The ULS Report TM
Helping people Use Less Stuff by conserving resources and reducing waste.

July-August 1998
Volume 5, Number 4


Westward, Ho!        A Dose of Reality       


Life is a journey. And all journeys, no matter how short or how long, require energy to get you from here to there. Thousands of years ago, we relied upon renewable resources like bananas, nuts, lettuce and fish to supply the food energy we needed to travel. Today, we still need food energy, but because we go so much farther and faster, we rely on a particular non-renewable energy resource as well as gasoline.

In the summer, we're especially prone to guzzling extra gallons, as we head off in our trendy but energy-unfriendly campers, SUVs and mini-vans. But believe it or not, the main environmental problem with gasoline isn't that we are running out of it, but rather that it produces so much carbon dioxide. And as we have mentioned in previous issues, increases in carbon dioxide are considered to be a key factor behind the buildup of greenhouse gases.

Consider this: Americans burn about 150 billion gallons of gasoline each year. Doing so creates 3.3 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide. In terms of waste, our automotive carbon dioxide production is eight times the size of our annual municipal solid waste generation!

Once again, a good dose of common sense and an eye toward saving money will go a long way in the fight to reduce the impact of automobile usage. Here's what you can do to help:

Driving tips

  • Avoid quick stops and starts, as these take their toll on engine and brake life.
  • After 45 mph, fuel efficiency drops way off. Try not to drive too fast for too long.
  • When approaching red lights, slow down sooner so you don't always have to apply the brakes. This will save on brake wear. Also, if the light happens to turn green before you've come to a complete stop, you can get back up to speed faster, saving on fuel.
  • If it's hot outside turn on the air conditioner. Today's more aerodynamic cars are designed to be driven with the windows closed. Using the AC burns less fuel than does overcoming the increased drag created by open windows.


  • Consolidate trips. When going to the west side of town, think about everything you can do while over there: hit the post office, bank and dry cleaner all in one trip.
  • Shop where you live. You'll be supporting the local economy and the local environment.
  • When buying a new car, comparison shop based on fuel efficiency, along with other needed features. Saving a few miles per gallon can really add up! An extra 3 miles per gallon will save you $1000 and 650 gallons of gas over the life of the typical family sedan.
  • When purchasing a new car, pay attention to resale value and customer surveys. Cars that hold their value and have positive customer response usually run better, last longer, and need less maintenance. All of these factors help reduce waste and conserve resources.

Cars and gasoline aren't the only areas where we can watch our waste when traveling. There are plenty of simple things we can do on the plane or train; and in the hotels, motels, campsites, theme parks, and restaurants where we will be hanging out:

Before leaving home

  • Turn down the heat or turn off the AC. Also remember to turn the hot water heater to its "Vacation" setting.
  • Unplug appliances such as TVs, cable boxes and computers. This will protect them in the event of storms or power surges in your absence, and save you money, since many of these devices draw power continuously.
  • If you have a waterbed, lower the heater temperature by 10 degrees.
  • Stop the newspaper. Many papers will donate your unused copies to local schools and other worthy institutions.

If taking a plane, train or bus

  • Ask your travel agent or transportation representative to issue paperless tickets. These electronic versions waste less paper and can actually speed you through lines, since you won't have to purchase tickets at the airport.
  • Airlines are notorious for stuffing everything in paper jackets. In fact, a standard airline inside joke is that "every time a plane takes off a tree dies." Tell the counter clerks that you don't need the stuffing.
  • When you get to the terminal or station at the other end, try using the hotel bus or van rather than renting a car. During your stay, relax and enjoy the scenery by leaving the driving to others or by taking public transportation. Even if you take a taxi, you'll keep an extra rental car off the road.

