Living With Climate Change: 10 Earth Day actions beyond recycling that get results

United States

Officially, it’s a single day on the calendar every year — Earth Day, each April 22.

By now, nearly every industry — from fast-food chains to grocery stores to cosmetics lines and luxury autos — along with dozens of tree-loving, plastic-banning nonprofits, are part of a week or month’s worth of promotions and education around climate change each April. Academia and other institutions, many with international events that draw the likes of King Charles, Jeff Bezos and Greta Thunberg, step up as well.

Read: What is Earth Day? Why celebrating it matters to your money and your health

In our own households, we may feel overwhelmed to change enough habits individually to make a difference when it comes to helping slow the man-made climate change that is costing all of us economically through weather extremes, and that puts Earth’s most vulnerable at grave risk because of compromised health or proximity to rising oceans.

But actions do matter. And small acts can add up to big changes, especially if those acts are done with intention and learning. In fact, is stepping up its efforts to improve climate and environmental literacy, intended to help debunk climate-change denialism and give purpose to all the hundreds of gestures and behavior changes that combined will make a mark.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list intended to take your recycling and reusable grocery bag habits to another level.

The easiest change — don’t run the tap while brushing teeth

Turning off the tap while you brush your teeth is, hands down, the simplest daily action (more than once a day if your dentist has her way) that can help limit water waste and save a few bucks.

The numbers may surprise you: 20 drips of water in 30 seconds adds up to more than three gallons a day and tops 1,100 gallons in a year.

The same rules can apply when washing dishes, or taking a shower. Turn off the water when it’s not directly being used.

Read more: 8 ways to save lives and money for World Water Day — we each waste up to 30 gallons a day

A smart thermostat is one of the smartest moves you can make

Combined, heating and cooling accounts for nearly half of household energy consumption. Installing a smart thermostat may help you rein in that spending.

“The smart thermostat is the easiest, and one of the most impactful things that any consumer can do, with the lowest capital investment,” says Greg Fasullo, CEO of Elevation, which creates clean-tech products for homes.

These thermostats may cost $ 100 and up on the front end, but tracking your energy use often changes behavior. Add in the ease of turning AC or heating on or off from anywhere and it typically means you earn the money back on that thermostat.

Keep in mind, for every degree you reduce the temperature in the winter or raise it in the summer you are saving up to 1% in energy costs for each 8-hour period, according to the Department of Energy. Lowering your heating setting or raising your air conditioning settings by 10 degrees for eight hours a day could save you 10% on your energy bill — and reduce your carbon footprint.

Read: Court tosses Berkeley’s first-in-nation ban on natural gas in new construction

Not ready for an EV yet? Drive your gas car in an Earth-friendly way

There’s no doubt that electric vehicles TSLA, +1.28% GM, +0.03% are slowing pushing their way into total U.S. auto sales. But if you’re not yet in the market for an EV, there are steps to take in the meantime.

Fast acceleration and high speed suck up gasoline, and abrupt stops waste energy, too.

By driving gently you can lower your gas mileage by up to 33% on the highway and 5% in the city, according to the Department of Energy. The optimal highway speed for gas mileage is 50 mph; after that, your gas mileage drops quickly.

Remember, don’t idle your car, especially while running the air conditioner. In the winter, give your car only 30 seconds to warm up. It will warm up quickly when you start driving.

Regular maintenance will help your car run at top efficiency — fixing serious maintenance problems can improve mileage by up to 40%.

For sure, says the Center for Biological Diversity, not everyone can run out and trade in their gas-guzzler for the latest all-electric or gas/electric hybrid vehicle. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing: manufacturing new cars takes a lot of resources, too. But if you’re in the market for a new car, look for a fuel-efficient model — you’ll save thousands on gas money and reduce your carbon footprint over the years.

The same goes for most big-ticket purchases. If you’re buying a new refrigerator, water heater, clothes washer or dryer, look for the Energy Star label to find the most efficient appliances.

Cut gas use elsewhere — like your lawn

Gas engines in your lawnmower, leaf blower and weed whacker may be small, but they collectively have big impacts on air quality.

For example, using a gas-powered lawnmower for one hour will produce the same amount of emissions as driving your car 64 miles.

Switching to an electric version for your power tools for the yard will reduce your emissions, although as the experts point out, your electricity use is only as green as the source for that electricity. Increasingly, solar, wind ICLN, +0.20% and nuclear are replacing natural gas NG00, -0.58% and coal, but energy sources vary by state. See this map for an idea.

