We talked a lot in the previous chapter about the many daily and simple changes you can make to positively impact the environment, by reducing your contribution to pollution, resource drain and the like (check out the “checklists” section for many more ideas).
But there are many other choices you can make that will also impact the environment. While the cumulative effect of those daily choices is significant and impactful, there are other changes you can make that with one swift and single change will have even more an impactful result.
In this chapter, then, we’ll examine some of these impactful changes. Perhaps you might choose to make regular daily changes and add one impactful change. That’s excellent. Maybe you aren’t interested in changing too much about your daily choices, but are willing to buy a new car or add a composting toilet to your home. That’s good, too.
Remember our adage – you can make a difference. Every little bit helps.
Let’s get the dirty stuff out of the way first. This is a concept that’s catching on in some areas, with some people who are already comfortable with and dedicated to the concept of composting. Here we just take it a step further.
Essentially a composting toilet turns human waste into organic matter. There are different styles, with different capacities, but the end results are the same – at some point, the waste needs to be removed and the organic matter used as a fertilizing substance for certain crops (though not those that will eventually be eaten).
Some of the larger composting toilets are large enough to be emptied only every decade or so, as long as the storage tank is three times the size of the annual waste added. Smaller composting toilets will need to be emptied a bit sooner.
Proponents of composting toilets argue they are a much better use of either water or electricity (some are operated by one rather than the other), and are an excellent source of organic matter for a garden.
Though composting toilets have reached some popularity in Europe and other areas, there are still many areas of the world that are unconvinced. But proponents offer these arguments in favor of the composting toilet:
They can save up to 60% of previous bathroom use of water (though 20-50% is more likely)
The air flow that’s in most composting toilets helps to remove odors, acting as a constant fan
You could reduce your sewage service costs
You can compost your food scraps and small trash through the composting toilet as well, helping you to reduce the overall waste your family contributes
You have a natural and always available fertilizer that you know is organic and rich
Several styles of composting toilets are available in a variety of sizes, so they are excellent for home use, but also for use on boats, in cabins, in your RV or pool or even in a yurt.
Solar panels are really nothing more than a method of using sun power to create electricity or provide heat.
You can install solar panels to provide heat for your pool, or heat to your home. Businesses can install solar panels to provide electricity to their business operations.
There are several different kinds:
Photovoltaics (PV) – This is what people often think of when they think solar panels. These large panels use the light from the sun to turn it directly into electricity. Three countries ( Canada, United States and Japan) collectively account for 90% of the PV installations worldwide, though China is currently building a PV plant.
Solar thermal collectors – These collectors are designed to absorb the sun and provide heat. These types of collectors are usually used in solar power plants, where the heat is used to generate electricity, but they can – in smaller versions – be used on homes and businesses.
Solar hot water panel – These panels are popular as methods to heat swimming pools in backyards and to heat homes. If used to heat water in the home, the heated water is kept in a storage vessel such as a hot water heater. The panels can also provide heat to a home. These are considered especially useful in areas where heat is very expensive.
The concept behind solar panels is revolutionary when you think about it – using the natural light and heat from the sun to provide electricity and heat. It exacts no damage to the environment, yet provides great benefit.
Have you ever thought about the windows in your home? Older windows or those that are not efficient can leech energy from your home, costing you more in energy and heating bills and requiring the delivery of more electricity to your home.
Old windows that leech heat or cool air can account for as much as 30 to 60% of your heating or cooling bill.
Experts recommend installing double pane windows which are much more efficient.
Depending on where you live, you might get tax credits for installing the better-quality windows. If you are building a new home, get the best quality windows you can afford. Not only will you not have to replace them for a long time, but you will be doing well for the environment by reducing your need for more heating and cooling energy during the particularly hot and particularly cold seasons of the year.
Now, we already discussed this a bit, but vehicles are a major contributor to pollution, fossil fuel emissions and the advance of global warming.
A recent study of Australian motorists by the AAA found that almost 80 percent of those surveyed believed that automobiles contribute 32 percent to Australia’s overall contribution to the Greenhouse Effect. In fact, the AAA says, automobiles only contribute about 8 percent, and come in third behind power plants and agriculture.
In most developed countries, that split is about the same –power generating will almost always be the primary pollutant, with cars not far behind. In the United States, overall emission from vehicles have decreased a bit in recent years, but are still higher than 1990 levels and account for as much as 45% of the country’s emissions.
And now, here’s the rub. Although we can try to consume less energy, there’s little way we can feel as if we are having an impact on our contribution to the reduction of fossil fuels other than working on our transportation choice.
In many parts of the world, people must use cars to get from point A to point B. Either mass transportation is not available at all, or it is not available widely enough to provide primary transportation for the country’s residents.
