Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Day ...

Yes, I'm a liberal of the tree-hugging variety.

Not that I spend a lot of time hugging trees. But I do give a damn about the planet. I have, for a long time.

I remember my father, a bazillion years ago, grabbing a Styrofoam cup for a swig of juice.

"Why don't you use a glass?" I asked.

"Then we'd have to wash it," he said.

"Yes, but that," I said, nodding toward the cup, "will sit in a landfill for 10,000 years. Let's wash the glass."

Fast-forward to today, when a large chunk of the population, incredulously, still denies that global warming is a threat.

I mean, huh?

Should the GOP change its mascot to an ostrich?

Maybe it's because I've absorbed all the Earth Day messaging, but this weekend, I've been hyper-sensitive to everything I do and how it affects the planet. Yesterday, running errands, idling at a stoplight, I was looking at all the cars and thinking about all the emissions.

I'm a bit of a germophobe and wash my hands a lot. When I'm in the kitchen, I dry them on paper towels. I go through a lot of paper towels. I didn't fret about it much before, because paper breaks down. But I never thought about the front end of the paper-towel process, the fact that all that paper comes from trees. So I've picked a particular towel for drying my hands.

I unplug my coffee maker when I'm not using it. And I don't drink coffee every day (I know, right?), so that's a big shift, from leaving it plugged in all the time even if I only use it a few times a week. Ditto for my blowdryer. I used to leave it plugged in all the time. Now, I keep it in my bathroom closet and only pull it out when I need it.

I try to walk errands when I can. I haven't yet started to take my own canvas bags to the grocery store, but I can put that on the list of things to do for this week.

Right now, it's plenty warm outside and I have most of my windows and doors open, but when it's time to use the thermostat, I keep the house cool in the winter and dial it down even further at night, and in the summer, I keep the thermostat pretty high.

There are lots of little things we can do, like replacing one lightbulb with a compact flourescent, or using fewer paper napkins. If everyone incorporates just a few things, things we hardly even notice, we'll be on our way to cooling down this crisis.


Blogger Jeff Hunter said...

Not on the same page as you on this one...

Should we conserve energy? Sure. Do I unplug the cell-phone charger when it's done and Hibernate the computer at night? Sure. But the world is not ending. There are just as many scientists that say we're in a weather cycle as do global warming. Except, that's not "news".

4:07 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

Um, things like blow dryers, coffee makers, microwave ovens, toasters, et al don't use any electricity when they're plugged in but turned off.

Yes, some of those have a clock in them that draws power, but an hour of computer usage or watching a DVD movie consumes far more power than all of those clocks combined use in a year. The point is, there are better things to target for energy savings.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Jeff: Sorry, I can't look at those pictures of all the ice melting in the artic and just chalk it up to a weather cycle. Not ice that's been there for thousands of years.

Marc: Um, from, the web site for the movie "An Inconvenient Truth": "Unplug electronics from the wall when you’re not using them
Even when turned off, things like hairdryers, cell phone chargers and televisions use energy."

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

To follow on to Beth's comment, unless you have an off switch right on the plug, electricity travels up and down the cord of whatever item to the power switch. (Hence your electronic doo-dads can get fried in an electrical storm even when turned off.) It may seem like no big deal, but the length of the cord is that much electricity that is being burned for no reason.

No different than running your sink while brushing your teeth. It counts on your water bill, regardless of why you did it.

BTW - While I applaud individual efforts to conserve energy and so forth, I'd like to see corporations crack down on waste as well. It's darkly amusing to see people care about conservation at home and engage in all sorts of wasteful activities in the office - such as turning on lights and leaving them on for no reason.

6:00 PM  
Anonymous girl and dog said...

Great post Beth. I went vegetarian last year after reading Fast Food Nation and I'm amazed at the huge impact we can make on the world with a small change in our eating habits.

Jeff: Perhaps you don't believe we're hurting the Earth. But would it really inconvenience you to be a little kinder to it, on the off chance that it IS being affected by our actions? Just because it doesn't look like anything's happening is no reason to abuse it!

6:17 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Thanks for the elucidation, Eth.

Girl: Thanks for the reminder! I've been meaning to read that! I'm going to the library right now!

6:27 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

Ethan wrote:
To follow on to Beth's comment, unless you have an off switch right on the plug, electricity travels up and down the cord of whatever item to the power switch. (Hence your electronic doo-dads can get fried in an electrical storm even when turned off.) It may seem like no big deal, but the length of the cord is that much electricity that is being burned for no reason.

Sorry - absolutely not true. The analogy to water flow is reasonable but only to the point where the difference in physics takes over. Electricity only flows in a complete circuit (assuming enough voltage to overcome resistance in the circuit - more on that in a moment). Any break in the circuit, for example, a switch, prevents the flow of any current, even if the cord is a mile long. It doesn't matter where the switch is located relative to the source.

The air gap in a switch provides infinite resistance to household voltage and current. Devices get fried during an electrical storm even when turned off because the extreme voltage is able to overcome the gap of the switch. After all, that's exactly what lightning is doing when it strikes something on the ground.

Some devices do indeed draw power even when they're off. We'll ignore the obvious ones like TVs, VCRs, cable TV boxes that need power to maintain clocks and programming. The less obvious would be anything with a power "brick" or "wall wart" (eg: a cell phone charger). These things are primarily transformers that drop the house voltage from 125V to anywhere from ~3V - ~15V depending on the device. Most bricks also convert AC current to DC current. Without getting into the physics of how a transformer works, germane to this discussion is that the side of the transformer that plugs into an outlet is indeed a complete circuit - 99% of the time any on/off switch is on the device side of the transformer, thus it does draw power even when off.

However, although it does add up over millions of devices in millions of homes, these things draw milliwatts per hour. Not watching the latest Adam Sandler crap-fest will save more power than mindlessly unplugging everything in your home.

For more than you want to know:

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Alison said...

I used to live in France, and over a period of time, all the big grocery chains phased in reusable bags. They cost about a dollar, and are replaced free in most cases. No more thin plastic bags at the cash registers!

It's a great example of corporations taking a concrete action. I wish something like that would happen here.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Yesterday was the first day I took my own canvas tote bag to the grocery store for the few things I was picking up. It felt inordinately good to walk out of the store with groceries in my own little bag, which is now on the table by the front door, waiting to go back in my car.

8:55 AM  

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