences I’ve earned

Reasonable comforts and conveniences needn’t be sacrificed when making this commitment to a simpler life. The scale or quantity to which you’ve become accustomed to may need to be reduced but you may be surprised to learn that designer home furnishings, state-of-the-art appliances, a fancy schmancy car, fine cuisine and exotic vacations are available in earth-friendly forms. By taking a step away from the consumerism which drives many peoples lives you may just find a more satisfying, healthier, simpler and more balanced life.

6. The economy will suffer if I stop buying conventionally

Businesses and companies follow the consumer; if the consumer wants more eco-friendly products available at a lower price, the producer will supply it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, every purchase you make is a vote for what you want to buy.

7. I don’t have time to support environmental causes

You can choose how much time, if any, you want to give to support any cause that is important to you. The internet has made it simple to sign a petition or receive timely information at your convenience.

8. It’s hypocritical to advocate and practice environmentally friendly behaviors in some, but not all, areas of my life

Living the earth-friendly way is not the end of the road. It’s an evolution of states. No one can do it all because there is no all to do. There’s always something else you can learn, something else you can start practicing, something else you can sign a petition for. This is not meant to sound over-whelming, it’s meant to sound exciting, there are so many options for how you can do your part in a way that fits your lifestyle.

9. I can’t change anything if some people aren’t doing anything at all

Your efforts, no matter how small, in reducing your footprint makes a difference in that the collective footprint has been reduced. You must be the change you wish to see in the world. Ghandi said that so it must be true.

10. There’s only one right answer to climate change

This is beyond not true. Experts can’t agree on any answer to the problem because there is not one right answer. In my opinion the best answer starts with the individual and that means Y-O-U.

Now that you know the truth about some of the pressing issues surrounding living sustainably are you ready to make a pledge to be “green”? Comment below if you are.