Do Your Part to Clear the Air
Earth: Some simple changes in how you live can give everyone a healthier planet
After seeing An Inconvenient Truth this past summer, Ann Beckett and her husband were different people. They sat in stunned silence on the car ride home, pondering a future of devastating heat waves, rapidly rising sea levels, and a spike in droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes.
"I started doing the math and realized that this will affect our children, and maybe it will happen faster than that," says Beckett, a 63-year-old former TV scribe. The Northern California couple examined their lives to figure out the amount of greenhouse gases their lifestyle was sending into the atmosphere: what's referred to as a "carbon footprint." Then they made changes.
The Becketts switched their incandescent lightbulbs to more-efficient compact fluorescents. They lowered their thermostat 2 degrees, unplugged appliances when they were not using them (electronics like TVs sap "phantom loads" even when off), and purchased wooden racks to take the place of their dryer.
"If every home replaced three lightbulbs, that would be equivalent to taking 3
Calculate. Another option is buying carbon offsets, Chameides says. More than 40 companies now promise to funnel your donations into projects that reduce greenhouse gases, usually through tree planting, alternative power sources, or the reduction of methane.
One company, TerraPass, started with a focus on automobile use. On TerraPass .com, prospective clients type in the make and model of their wheels, along with how many miles they drive per year, to find out what price donation offsets their impact. A 2006 Prius driven 12,000 miles comes out to $30 per year; a similarly used 2006 Land Rover is $80. There are also calculators for home energy use and airplane travel-and Travelocity and Expedia allow shoppers to add an offset charge to their plane tickets. Carbonfund.org has offset packages that calculate the carbon emissions of average Americans.
But "offset" buyer beware. "There's no police force," explains Dan Becker of the Sierra Club. Becker worries that buyers may use the offsets as "papal indulgences." "I don't want people thinking, 'I bought my Hummer, and now I'll plant some trees in Guatemala to soothe my conscience,'" he says.
How hard is it to live the green life? Actor Ed Begley Jr. started turning his world green in the '70s. Living With Ed, which debuts on HGTV in January, chronicles his life with an electric car, solar energy, and an exercise bike that powers his toaster. "None of this was hard, because I did it in the right order. I grabbed the low-hanging fruit first," he says.
This story appears in the December 25, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.