An Inconvenient Truth

Graham and I have just finished watching An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore movie about global warming. It had some eye-opening images (the one that really got to me was how the Snows of Kilimanjaro has receded so dramatically) and graphs (showing temperatures rising, glaciers disappearing and populations soaring). The link between carbon emissions, global warming and impending major global disasters is obvious and scary. And almost seems inevitable.

At the end of the movie, viewers were prompted to visit I did, and figured out my carbon footprint, namely 5.7 tons per year, rated "Much Smaller than Average", the average in the U.S. being 7.5 tons per year. Even 5.7 tons sound indecently high. After watching the movie and visiting the website, I feel partly responsible for those ice shelves breaking off and those polar bears drowning because they can't find any icebergs to rest on.

And that's not entirely a joke -- did you know that the US generates 30% of the world's carbon emissions? As a consumer, I am contributing to the problem. Despite my best intentions, I bought lots of Christmas presents for my kids and families, most of them packaged in way more non-recycled cardboard than necessary, wrapped in bright, glossy, tree-killing paper. We had 17 people over for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so I used disposable plates, cups and utensils. I drive an AWD automatic van which normally gets 15mpg in suburban Palo Alto. I pack my kids' sandwiches in plastic bags so I don't have to wash any containers. In fact, I'm surprised they calculated my carbon footprint to be a measly 5.7.

The aforementioned website lists many ways ordinary people can reduce their impact on the environment, most of them "painless". Here is a list of 10 simple things you can do:
  1. Change a light -- Replacing one regular light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb will save 150 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
  2. Drive less -- Walk, bike, carpool or take mass transit more often. You'll save one pound of carbon dioxide for every mile you don't drive!
  3. Recycle more -- You can save 2400 pounds of carbon dioxide per year by recycling just half of your household waste.
  4. Check your tires -- Keeping your tires inflated properly can improve gas mileage by more than 3%. Every gallon of gasoline saved keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere!
  5. Use less hot water -- It takes a lot of energy to heat water. Use less hot water by installing a low flow showerhead (350 pound of CO2 saved per year) and washing your clothes in cold or warm water (500 pounds saved per year).
  6. Avoid products with a lot of packaging -- You can save 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide if you cut down your garbage by 10%
  7. Adjust your thermostat -- Moving your thermostat just 2 degrees in winter and up 2 degrees in summer. You could save about 2,000 pound of carbon dioxide a year with this simple adjustment.
  8. Plant a tree -- A single tree will absorb one ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime.
  9. Turn off electronic devices -- Simply turning off your television, DVD player, stereo, and computer when you're not using them will save you thousands of pound of carbon dioxide a year.
  10. Spread the word!
We already do #'s 2, 3, 4 and 6. If we are diligent about it, we should be able to do #'s 1, 5, 7, and 9. I'm not so sure I can do #8, my gardening skills are so bad I'll probably just waste water and release pesticides into the atmosphere to keep the tree alive for just a couple of months.

But I can do #10 -- that's why I'm posting this! I wish I could make sure they showed this movie to every kid in school. But I can't do that, so I have to settle for blogging, and hoping people read this. Just think, if everyone just picked one new item from this list, we could all do a lot toward reducing our carbon footprints.

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