Conservation stands for many things. The conservation movement (which began in the U.S. and British India in
the mid-nineteenth century), has primarily been associated with
the protection of the earth's natural resources, wildlife and habitat.
The growing trend these days is to include the conservation movement
into the more expansive and all-encompassing environmental movement that
has largely been sparked by
the threats of global warming.
Taking a holistic approach to saving the earth, many of today's modern day conservationists focus on everything from pollution and energy usage to ecological health and peaceful coexistence with the animal kingdom. In other words, the same ideals are being shared by what is commonly deemed the ecology movement, green movement, peace movement and environmental movement. It's no coincidence that one of the most famous groups working in the name of these ideals calls themselves Green Peace.
Here's some numbers and facts: Half of the Earth's land surface has been altered due to human activity, including all of the Earth's 867 terrestrial eco-regions. Deforestation, toxic pollution, water loss, soil erosion and animal extinction are just some of the effects of these alterations. We also know the Earth's atmosphere has gone through drastic changes, as seen by the advanced depletion of the Ozone layer.
While there is some debate on climate models and the negative impact of global warming, it's a debate that is likely to go on and on and on. The bottom line (and final verdict as far as we're concerned) is that all of the national academies of science of the most industrialized countries in the world conclude that greenhouse gases and global warming is chiefly caused by human activity.
So rather than debate, our view is to take action. If we can take steps to cut back on greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide, then why shouldn't we? If it's only going to help the environment, what harm can come from cutting back on greenhouse gases? Industry and transportation do not have to cease. We simply need to be open to the prospects of researching and investing in more efficient ways of using the Earth's natural resources to develop clean energy. While there is progress being made within government and industry in this regard, we still have a long way to. In the meantime, there is still plenty that can be done in the name of conservation...and it begins with each and every one of us.
Conservation begins with each and every individual. "Backyard Conservation", which consists of planting trees, mulching, composting, organically managing pests and soil nutrients, conserving water, digging a pond or making a backyard wetland (among many other things), is a powerful way to help conserve and protect the environment at the same time. Quick and effective remedies, which if every homeowner began implementing, are the key for helping the environment in a collective sense. Soil and water pollution can be drastically mitigated with the use of organic fertilizers or compost (see our organic gardening section for more details). Also, try to avoid using impervious surfaces in your yard, such as concrete and asphalt, which inhibit necessary water drainage. Rather, use wood and paver stones/bricks when doing landscape construction projects. Water conservation can be done by using a drip irrigation system, redirecting rain gutters to areas of the lawn that need watering and/or making use of grey water, which is domestically used water suitable for recycling back within the home and garden.
Inside the Home
There are many ways to conserve water inside the home as well. One of the most obvious and effective is to simply be conscious of your water usage. In other words, taking shorter showers and turning the water off while your brush your teeth makes a huge difference. If you are ready to take things a step further, making use of low flush toilets and waterless urinals has a major impact considering how much water conventional toilets use every time they are flushed. Making use of toilet dams and bricks are a cost effective way of saving up to four gallons of water on each flush. Faucet aerators and low-flow shower heads are also effective in conserving water. A double bonus for low flow shower heads is that they also help to conserve energy, due to less water needing to be heated to take hot showers. Speaking of conserving energy, 20% of governmental energy usage is water related; i.e. waste water treatment. It should be obvious then that water and energy conservation are holistically integrated.
Individual Energy Conservation
One of the most effective and simple changes we as individuals can make to help protect the Earth's climate is by efficiently using and conserving energy, as well as making use of renewable (clean) energy whenever possible. Since the burning of fossil fuels like coal and petroleum (oil) produces the greenhouse gas, Carbon Dioxide, which in turn facilitates global warming, the less energy production, the better shape our environment will be in. Of course, the ultimate goal is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources such as wind and methane abatement. We can each help to make this happen as well. But first, let's talk about where all our energy is going.
