by: Vanity Fair 17 April 2006 What you can do The problem is so vast and the urgency so great that advice which suggests you turn off the tap while brushing your teeth or switch off lights and standbys when they are not needed or go vegetarian for one day a week seems, well, ridiculous. Global warming is probably the greatest threat our species has ever faced. The sheer scale of the processes under way in the atmosphere and the oceans makes it hard not to view anything an individual does to reduce emissions as being too little too late. Not true. The astonishing fact is that each of us can have an immediate impact on the production of greenhouse gases, and if enough of us act together in these minor ways, the cumulative effect will be dramatic. That's because so much of the way we live our lives is wasteful and, to put it bluntly, thoughtless. It takes nothing to switch off a lamp, unplug the phone charger, take a shorter shower, cook without pre-heating the oven, skip the pre-wash part of the dishwasher cycle, or, often, walk or bike instead of drive. And they all save money, which is one of the rather striking things about reducing your carbon footprintthe standard way of measuring the CO2 emissions each person is responsible for. Some of the suggestions that follow may involve a little more effortrecycling, ditching plastic bags, and fixing leaky faucets and toilets; others require you to spend moneyinsulating your home, installing solar panels, or buying a fuel-efficient car. Even with these, however, there is almost always an eventual payback in terms of reduced bills. The overwhelming and heartening point about the ideas here is that, if adopted by large numbers of people, they will have an immeasurable effect. When it comes down to it, the continued rise in carbon emissions is a matter of individual conscience: each of us can and should do something, however small. In 5 or 10 years' time that thought, together with everything written here, should be second nature to us. Ladies and gentlemen, this little booklet is the futurea more ingenious, more satisfying, and less wasteful future. Welcome to it. HENRY PORTER 1. LIGHTBULBS MATTER Switch from traditional incandescent lightbulbs to compact fluorescent lightbulbs (C.F.L.). If every American household replaced one regular lightbulb with a C.F.L., the pollution reduction would be equivalent to removing one million cars from the road. A 30-watt C.F.L. produces about as much light as an ordinary 100-watt bulb. Although the initial price is higher, C.F.L.'s can last 12 times as long. C.F.L.'s are available at most home-improvement stores and at bulbs.com. 2. DITCH PLASTIC BAGS Californians Against Waste (cawrecycles.org), a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, estimates that Americans use 84 billion plastic bags annually, a considerable contribution to the 500 billion to one trillion used worldwide. Made from polyethylene, plastic bags are not biodegradable and are making their way into our oceans and waterways. According to recent studies, the oceans are full of tiny fragments of plastic that are beginning to work their way up the food chain. Invest in stronger, re-usable bags, and avoid plastic bags whenever possible. 3. RINSE NO MORE According to Consumer Reports, pre-rinsing dishes does not necessarily improve a dishwasher's ability to clean them. By skipping the wash before the wash, you can save up to 20 gallons of water per dishload. At one load a day, that's 7,300 gallons over the course of the year. Not to mention that you're saving time, dishwashing soap, and the energy used to heat the additional water. 4. FORGET PRE-HEATING Ignore cookbooks! It is usually unnecessary to pre-heat your oven before cooking, except when baking bread or pastries. Just turn on the oven at the same time you put the dish in. During cooking, rather than opening the oven door to check on your food, just look at it through the oven window. Why? Opening the oven door results in a significant loss of energy. 5. A GLASS ACT Recycle glass (think beer bottles, jars, juice containers) either through curbside programs or at community drop-off centers. Glass takes more than one million years to decompose; Americans generate almost 13 million tons of glass waste a year. Glass produced from recycled glass reduces related air pollution by 20 percent and related water pollution by 50 percent. Go to earth911.org for local recycling information. 