"Going Green" may be something of a catch phrase these days, however, the premise behind it is just as powerful as it was when people first thought "going green" is what you did after eating bad oysters. Oh, and by the way, you really should think twice before eating oysters.
So, what are the true
origins and original objective of the phrase "going green"? You know, before all
the greenwashing started? Well, that's a good question. Thanks for
asking. The answer:
Curbing the negative impact of global warming caused by human activity.
It's pretty straightforward stuff. If you're seeking to know more about global warming, how it's caused, and how you can take steps to do your part in offsetting global warming, grab a hot cup of fair trade coffee and pull up a bamboo chair. Going Green 101 begins now.
GLOBAL WARMING: What is it in the first place, and is it even real?
Simply put, global warming is the global raising of temperature on Earth over time. Yes, Mother Earth has been heating up over time, so in effect, Yes, global warming is real.
Here's a quick breakdown of what everyone else thinks: In the U.S., 85%
of Americans believe that global warming is occurring, with 37%
expressing certainty global warming is happening and 3% expressing
certainty it is not occurring. 31% believe that humans are the chief
cause, 19% believe global warming is strictly caused by natural
occurrence and 49% believe it is equally caused by human and natural
influence. Unanimous consensus exists amongst the international scientific
community that human activity is the main cause of global warming. 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
Now, let's go back to what global warming is in the first place - the heating up of Planet Earth over time. More precisely, global warming is the average increase in the Earth's temperature, which is influenced by both mankind, and naturally shifting weather patterns. The greenhouse effect, which you've probably heard of, is the means by which global warming takes place. The greenhouse effect is produced when greenhouse gases, which include water vapor, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), halogenated fluorocarbons (HCFCs), ozone (O3), perfluorinated carbons (PFCs), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and the most notorious greenhouse gas - carbon dioxide (CO2), allow incoming solar radiation to pass through the Earth's atmosphere, while blocking outgoing infrared radiation. The result is a warmed atmosphere that is capable of sustaining life on Earth. Without the natural greenhouse effect, we wouldn't be here.
Here's the rub. With increased emissions of human-produced CO2 and other greenhouse gases, the greenhouse effect is warming things up a lot more than it should be.
Okay, so what's the big deal with a little warmer atmosphere?
Well, it's a huge deal. Increased global temperatures cause an accelerated melting of the ice caps and glaciers, leading to abnormal increases in the sea level, extreme changes in precipitation and weather (like more severe hurricanes), strained agricultural crops (putting stress on the fresh water supply), a wider range of disease vectors, and endangering species (as we are now seeing happen with the polar bear). And although global warming is not directly responsible for the ozone depletion in the atmosphere, the two are closely related.
Global warming refers to the warming of the lower part of the atmosphere (troposphere), while ozone depletion takes place in the upper part of the atmosphere (stratosphere), which is still of major concern since the ozone layer is responsible for helping block dangerous doses of ultraviolet light from the sun's rays - this, in turn, causing skin cancer and cataracts (among other things).
Global warming and ozone depletion are related because of one primary culprit: Manmade flourocarbon gases - that includes the banned Chlorofluorocarbons, which are responsible for trapping heat in the atmosphere and eating away at the ozone layer.
Since the seventies, Chlorofluorocarbons have been replaced with alternative fluorocarbons, namely the aforementioned greenhouse gas, hydrofluorocarbons (HFC's), which although do
not eat away the ozone layer, still contribute to 10% of global warming. What's worse is that HFC's are very stable, thus remaining in the atmosphere longer and producing a global warming potential thousands of times greater than CO2. HFC's are commonly found in refrigerants (air conditioners, refrigerators) and spray cans like computer dust sprayers. (Whatever you do, do not use dust sprayers!)
As for CO2, this is the most common of the manmade greenhouse gases (mankind's activities account for 80% of all global warming gases). The vast majority of CO2 is produced from the combustion of fossil fuels, namely coal and oil used in power plants (electric energy production) and automobiles. Another large contributor of CO2 is animal agriculture. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, meat, egg and dairy production is responsible for 9% of CO2 emissions and nearly one-fifth of all human produced greenhouse gases. The other big contributor is methane, or rather, cow poop, which accounts for 65% of nitrous oxide emissions and 37% of methane emissions, which is twenty times more warming than Carbon Dioxide. Oh, and don't forget deforestation. Trees naturally remove CO2 from the air and replace it with Oxygen. The more deforestation taking place, the less trees to remove CO2 and the more global warming.