At the hotel

  • Have towels and linens changed only every other day. Even then, make sure that towels and wash cloths which haven't been used aren't replaced. Otherwise, perfectly clean items will be sent on a needlessly hot and sudsy tour of the laundry.
  • Turn off the heat or air conditioner when you leave the room. Make sure that the lights, water, television and radio are off, too.
  • If staying in the country, try opening the windows at night rather than turning on the air conditioning.
  • Take short, cooler showers.
  • Notify the housekeeping staff if the sink, shower or toilet is leaking or dripping.
  • If you don't use one of the little amenity bottles in the bathroom, please leave it for the next guest.
  • If traveling with children who need a little extra security, bring along a night light rather than keeping the bathroom light blazing and fan whirring all night.
  • If the hotel has a brochure rack, take only the pamphlets you need.
  • If the hotel provides complimentary newspapers, pass your copy on to an associate or ask the hotel to recycle it when you're done reading.
  • Bring a plastic grocery bag from home for dirty laundry storage.
  • Turn off exercise equipment when finished. The same is true when done using the sauna, whirlpool, or Jacuzzi.
  • Still in the mood for a little exercise? Try the stairs rather than the elevator. (Just to be safe, first make sure the stairwells are well lit.)
  • Use the hotel's electronic check out feature, if available. You can view your bill on the TV screen, approve it and check out without any additional paperwork. Your credit card statement will act as your receipt.

Many of the ideas listed above are practiced regularly by members of the "Green" Hotels Association. You can get their hotel membership list by calling (713) 789-8889 or visiting their Web site at www.greenhotels.com. We would like to thank the Association for their financial assistance in helping us research this article.

Return to Index

A Dose of Reality

By Bob Lilienfeld, Editor

On Friday, June 12, my wife and I held an outdoor graduation party for our college-bound daughter. Because the cold, rainy weather we had been experiencing earlier in the week threatened to continue through party time, my wife decided that Wednesday to rent a tent. "Better safe than sorry," she said as I grumbled about the extra cost.

While Thursday continued to be nasty, Friday morning brought a welcome reprieve. The weather had turned beautiful: sunny and cloudless, with a warm, gentle breeze. "A whopping waste of money," I muttered about the tent. To confirm my position, I smugly sat down at the computer and typed in the address of a well-known Internet weather site. The regional Doppler radar map indicated just what I had hoped it would show: The entire eastern region of the country, from Chicago to Boston, was dry. Being 1:00 p.m. and with the party starting at 7:00, we were home free.

Or so I thought. After a few minutes, I noticed a tiny red dot had begun to form in the middle of Lake Michigan, about 50 miles east of the Windy City. That meant a small, but strong storm was being born, sucking humidity from the air above the lake, cooling and condensing it, and returning it to the Earth's surface as driving rain.

An hour later, an updated radar scan revealed that the storm had become much larger, and was moving east toward Grand Rapids, Michigan. Around 4:00, the storm split in two, with the southerly portion passing through South Bend, Indiana, and the northerly half on its way to Kalamazoo. Both systems continued growing in size, with small pockets of intensity that indicated the presence of high winds and intense rain, along with the possibility of hail or tornadoes.

As they headed across the relative flatlands of the Midwest, both storms picked up speed and momentum. By the time the more northerly one hit here in Ann Arbor around 5:30, tornado sirens were wailing. (The southerly storm was causing the warning systems in Ohio to go off as well.) Fortunately for us, the tent withstood the driving rains and lashing winds. By 6:30 it was over, and we had time to clean up and get ready for the arrival of our first guests half an hour later. Other towns in our area were not so fortunate, reporting golf ball-sized hail and a few funnel clouds.

The northerly storm continued across the state. Picking up huge amounts of moisture over lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario, it pushed on toward coastal New England. There it collided with the jet stream, which was also laden with humidity. The result was an expanded system that poured days upon days of rain onto an already-soaked East Coast. Weekend ball games were rained out. Graduation ceremonies and airline flights were cancelled. Homes and businesses were evacuated due to flooding.

The southerly storm also continued eastward, hitting Washington, DC on Saturday. Lightening from it struck RFK stadium, cutting short the Tibetan Freedom Concert and injuring 11. Unencumbered by the jet stream, the system fortunately headed out to sea.

