As you might be able to tell, a good bit of my focus in The Geoospatial Times this month and last has been on the 2013 Boulder Floods and their aftermath. Experiencing a natural event on the scale of the floods can’t help but make you respect the awesome power of Mother Nature; and too question your possible role in the ultimate causes of the disaster. Whether you believe in the human catalysis of global climatic change or not, few people deny that weather patterns are shifting with more frequent and intense natural disasters.
What I also notice all too often is that in discussions of the environment, politics, sports, etc we paint pictures in black and white – as ‘all’s or ‘nothing’s. But life is much more often shades of grey. With that in mind, in this month’s Geospatial Frequently Asked Question (G-FAQ) I answer the question, How can I save money, improve my health and, well, if I have too, help the planet along the way?
The basic premise I make in this G-FAQ is that every little bit counts; and that ‘saving the world’ is not a black and white issue. In order to ‘save the world,’ no one expects humanity to regress back to cave-people days, abandoning the comforts of modern society for icy lake baths and chewing on bark; but all too often, the environmental movement is portrayed in this fashion. In fact, everyone can take tiny steps that when added up across the billions of us on this planet make a large difference.
And even if you do not believe in reducing greenhouses gases, you can take the same simple steps to save yourself some money while improving your health and outlook on life. Thus making changes that improve our own lives and reduce our carbon footprint is a win-win no matter your point of view. So without further ado, let’s jump into my list of simple changes that can improve your life (and the world around us)!
1. Avoid meat and fish for one day a month – many Americans eat meat and/or fish with every single meal of the day, in quantities that exceed all nutrition recommendations. So pick a single day of each month to eat fruits, vegetables, grains and alternative protein sources such as tofu, peanut butter and quinoa.
Improve Yourself: Eating a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains has been linked to many health benefits including lower blood pressure and chances of caner, reduced rates of diabetes and so many more. High-quality meats are expensive, easily over $5 a pound for beef and over $10 per pound for fish. Even organic vegetables rarely cost more than $4 per pound except for ‘specialty’ species like asparagus and orange bell peppers, so this tip will also save you money.
Improve Our World: The livestock sector is estimated to account for 9% of human-created carbon dioxide, 65% of nitrous oxide and 37% of methane – all greenhouse gases. If everyone in America avoided meat and fish just 12 days a year, we could reduce our livestock greenhouse gas footprint by approximately 3%. Also consider that we use millions of acre of farmland per year just to grow crops that feed livestock; by reducing the amount of meat we eat, we could also reduce our ever-growing need for additional farmland.
2. Walk instead of driving once a month for an errand – I recognize that many of us live in communities that are rather remote or are only surrounded by other homes. But even in these communities, there is often a park that is just close enough to walk to or just far enough to drive to, so try walking there once in a while! And if that is not an option, many of us drive to work locations which are much denser where you can ditch your car and walk to lunch from the office.
Improve Yourself: For many Americans, gasoline is one of their biggest monthly expenses with it hovering in the $3 to $4 per gallon zone this year. Parking your car and walking as much as possible then has obvious economic incentives. Walking is one of the simplest activities we can all do to improve cardiovascular health, bone strength and just clear our minds, yet Americans walk far less than in other countries.
Improve Our World: Automobiles seem to be the poster children for many groups fighting climate change and are estimated to account for 15% of global carbon dioxide releases. Reducing the amount we all drive per year could have major impacts on global greenhouse gas emissions, even if that means we all only reduce the amount we drive by say 1%, when you consider highway vehicles emit 1.5 billion metric tons per year!
3. Install an electronic thermostat to turn down your heat/AC during the day and night – by no stretch of the imagination am I what you call a handyman, and even I was able to swap out my old thermostat for a programmable electronic one. Once you have an electronic thermostat, try dropping the day time temperature (or raising it if you are running AC) by at least five degrees; and if you can tolerate it, try the same at night. I promise that the plants and pets will not mind the slight change in daytime temperatures!
Improve Yourself: The average household spends more than $115 per month on heating and cooling, which is more than $1,300 per year. Anything you can do to run your furnace and AC unit less will put money right back into your bank account. For every degree you lower your thermostat in the 60 to 70-degree range, you can save up to 5%.
Improve Our World: Nearly 50% of home energy use is attributed to heating and cooling so any reduction will also impact greenhouse gas emissions. Each 2-degree reduction (or increase in the summer) on your thermostat reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about 500 pounds per year. If only 10% of our 115 million or so households reduced their thermostats by 2 degrees per year, that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 7.5 billion pounds per year!
4. Bring your shopping bags with you – who doesn’t have a cabinet or drawer full of plastic shopping bags? And then how about those backpacks that are sitting in your closet with nothing to do? I’m pretty certain we all have more than our fair share of bags stored away, so how about you bring your own cloth, nylon, plastic or even paper bag(s) on your next shopping mission?!
Improve Yourself: Alright, so the economic argument is just not going to work here, where even at stores that charge for bags, its usually less than a quarter per (that said, every penny does add up!). The best argument for reusable bags might be for strong nylon and cloth ones where you can really load them up with groceries, toys and so much more; saving you time and effort when carrying them into your home.
Improve Our World: Does anyone like a landscape littered with windblown plastic bags? Stop and consider that every minute, 1 million plastic bags are used around the world, and how many of them don’t make it to a landfill? Each year we use more than 1 trillion plastic bags and in 2008, we discarded 3.5 million tons of them! It is estimated that 10% of all discarded plastic will end up in the ocean and that there are more than 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in each square mile.
Read More on the Topic: Statistic Brain
5. Turn your cell phone, laptop and desktop off at night – it’s such a simple thing to do but many of us forget to hit the power switch on our smartphones at night; and to put our computers into sleep mode or turn them off completely. If you are using a desktop, don’t forget to turn off your monitor too!
Improve Yourself: Again, the economic argument is a tough one to make with a cell phone as an entire year’s worth of charging usually costs less than $1. But there is a quality of life argument to be made here: turning off your phone means no more 3AM wake up calls from your drunk friends in another time zone! Desktops and laptops are a different story as they consume from 15 to 250 watts and then another 35 to 80 watts for external monitors – that amount of power use can add up. After all, when was the last time you left the light in your room on all night and that probably uses even less power?
Improve Our World: While each individual phone and/or computer do not use much power on their own, when taken globally it adds up quickly. Consider that the amount of power required to charge 170 million iPhone 5’s (the number sold in 2012) is equivalent to that used by 54,000 US households. Most smartphones and computers are constantly pinging the Internet when they are powered on and this is not without its footprint. It is estimated that 1.5% of the world’s energy is used to power the data and supercomputing centers which are the hubs of the Internet. By 2015, mobile network access, data centers and the rest of the Internet’s infrastructure will produce 30 megatons of carbon dioxide emissions which is equal to the emissions of approximately 4.9 million cars.
In next month’s edition, we will wrap up this discussion with 5 more tips to improve your life and help the world along the way!
Do you have an idea for a future G-FAQ? If so, let me know by email at [email protected].
Brock Adam McCarty