Currently, the U.S. is the largest consumer of energy in the world. The U.S. Department of Energy categorizes U.S. energy usage into four categories - Industrial, Commercial, Residential and Transportation. Although all of these sectors are greatly effected by national energy policy, half of all energy usage in the U.S. (stemming from the residential and transportation sectors) is controlled by individual consumers. In terms of transportation, 65% of energy usage in this sector goes to gasoline fueled cars, 20% goes to diesel-power transportation (trains, ships and trucks), while 15% is used up by planes. Besides making regular use of car pools and public transportation, one of the best things vehicle owners can do to cut back on fuel/energy usage is driving slower. Indeed, studies show that the gas mileage of a vehicle will begin to fall at speeds over 55 miles per hour. In fact, a car driving at 55 mph will get 15% better gas mileage than the same care driving at a speed of 65 miles per hour. In financial figures, this amounts to an extra $.21 per gallon of gasoline for every five miles per hour driven over 60 mph. The other energy sector in which we as individuals can make a great impact in terms of conservation is the residential sector.
Conserving Energy Inside the Home
As you might expect, about half of all energy usage in the residential sector goes toward heating and cooling. Water heating and lighting each account for about 12% of residential energy usage, while refrigeration, electronics, washer/dryers and kitchen appliances (from high to low) account for the rest. While population growth certainly accounts for more residential energy usage, two primary factors are the overall increase in the sizes of homes (50% larger since 1970) and increased use of central air conditioning (twice as much since the late seventies). Making good use of natural ventilation and fans is a great way to cut back overall cooling costs, while keeping the thermostat around 80 degrees when natural ventilation is not feasible is a highly effective energy conservation practice as well. Another great way to conserve energy is making use of window shades. One our top picks are theshadestore.com window blinds, which are a great solution to insulate the windows throughout your home.
The best thing any of us can do is to build an energy efficient home from the ground up. Not going so far to say that everyone should live in an Earth Ship (seriously, who wouldn't want to live in an Earth Ship!?), there are many resources out there for designing and constructing homes that are far more energy efficient than today's "factory made homes".
Short Term and Long Term Energy Conservation
If building a new home is not an option, consider short term energy efficiency. If you make use of an air conditioner, be sure to weatherize all your doors and windows. Caulking, window putty and weather stripping are products you should familiarize yourself with. You may even want to hire an energy rater to come into your home and check for hidden air leaks. If you decide to do it yourself, a trip to the hardware store will get you on your way. While you are there, be sure to purchase some compact fluorescent bulbs (rather than incandescent) with an Energy Star rating. Although these bulbs will cost more in the beginning, they will save you money in the long run. Not only do they last ten times as long as incandescent bulbs, they use three-quarters to two-thirds less energy. This amounts to $30-$60 in utility savings per bulb over the course of its lifetime. Other short term solutions providing long term benefits are making use of water heater blankets to keep your water heater from doing more work than it needs to, regularly changing out air conditioning filters and as previously mentioned, installing low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators.
Perpetuating long term energy conservation is best done by making use of energy efficient appliances (those with the Energy Star label), which use up to 40% less energy than other modern models. Refrigerators use the most energy; So, if you have to choose one appliance at a time, go with an energy efficient fridge at first. Good insulation is also very important to long term energy conservation. Begin with the attic and work your way down to the windows and floors. As mentioned, you will want to consider calling in a professional energy rater who will be able to determine what type of insulation you need and whether it is feasible and worthwhile to install new windows exceeding the Energy Star specifications. Lastly, one of the best things you can do to ensure clean energy is in demand and will be here for future generations is to support renewable energy sources and projects, such as wind, geothermal, solar, hydroelectric and methane abatement energy sources. Whether your local power grid is fed by renewable energy or not, by simply paying a small monthly premium on top of your normal electric bill, you will support renewable energy so that it continues to thrive, grow and become more readily available to the masses. Contact your local and state power suppliers for details or purchase renewable energy certificates/credits from renewable energy programs.