Make This Your Personal Earth Day
By: John Shepler
This year April 22 may be the most important holiday of the year. No, it's not one of those precious days off from work or school. It's actually a day-on. Rather than passively salute another anniversary of a historical event, Earth Day is a very personal day for action. It's the day you can do something to make the future better than the past.
What is Earth Day? It started in 1970 when political activism was in vogue. The impetus for Earth Day was the deterioration of the Earth's environment by pollution. Air in places was so smoggy you could see it. Water was so contaminated that some lakes and rivers were dumps for industrial waste. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Northeastern Ohio actually caught fire. I personally remember watching massive bergs of soap suds float down Illinois rivers, looking much like the ship-sinking icebergs of the North Atlantic.
Man-made chemicals poisoning our air, land and water formed the impetus for the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Over 20 million Americans rallied to protest this intolerable situation. Initiated by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and organized by Dennis Hayes, the public outcry on Earth Day lead to decades of legislation that have made huge strides in cleaning up the environment. It also established April 22 as a yearly celebration and time of action for environmental protection.
The latest pollution threat is so insidious that few saw it as a rising threat. It's a gas that is an important and natural part of our atmosphere. Without carbon dioxide there would be no life. But with too much of it, life is also in serious danger. We've cleaned up smog, acid rain, industrial waste, and toxic pesticides. Yet we've still got a problem. The average temperature of the Earth is going up and up and up. On a frigid winter morning it's hard to believe this is really an issue. The day to day weather still cycles between hot and cold, dry and rainy. What's different is that the hottest years on record have all been within the last decade. The Arctic ocean is frozen for less time each year. That's why polar bears are drowning. Glaciers and disappearing and all the melting ice is turning into higher ocean waters. And that's only the tip of the melting ice bergs. You can learn the whole ugly story in Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth."
Global warming is real. It's primarily due to increasing levels of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas, trapping more and more solar energy in the atmosphere. It's also due to us. We're the cause, much more than volcanoes, spontaneous wildfires and other natural sources of carbon dioxide. We're also the solution. We can turn this situation around the same way that burning rivers and pools of industrial chemicals were cleaned up. There are two avenues: political and personal action.
Political action means voting for candidates that recognize the seriousness of the environmental damage and pledge to make it an important part of their legislative activity. It also means contacting already elected officials to raise their awareness on global warming and other environmental issues. The squeaky wheel often is the one getting the grease in the form of new laws.
The other action is personal. In personal action, you don't have to convince anyone but yourself. You can do things right now that will start reversing the increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and its consequence of global warming. How? It's frighteningly simple. Target the one light bulb in your house or apartment that uses the most electricity. It has the highest wattage or is on the longest every day. It's probably a reading light in your living room. Now replace that incandescent bulb with an equivalent compact fluorescent light bulb that you'll find at nearly every hardware and department store. To be satisfied with the results, pick a compact fluorescent that has the same number of lumens as the incandescent. Lumens measure the amount of light regardless of the power consumed. Pick a color temperature that is similar. Bulbs with 3200 or 3500K ratings are bright white without that bluish look that fluorescents are known for. You can also find lights that are even warmer at 2700K. The "K" stands for Kelvin, a measure of absolute temperature or color emitted.
Yes, the compact fluorescent bulb will cost you more at the register. But it uses far less electricity and lasts several times longer than the fragile filament of an incandescent bulb. In the end, you save money and reduce the demand on the power plants to burn coal. There's no sacrifice involved. You get the same light for less money and less carbon is put into the atmosphere by power plants.
Feeling more ambitious? Change all your bulbs that aren't on dimmers or electronic timers to compact fluorescents. We did that and our electricity bill is less than it was last year, despite a 25% rise in electric rates. The cost savings pays for about one bulb a month. When they're all paid for, it's free money from then on. Even better, tons of carbon dioxide are never put into the air. If enough people do this new power plants will be delayed because they won't be needed for awhile.
Other changes you make? Don't buy a new appliance that doesn't have an Energy Star rating. That means it has been tested and proven to be more efficient than other designs. A new furnace and air conditioner will almost always save money and energy compared to ones that are decades old.
Ready for a new car? Seriously consider a hybrid. I just bought a Toyota Camry Hybrid that has the room and power of a mid-size six cylinder sedan. But it gets about 10 MPG better gas mileage than our older 4 cylinder Honda Civic. If you keep you car long enough, the gas savings will largely or completely pay for the extra cost. But it's also a statement that you care about the environment and are willing to put your money where your mouth is and lead by example. I cheer every time I seen another hybrid on the road.
Other actions you can take include adding insulation to your home, installing grid connected PV solar cells to offset some or all of your electricity consumption, install solar water heating to reduce the need for gas or electric water heat, and buying carbon credits to help fund alternative energy developments such as wind generators and methane fueled generators that use farm animal waste to make electricity on-site.
The Earth Day Network site has lots more ideas on how you can take personal and political action to improve the environment for all of us, and generations to come. Get involved in those things you find appealing or just plain fun. Earth Day may soon become your favorite holiday of the year.
Magazines and Books of Interest:
An Inconvenient Truth (Paperback) by Albert Gore, Jr. - The book about the movie. Acutally a good reference with pictures and additional text.
Home Power Magazine is the perfect introduction to alternative energy for the individual. See how practical it is for you to join the alternative energy revolution on a personal scale.
Visit Books-A-Million for an excellent selection of new books, magazines, e-books, audio books and more at low, low prices.
Also visit these related sites:
Earth Day Network - It's the official site of the Earth Day movement, with lots of ideas for you to take personal and political action to improve the environment.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - This government site is a wealth of information on what's being done officially to improve the environment.
An Inconvenient Truth - Information on Al Gore's Academy Award winning film about global warming. You might catch this on satellite or Cable TV channels. Or make it the most important DVD you'll ever buy.
Living With Ed - Ed Begley Jr.'s TV series that chronicles his quest for living in harmony with the environment. It's serious fun.
Arbor Day, J. Sterling Morton's Legacy of Trees - How one man's passion to beautify a treeless prairie led to a worldwide holiday of environmental awareness.
Copyright 2007 - 2017 by John E. Shepler. Linking to this article is welcome, but no online republication is permitted. Print media republication rights are available at reasonable rates. Contact me at: John (at) JohnShepler.com
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First Published: April 6, 2007