All of this weather -- three to five days' worth, covering a huge path about 1000 miles from West to East and about 800 miles from North to South was set off by that one little red dot in the middle of Lake Michigan! Think how differently things would have turned out if the temperature over the lake had been just a few degrees cooler, or the barometric pressure a few millimeters higher, or the humidity a percentage point or two lower: The entire eastern half of the United States would have had a pleasant weekend; hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in storm and flood damage would have been avoided; and a few lives might have been spared.

This example convincingly illustrates just how complex and unpredictable large-scale atmospheric events can be. It also shows how small perturbations can have huge, non-linear consequences that affect large chunks of the environment for relatively long periods of time.

What happens when we substitute the pumping of carbon dioxide, rather than humidity, into the atmosphere? Will we be able to predict the resulting effects on global climate? Will these effects be linear, like turning up the heat on the thermostat, or explosive, like turning up the heat over Lake Michigan? How fast will they occur? How long will they last? What other environmental activities might they trigger?

We really don't know. And frankly, that's just the point. That storm was a poignant reminder that even relatively small changes in a single variable can produce large, unpredictable, and devastating effects on our environment. Thus, when it comes to reducing the potential for global warming, habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity, common sense dictates that we do what my wife did when she put up that tent -- plan ahead to prevent environmental catastrophes, rather than trusting they will not happen or praying we can afford to fix the resulting damage.

This is the true value of waste prevention and source reduction, and the reason we need to find more and better ways to conserve resources and use less stuff. The environmental stakes are far too high to merely hope that problems won't occur or that we can rectify them when they do.

Return to Index


4th Annual ULS Day -- It's not that far away; November 19th, to be exact. Participants will be receiving information on this year's events shortly. (Note to our corporate and association readers: We could use a few sponsors to help us out. Call Bob at 734-668-1690 to discuss.)

You've read the newsletter, now you can buy the book -- Well not quite yet, anyway. On ULS Day 1998, Ballantine Books will officially publish Use Less Stuff, Environmentalism for Who We Really Are. Co-authored by ULS Editor Bob Lilienfeld and technical advisor Bill Rathje, the book will feature tips galore. It will also include a discussion about why today's societies may be the first in human history to understand the full value of both preventing (reducing) and remediating (recycling) waste.

It's not trash, it's art -- According to the Wall Street Journal, European town planners and municipalities are turning to architects and artists to design attractive garbage plants. The new facility in Chartres, France, has an exhibition hall, a teak sun deck, a view of the cathedral and catering facilities for receptions.

Spudmobile -- Green Mountain Energy Resources is touring California in its Veggie Van. The vehicle celebrates alternative, cleaner forms of fuel. The van is powered by a diesel motor which runs on a fuel made from vegetable oil originally used to cook McDonald's french fries. Contact Jonique V. Elligan, (650) 463-8682.

Making Doo -- According to the Washington Post, unsafe levels of fecal coliform bacteria in urban streams may be the result of pollution caused by dog wastes. Solutions include the building special dog parks away from waterways, tougher ordinances and stricter enforcement of existing laws.

Return to Index


The ULS Report is a bi-monthly publication of Partners for Environmental Progress. Send e-mail to uls@cygnus-group.com.

Snail mail address: P.O. Box 130116, Ann Arbor, MI 48113
Phone: 734-668-1690
Fax: 734-930-0506

Editor: Robert Lilienfeld
Technical Advisor: Dr. William Rathje

The ULS Report is free. We do accept contributions of up to $5.00 to help cover the costs of production and distribution.

We encourage you to reuse and recycle our information. Since The ULS Report, Use Less Stuff, Reduction Roundup and the ULS logo are trademarks of Partners for Environmental Progress, please contact us prior to reprinting.

Copyright 1998 Partners for Environmental Progress

To return to the top of this report, click here. You can browse ULS back issues or go to our Web home page.