And while global warming and rising sea levels is certainly a natural phenomenon created by the greenhouse effect, which some individual scientists say is nothing to worry about, the vast majority of scientists (30 scientific societies and academies of science including the academies of science from every major industrialized nation), agree with the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who conclude that the observed increases in global temperature are primarily due to manmade greenhouse gas concentrations. The rate at which the ozone layer is being destroyed, global temperatures are rising, and animal species are being faced with extinction is unprecedented. Since the age of industrialization, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by 35%. Global warming is real.
Global Warming is primarily caused by:
Electric Energy Production
That being said, there are many things we can each do in our lives to cut back on our greenhouse gas emissions - our Carbon footprint, if you will. Our "Going Green 101" addresses this element of Going Green.
GOING GREEN 101
Electric Energy Production
Use Alternative Energy - The best thing you can do to cut back on your electric energy use is to switch over to renewable sources of energy like Wind Power. Depending on where you reside, you may be eligible to have your power bill go directly to alternative energy sources. Call your local power supplier to see if they offer green energy. On average, it costs less than $5 more per month...a small sacrifice if you ask me. If your power grid does not receive renewable energy, you can offset your use of power by purchasing a renewable energy certificate, also called a Green Tag or Carbon offset. The way it works is that after calculating your Carbon footprint, you pay the amount it will cost to offset that footprint by funding an renewable energy project, like that of Carbon Advice Group. See our tip on Renewable Energy Credits for more details.
Use Less Energy - The next best thing you can do to lower your Carbon footprint due fossil-fuel produced electricity is to use less energy. There are seven primary things you can do with this end in mind:
Use Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs - Now readily available at superstore giants like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowes (even grocery stores!), energy saving light bulbs last ten times longer than regular light bulbs and will save you $30 over the lifetime of the bulb. Although they cost a little more up front, they are truly a wise investment. To get an idea of how much good this can do, if every American switched out one single light bulb, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by 800,000 cars would be offset.
Keep an Eye on Your Thermostats - By lowering and raising the temperature of your air conditioner by two degrees in the winter and summer months (no lower than 78 in the summer and no more than 68 in the winter) not only will you easily save over one-hundred dollars per year, you will help cut back on the production of hydroflurocarbons (refrigerants). This is also true for your refrigerator. Keep your fridge no colder than 38 degrees (up to 42 degrees) and the freezer no colder than 0 degrees.
Buy Energy Efficient Appliances - Using Energy Star rating appliances can cut back your home energy usage by more than half. The Energy Star rating means that these appliances are equipped with the latest in quality, efficient parts. Maytag, Kenmore, General Electric, Jenn-Air, Whirlpool, Frigidaire, and General Electric, all have Energy Star rated appliances, and unless you plan on replacing the appliance parts on your old appliance, swapping them out for an Energy Star alternative is the best option. If you have to choose between a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer and top/bottom model, go with the top/bottom. If you opt out of using the automatic ice maker and water dispenser, your refrigerator will use up to 25% less energy.
Clean your Air Conditioning Filter - By doing this once a month (up to twice a month during the summer), your air conditioner will have to work less hard and will end up saving you another $150 per year.
Unplug your Electrics - Did you know that 40% of the energy that home electronics use is consumed in the standby "phantom" mode. The most problematic of these are cable boxes, satellite dishes, Tivo, stereo systems, home entertainment systems including TV's, DVD and VCR players, cable modems and computers, which you should set to go in standby mode, at a minimum. It is a false myth that starting up a computer uses more energy than leaving it running. All of these electric devices will use up to 60 combined Kilowatt hours per month just in standby mode alone, which amounts to $9. This is the equivalent of using 50 gallons of gas in a year. Another energy sucker are cell phone chargers. If you're like most people, you probably always keep your cell phone charger plugged into the wall. Don't! And don't forget about all your kitchen appliance like coffee pots, microwaves, toaster ovens. All the little things add up! If possible, use a power strip to turn of your devices. These are very convenient for the entertainment center and will save the equivalent of energy used to continuously light a 100 Watt light bulb. This is an easy one folks. It just takes some reminding. But once you get into the habit of doing it, it will become second nature.
Turn off the Lights - Most us have way more lights on than we really need. Get in the habit of putting your hand on the light switch. And by all means, turn off the lights when your not home. If you want to leave a lamp on for security reasons, then by all means do so (with a compact fluorescent :). Just be sure to do a walk-through before you leave. You will be surprised just home lights are left on.