6. BANKING ON THE ENVIRONMENT Want to have a more energy-efficient home or office? Save green by being green. Purchase appliances and electronics with the Energy Star certification. Begun in 1992 by the E.P.A. to rate energy-efficient computers, the Energy Star program today includes more than 40 product categories, and it also rates homes and workplaces for energy efficiency. Energy Star estimates that, with its help, Americans saved enough energy in 2004 to power 24 million homes, amounting to savings of $10 billion. To learn more about Energy Star, visit energystar.gov. 7. HANG UP YOUR DRYER It goes without sayingclothes dryers are huge energy gluttons. Hints to reduce energy use: Clean the lint filter after each load (improves air circulation). Use the cool-down cycle (allows clothes to finish drying from the residual heat inside). Better yet, abandon your dryer and buy some drying racks, if you don't have a clothesline. Generally, clothes dry overnight. 8. GET A GOLD LAUNDRY STAR An Energy Star-qualified washing machine uses 50 percent less energy and could reduce your utility bills by $110 annually. Standard machines use about 40 gallons of water per wash; most Energy Star machines use only 18 to 25 gallons, thus also saving water. Whenever possible, wash your clothes in cold water using cold-water detergents (designed to remove soils at low temperatures). And do your laundry only when you have a full load. If you must do a small load, adjust the water level accordingly. 9. GREEN PAINT Most paint is made from petrochemicals, and its manufacturing process can create 10 times its own weight in toxic waste. It also releases volatile organic compounds (V.O.C.'s) that threaten public health. (V.O.C.'s are solvents that rapidly evaporate, allowing paint to dry quickly.) They cause photochemical reactions in the atmosphere, leading to ground-level smog that can cause eye and skin irritation, lung and breathing problems, headaches, nausea, and nervous-system and kidney damage. The best alternative? Natural paints. Manufactured using plant oils, natural paints pose far fewer health risks, are breathable, and in some cases are 100 percent biodegradable. Remember: Never throw your paint away. Check out Earth 911's "Paint Wise" section for re-use programs in your community; earth911.org. 10. BUILD GREEN Before embarking on any home remodeling, make sure your architect has green credentials. Although there is no national organization of green architects in the U.S., that doesn't mean you can't get an architect who will build along sustainable lines. Ask where he or she sources materials, and request that energy-saving devices, such as solar paneling, be installed. Visit directory.greenbuilder.com or environmentalhomecenter.com for more green-building information. 11. GET A GREEN ROOF A green roof is more than simply a roof with plants growing on it. It functions like a "breathing wall," consuming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and emitting oxygen. Green roofs generally use low-maintenance, drought-resistant plants. Vegetation is planted or laid down as pre-vegetated mats on a thin layer of soil. More intensive green-roof systems may contain trees and larger plants, but these require deeper soil and are more expensive. One of the biggest benefits of a green roof is water management: it can absorb more than 50 percent of rainwater, thereby reducing runoff, a major source of pollution in our waterways. Plus, it can help reduce air-conditioning costs during the hot summer months. The vegetation looks after itself through the seasons and creates a habitat for insects, which, in turn, provide food for birds. Green roofs can also last more than twice as long as conventional rooftops. They look better too. For more information, visit greenroofs.com. 12. PLAY IT COOL Avoid placing your air conditioner next to a TV, lamp, or other electrical appliance that generates heat. A heat source will confuse the unit's thermostat, causing it to misread how hot the room is and make the air conditioner run longer than it should. You can also program an air conditioner to start running 30 minutes before you arrive home (as with heating). There is no need to cool a home if no one is in it. 13. FOOD MILES MATTER Food is traveling farther than ever. Once upon a time people ate seasonallyartichokes in the winter, cherries in June. Now you can buy most fruits and vegetables practically year-round. The average American meal contains ingredients produced in at least five other countries. The transportation of food and agricultural products constitutes more than 20 percent of total commodity transport within the U.S. To help reduce CO2 emissions (released from trucks, airplanes, and cargo ships), it's best to buy food that's in season, organic, and grown locally. Go to ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets to find the farmers' market nearest you.