Everyday sustainability

Everyone, from the president to the local foods movement to the Poland springs bottle commercial, is talking about sustainability. You can now get a masters (of science) in sustainability, as I have just done. You are most likely aware that we are at some point going to run out of oil, that the planet is getting warmer, and that those polar bears are becoming extinct because the ice sheets are melting. What I’m not sure is being talked about is how to do really simple things in your every day life to change any of this.

First you need to know the real facts. The Earth will run out of oil, but best guesses put it about 50-80 years away (depending on population growth and if we open up the Arctic and dig deeper into the ocean). The real thing to think about though is that we have thousands of years of coal and natural gas left in the U.S. alone…so it’s a bit more likely to switch to one of these sources for fuel (they can actually all be liquified and turned into fuel for cars – that’s the interesting part of fossil fuels, in fact in South Africa during apartheid, they used coal to make oil). As the most tree-hugging, bicycle-riding, hippie I know, I will still tell you that it is important to understand the complete picture. What we should definitely be doing now though is getting ourselves off a total dependency of oil and cutting back on our fossil fuel emissions which are doing nasty things to the air. Knowing that our energy future most likely includes fossil fuels, mitigation and changing our consumption patterns are more important – and every bit counts!

Global warming is now considered a scientific fact. The IPCC (intergovernmental panel on climate change) has since 2007 stated that the fact that the planet is warming is non-disputable and the fact that we’re causing it is ‘very likely’. Every leading scientific journal or association has backed up both of these claims. The reason that it is ‘very likely’ instead of certain is because we haven’t been measuring this stuff for very long. Climate science is relatively new and unlike physics or chemistry, we can’t test out our hypotheses in a controlled environment. So these scientists, measure ice cores (they have rings on them like trees) AND lucky for science many air bubbles were trapped in the ice, making it easy for us to tell what the level of greenhouse gases (zero..) was pre industrial revolution. Since the 1750s we’ve been pumping CO2, methane, and actually creating excess water vapor in the air (which is important because this actually traps the most heat) and it doesn’t seem like we’re slowing down.

Check out the Science Made Easy tag to see more on the science behind global warming and how that hot air gets trapped in!

So back to what we can do at home and at work. Energy! If you don’t have CFLs (yeah I know there is some mercury but just bring them back to home depot to be recycled!) or LEDs you need to seriously get on it. In addition to saving energy, they save you MONEY! so that one is a no brainer. You also should definitely be in the habit of turning off lights when you leave the room – if you have kids make little signs or stickers to remind yourselves, and turn off unused electronics -power strips help!

Driving is also a killer. Can you car share to work? It’s cheaper and probably more fun than listening to NPR or books on tape by yourself… Can you walk to the grocery store or restaurant or ride a bike? I think country folk just forgot what it’s like (or never had the chance to experience) city living. I ride my bike 11 miles one way from Brooklyn to Columbia because it’s faster than waiting for the train (2 transfers!), and I get a workout in at the same time. I know this might be a little nuts but a 1-2 mile bike ride is less than 10 minutes, and I guarantee that some things are within 1-2 miles of your house. Start with that. Get your kids involved so they develop healthy habits and so you get them away from the TV or videogames for a little while. Quality bonding time remember that?

Also plan your trips. Make a list of all the things you need to do – grocery shopping, dry cleaning, take the dog to the vet- and do it all in one day. If you forget the biscuits make do with what you have and start training yourself to not jump in the car for every need. You can look at big polluters and hate that they are poisoning your kids water supply or the air you all breathe, but you have to look at yourself too – what are you doing, or not doing to fix the problem. More simple steps to come!

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