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:
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- If the hotel has a brochure rack, take only the pamphlets you
- 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
- 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
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 Ñ
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
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
ODDS 'N ENDS
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.
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