Though Americans represent 5 percent of the worlds population, we use 30 percent of the planets resources and our consumption has doubled in the last 50 years. What happens to finite supplies of fresh water, oil and soil as billions of people in India and China desire to live just like Americans do?
Here are a few tips to conserve natural resources, save money and educate your family about the economics of our environment:
1. Become a locavore (translation: Eat local foods and buy local products). In North Carolina, farmers markets sell fresh local produce. It will improve not only your health but also lower your energy footprint to buy produce that did not travel far to reach your dinner plate.
2. Carpool. Americans spend more than 4.5 billion hours per year commuting. William Moomaw, professor at Tufts University and co-author of the last U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, calculated that if American commuters would carpool for just one day per week, we could significantly reduce Americas carbon emissions by 2050.
3. Recycle. Approximately 85 percent of all American household waste can be recycled, but most of it is thrown out in haste. Purchase goods with less packaging, and re-use items such as boxes, paper clips, plastic bags and packing materials. Wrap gifts in old newspaper or other recycled materials.
4. Audit your household electricity. Turn off lights. Buy power strips. Turn off computers when not in use. Buy Energy Star appliances.
5. Travel green. When traveling, become energy conscious by staying in energy-efficient hotels. Plan family vacations to eco-tourism destinations that inspire conservation of natural resources, not attractions dominated by plastic and paved surfaces.
7. Plant trees, especially natives. Trees act as a filter to cleanse the air, produce oxygen, store carbon and serve as a home to wildlife. Attractive shade trees invariably raise the value of your property.
8. Conserve fresh water. An estimated one-third of all water in American homes is used to flush toilets though billions worldwide do not have fresh drinking water. Check toilets and sinks for leaks; reduce water consumption in your daily habits.
9. Go green for the holidays. Can you create special days where no one drives? Candlelight dinners? What about purchasing a live tree, and then planting it after the holidays? Buy gifts with a green message. Consider switching traditional outside landscape lights with the new LED lighting, significantly minimizing your familys energy footprint.
Meg Lowman, Ph.D., a forest canopy expert, is senior scientist at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences and research professor at N.C. State University.