Make This Your Personal Earth Day After almost half a century, Earth Day
is more important than ever in saving the environment on a personal
By: John Shepler
April, Earth Day 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
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
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
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
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.
more ambitious? Change all your bulbs that aren't on dimmers
or electronic timers to compact fluorescents or LEDs. 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 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 PowerMagazine 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
Also visit these related
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.