So, what can you do? Since this is a chapter dealing with more dramatic changes you can make in your habits to affect change, how about these ideas: Buy a smaller, non high-performance car; drive less; use public transportation when you can; and carpool whenever possible.
For many people, these constitute big changes, particularly in America where people are less likely to use public transportation and are loyal and dedicated to their cars (often of the gas-guzzling variety). What difference can you make? Let’s look at some numbers.
According to one study, one American switching to mass transit for a year could result in big impact – the reduction of hydrocarbons by 9 pounds and the reduction of carbon monoxide by 62 pounds.
In fact, for each full, 40-foot long bus you see, that’s 58 cars off the road. And although we know buses aren’t environment friendly, one bus equals fewer emissions than those 58 cars.
If you still want to drive, but are willing to make a major change there, consider purchasing a new car.
You have two choices – you can buy a hybrid car or you can purchase a smaller car than you currently have. The best option is to purchase a small hybrid car. That’s surely the best of both worlds, but many more makes of larger vehicles are being offered in hybrid versions, so if you must have your large car (even a 7-passenger one), there are still environmentally friendly options for you.
Whatever you choose, be sure to do your research before purchasing (see our “resources” guide for some help here).
We have talked about buying locally and/or organically grown food whenever possible, but there’s another option to consider and that’s eating no meat.
This, of course, comes naturally to many of us either for lifestyle, health or religious reasons, but much of the world’s population is staunchly carnivore.
It’s possible if even half that population understood how damaging cattle are to our environment they might rethink their loyalty to meat.
For each pound of meat you don’t eat, you could save as much as 2,500 to 5,000 gallons of water. In addition, factories that process cattle are one of the most prolific contributors to fossil fuel emissions, and the waste from cattle is dangerous and harmful to the environment.
In the United States alone, more than 200 million pounds of beef is imported each year from Central America. In order to clear land for the cattle to graze, thousands of acres of beneficial rainforests are destroyed.
Finally, cattle create 20% of the world’s methane gas emissions. That’s emissions from the bodies of the cows themselves. That’s a lot of cow gas. Consider this: Eating one hamburger is equivalent to driving your car every day for three weeks.
While many people concerned about the environment choose to go vegetarian (or vegan), if you are unwilling to give up beef altogether, you can make some changes:
Reduce the amount of beef you do eat
Find quality sources of beef, particularly that raised organically and without hormones
Do your homework to be sure the beef you do buy is produced in your country and not from Central America. By eating locally produced meat you’re not only helping to save rainforests, but you are also helping the environment by ensuring that large trucks carrying your beef don’t pollute the air with more fossil fuels.
People are often resistant to moving away from chemicals for cleaning and toward natural cleaning products, but doing so will help the environment.
If you happen to like the somewhat overwhelming smell of some cleaning products, you probably have it in your head that the stronger the smell, the more effective the product.
Experts say that most natural cleaning products – whether store bought or homemade – are just as effective as their harsher counterparts. In some cases, they are more effective.
By choosing natural cleaning products you:
Reduce the chemicals released into the air from factories making the chemical cleaners.
- Reduce the amount of chemicals that are released into our rivers and streams through your home’s waste system.
Reduce the amount of chemicals solvents that are released into the atmosphere.
Begin to reduce your reliance on factory-made products and get a good understanding of what can be created with a little more muscle and a dedication to green causes.
Look in our “resources” section for information about where to find natural cleaning products or how to find recipes for homemade cleaners.
When you plan a vacation, think about how you can do it in an environmentally friendly way. One way to do this is avoid air travel.
Airplanes – particularly the larger planes that take you on long journeys – are major contributors to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
If you must travel, consider these tips:
If you think you can drive, even if it’s a long trip, drive to your destination (even consider renting a small, hybrid car).
Consider taking a train or bus instead of an airplane. Neither are equivalent to, say, walking, but they are infinitely better than an airplane.
Once you arrive at your destination, rent a car only if necessary. If you do have a vehicle, drive it only when absolutely necessary.
While on vacation, choose activities that have little environmental impact, such as golfing at the the golf course that recycles water.
If you find that you have a hard time making simple or the larger changes, you can consider purchasing carbon credits.
Carbon credits are a fairly new concept but work a little bit like this: You will buy credits annually and then surrender them when you buy electricity or fuel. In exchange, trees are planted to offset your electricity or fuel usage.
This is a last resort, as the better option is to reduce your individual usage and to respect the environment enough to make those daily and regular changes. But if you find you can’t, or feel you don’t do it enough, this might be an option. Check the “resources” section for information on how and where to purchase carbon credits.