Not too long ago, the only eco-conundrum most of us faced on a regular basis was when the grocery store bagger would ask, “Paper or plastic?” A lot has changed: the world is getting warmer, weather patterns are getting wackier, oil is getting scarcer, and those pesky eco-conundrums are more confusing than ever. Does the energy saved by a new, efficient refrigerator outweigh the waste of tossing out my old one? Isn’t it just as effective to diligently turn off my household lights as it is to invest in costly CFL and LED light bulbs? What should I do if I can’t afford a more fuel-efficient car? (Answers, respectively: yes, no, and read on.)
Finding commonsense answers to these kinds of questions was the impetus behind the new book Cooler, Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living, authored by a group of energy experts from the non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists. “There’s a lot of ‘noise’ out there, a lot of conflicting advice when it comes to addressing climate change and cutting your own carbon footprint,” says senior energy analyst Jeff Deyette, a contributing author. “We dug deep and really tried to cut through that noise and figure out what matters most to help people prioritize decisions. There are all kinds of ways you can make a significant impact.”
The book challenges readers to reduce their energy consumption by 20 percent in the next year — a challenge that feels empowering, not impossible, once you read through the menu of practical options listed in each chapter. Best of all, many of the ideas are financially smart, not just eco-smart, debunking perhaps the biggest eco-conundrum of all. “Some people think solving climate change is only for middle- or upper-income people,” Deyette says. “But you can make these changes and, most of the time, save money.”
Nowadays, when the paper-or-plastic question is asked, many of us hand over a reusable cloth tote —a sure sign that we’re already living cooler and smarter than we used to. Unfortunately, the climate change crisis demands we take even bolder moves. The solution is mostly about making better use of our resources than making painful sacrifices. Here are three easy ideas to kick-start your low-carbon life:
Upgrade your lighting. You’d have to leave your lights off three out of every four days to gain the energy savings equivalent to simply swapping your incandescent bulbs for CFLs or LEDs.
Unplug your gadgets. The average American home has a whopping 40 plugged-in devices on stand-by around the clock — consuming 5 to 10 percent of the electricity generated in the United States, even when they’re not in use. The five biggest culprits: laser printers, desktop computers (idling or in “sleep” mode), TVs, game consoles, and digital cable boxes.
Drive smarter. “Not everybody can afford a Prius,” Deyette says. Reduce your vehicle’s carbon footprint by keeping your car well-tuned, regularly checking the air in your tires, turning off your car instead of idling, and slowing down on the highway (driving 75 mph instead of 60 mph reduces fuel efficiency by 20 percent).