What You Can DoChange Your Energy

The amount of energy we use and the ways we use it affect earth's biodiversity in every corner of the globe. As we burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, run our cars, and heat our homes, we release gases that contribute to global climate change, acid rain, and air and soil pollution. Ultimately, our reliance on fossil fuels is leading to a less habitable planet for ourselves and other species. By using energy more wisely and transitioning to cleaner, renewable energy sources, we promote a healthier environment and benefit biodiversity. Here's how you can help change the way you use energy:

1. Reduce, reuse, and recycle

2. Support renewable energy

3. Unplug your gadgets, appliances, and electronics that draw energy even when they are not "on"

4. Buy products that are made locally

5. Use mass transit, walk, or make use of some other form of "green" transportation, such as biking or rollerblading, whenever possible

6. Replace conventional light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs—and turn them off when you leave the room

7. Adjust your thermostats—lower in the winter and higher in the summer

8. Make your home more energy efficient with weather-stripping, double-glazed windows, insulation, and improved heating/cooling systems

9. Buy products low in petroleum

Source: American Museum of Natural History. 1998. Biodiversity and Your Energy Use: A Guide for

Green Consumers. New York: Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. For more information, visit


burger served in Seattle, Washington, contains meat from Texas and Colorado, lettuce and tomatoes from California, wheat from Idaho, corn from Nebraska, and salt from Louisiana (ibid., p. 12). Not to mention the ingredients for the side order of french fries and soda!

Of course, all this consumption also creates tremendous quantities of waste. In the early 1990s, the annual global output of hazardous wastes from chemical production, mining, paper factories, energy production, and so forth was about 400 million tons, with about three-quarters of that coming from the industrialized nations.

If we are to lessen the impact that each one of us has on the earth each day, we must simultaneously reduce the amount of goods and services that we consume and develop new, appropriate technologies that create goods and services at smaller cost to the global environment. Here are two of the most important steps:

1. Redefine what is "enough" and adjust our daily lives to reflect it. The idea of living sus-tainably is familiar to many, though few of us can claim to live in a way that does little or no long-term damage to the environment. Moreover, all around us are the signs that as a society we do not have a sense of how much is "enough." The billions of people living in poverty around the world have enabled the people of the industrialized world to achieve lives that are surely beyond the level of a sustainable, equitable planet. Our goal must be to achieve a more balanced, humane standard of living for people everywhere, while at the same time living within the natural bounds set by the ecological systems of the earth. This will require significant, fundamental changes in the way of life of every person everywhere, particularly in the industrialized north.

2. Implement the use of appropriate technologies that reduce the amount of resources needed to produce and dispose of each and every product we consume. It is believed that the technologies to reduce the energy consumption of every person, every industry, and every organization by 80 percent already exist. Essentially, this requires us to make things last twice as long with half the resources (Hawken, 1993, p. xiv). Driving radically more fuel-efficient vehicles, less often, with more people in them, could reduce our consumption of fossil fuels by more than half. Passenger vehicles that run for 70 miles on a gallon of gasoline are already on the market, but they constitute less than 1 percent of the vehicles on the road today. Reusing products, then reusing their materials in second or third products, dramatically reduces the energy needed in manufacturing. Products must be designed with reuse and recycling in mind. Industries and manufacturers must work together to foster recovery and exchange of waste materials that can be used elsewhere. The benefit of addressing this challenge goes beyond reducing resource consumption. In striving to meet this goal we will have to rethink how we make, consume, and dispose of every single product, and ultimately, whether we need that product at all.

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