Buy a Low-Flow Shower Head - Not only will you save water, you will save the energy it takes to heat the water. Although you'll have to pay a little out of pocket at first, considering that water heaters use 25% of the energy in an average home, this little marvel will save you hundreds every year.
Drive Less - There are many things you can do to drive less. Car pooling to work, riding a bike (an electric bike for longer routes!) and opting out of the drive-thru at Starbucks are easily attainable. Even if you can do one of these things once per week, you will be doing something! If everybody catches on and does the same, the difference will be monumental!
Drive Carefully - Besides keeping your tires inflated at the proper pressure, driving slower and braking less hard, using the cruise control whenever possible will give you 15% better gas mileage. In other words, drive less aggressively people! If that means budgeting your time better so that you aren't in a rush, you can make it happen! Other helpful tips are to keep your gas cap on tightly (you can lose up to 2 miles/gallon in efficiency with a loose fuel cap) and to get an annual tune up. Sure, it might cost you $300, but will pay for itself in the better fuel efficiency you will get out of it.
Drive a Hybrid - The Toyota Prius is one of your best options currently on the market. Even better, buy a diesel car and run it off of biodiesel, which is the cleanest fuel currently available (It produces less greenhouse gas emissions than the Prius). While biodiesel is not available widespread, you can join a biodiesel cooperative, which do indeed exist.
Eat Less Meat or No Meat at All - As mentioned, animal agriculture contributes to 9% of CO2 emissions, 40% of methane, 65% of nitrous oxide and to one-fifth of all greenhouse gases. U.S. livestock also consumes half the water supply and the majority of grain crops grown in the U.S. Going vegan at least once a week, makes a big difference. Adopting a vegetarian/vegan lifestyles is monumental! And while we're on the topic of agriculture, it's also good to buy local produce when possible. By supporting local, sustainable agriculture, you are further cutting back on the energy it takes to ship bulk produce, which is usually thousands of miles.
Use Less Paper - How many times have you accidentally printed something, or your printer prints off a random page with a few scribbles on it, only to crumple it up and free-throw it into the trash can? Rather than trashing it, save it for printing something else on the other side. If you are in the practice of printing off confirmations and receipts, this would make a perfect piece of paper to do it on.
Recycle More Paper - Did you know that a four foot stack of newspapers is equivalent to a forty foot Douglas Fir tree? Did you know that you can recycle your junk mail? You can even recycle the ones with the plastic window on the envelope. Americans do not recycle nearly as much paper as they can be. Check your local recycling office to get a list of what's acceptable. Although not every recycling center accepts the same forms of paper, we can all stand to recycle more paper. Start a paper recycling trashcan and make it accessible!
Plant Trees - If you have a yard, why not? Over the course of thirty years, 72 trees will absorb the amount of CO2 produced to power 26 households in a year. Thirty years may sound like a long time, but if we each just planted one tree, more than a billion pounds of greenhouse gases would be removed from the atmosphere every year. Also, planting a tree or shrubs near a window to provide shade will help keep your home cooler in summer months and give your more incentive to turn up the thermostat a bit - maybe even open the windows!
Join an Activist Movement - There are several excellent activist movements out there committed to protecting the environment, with a special interest in saving and planting trees. Green Peace and NRDC are two excellent ones! Oh, and if you fly with Delta, they actually plant a tree for every air travel offset purchased (through The Conservation Fund).
Use Less Air Conditioning - There are tons of Hydrofluorocarbons in refrigerants. Open the windows of your car more often and cut back on the AC overall. Pay attention to the temperature every day you walk outside. Sometimes we get so used to turning on the AC, even if it cools down a bit, we forget to open the windows and enjoy the fresh air. This is true for inside the home as well.
Don't Use Aerosols/Keyboard Cleaners - A single 500-gram spray duster emits the same amount of global warming causing greenhouse gases (HFC's) as an average person will contribute by using energy in a home for six months. And with more computers inside homes than ever before, keyboard dusters pose a major risk for the environment.
Well, that's it for now folks. Your "Going Green 101" crash course has come to a close. Although going green may seem like a daunting task at times, the hardest part is making the habit changes. Even if you can do only one thing to go green, you'll be making a huge difference for the planet. And if you can tell a friend about it too, the pay-it-forward effect is limitless. And remember, going green is not just about curbing global warming. It's a holistic way of living that will enhance your life on every level imaginable. Conservation, Meditation, vegetarianism and holistic medicine are just some of the many manifestations of going green.
Please see our Going Green Tips Section for a wide range of tips on living healthy.