If you’re not able to give up your gas engine, cutting the grass less frequently and mulching grass clippings are a great way to reduce the impact.

Borrow and share tools and other infrequently used goods

A tool shed or basement chock full of fix-it items may be a point of pride, but it’s also a pretty big waste of money and natural resources used to produce them. That is, if they are infrequently used. That same may go for seasonal items or party supplies.

Instead, think about sharing these items with friends and neighbors. When the equipment, tools or party supplies that you need once in a great while are not available through friends, you can also increasingly rent them from a specialty rental business or a home improvement store.

Across the country, more communities are adding tool libraries or hosting block parties for big-ticket-item swaps to initiate a sharing culture.

Replace your lightbulbs

Unlike traditional bulbs, LEDs only emit light in a 180 degree range in front of them. For instance, a traditional bulb on your ceiling will not only light the room but also the ceiling above it, resulting in wasted energy.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which are slowly being eliminated, and LED bulbs may cost more than traditional incandescent bulbs, but they will save money over the long run, last longer and use way less energy. From the MarketWatch archives, we explain the difference, and proposed rules to eliminate incandescent bulbs.

LED lights use 75% less energy to deliver the same amount of light as incandescents, and LED bulbs last 25 times longer, the Department of Energy says.

According to DOE, installing LED bulbs in just your most frequently used light fixtures can save hundreds of dollars over the lifetime of the bulbs.

And broadly speaking, by 2027, the widespread use of LED lighting could save $ 30 billion in U.S. energy costs and reduce the use of electricity by the equivalent of 44 1,000-megawatt power plants.

Unplug — and we’re not talking about cutting that doom-scrolling habit

Even when not in use, many electronic devices, including televisions, microwaves, scanners, and printers, use standby power to save warm-up time.

In the U.S., the total electricity consumed by idle electronics — sometimes referred to as vampire or phantom electricity — equals the annual output of 12 power plants, according to the Office of Sustainability at Harvard University.

And while it is true that your computer uses a surge of electricity when it starts up, it’s a small surge. The Department of Energy suggests that you turn off your monitor if you aren’t going to use your PC for more than 20 minutes, and turn off your CPU and monitor if you’re not going to use your PC for more than 2 hours.

Using power strips for these devices can help you simplify plugging and unplugging.

Shop shrewdly at the grocery store

It’s true, Americans waste a lot of food, even when we have the best intentions of using up our big grocery run before it all goes bad.

According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, American families throw out approximately 25% of the food and beverages they buy, costing the average family of four between $ 1,365 and $ 2,275 every year, and that was calculated before the surge in inflation this year. There are also energy, production costs and resources involved in the production and transport of this tossed food. You might better align your food purchases to your actual consumption through menu planning and grocery lists.

A recent study from Purdue University suggests that 71% of homes surveyed could decrease their food carbon footprint using three habit changes, and without necessarily eliminating whole categories of food, like say meat, fish or dairy.

The researchers suggest:

Small households of one or two people should buy less food in bulk quantities, which is often more than will be eaten, and manufacturers should offer cost-effective package sizes.

Cutting out foods with high caloric content and low nutritional values would result in a 29% reduction of the total potential emissions, while also potentially improving health outcomes.

People should buy less savory bakery products and ready-made foods. Though those foods are responsible for relatively low carbon emissions, the large amounts of these items that are purchased adds up to significant emissions.

Read: How to save up to 50% on your grocery bill and reduce food waste

Take a few extra seconds to read labels

From coffee to fruit to clothing, the number of “greener” options for purchase can get overwhelming. There’s no doubt that “green washing” as a marketing gimmick is alive and well. But there are some clear leaders when it comes to minimizing your impact on wildlife and the planet, says the Center for Biological Diversity.

For instance, if you’re a coffee drinker, look for “shade-grown” coffee, which is produced while keeping forest habitats intact for migratory birds and other species.

Or, choose Fair Trade certified goods when possible to support companies dedicated to sustainable production and paying laborers a fair wage.

Teach even young family members to act

There are many worthwhile environmental nonprofits with long track records that individuals and families might support.

One of them, the Canopy Project, has planted tens of millions of trees since 2010 across the globe. Trees are vital to biodiversity and as a way to absorb carbon. And Canopy makes it a priority to work with local communities so that locals maintain a stake in such projects.

As the group makes clear on its site, as little as $ 1 can plant a tree. That’s a great entry point for even the youngest of savers in your family.

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