At least consumers can cap our oil! This summer, as Americans anguish over the Gulf gusher, watching BP and the government point fingers while things get worse, we're also doing some navel-gazing--and not just at the beach. We're facing our addiction to the petroleum we consume in fuel and daily products.
Guilt, however, only paralyzes, while daily green actions add up to positive change. Here's a 12-step program--without the guilt!--for reducing our dependence on oil.
1: Drive less, walk + bike more. If every American burned our own calories instead of driving for just 30 minutes a day, we'd prevent 64 million tons of global warming carbon dioxide CO2) emissions, conserve 6.5 million tons of gasoline--and lose a collective 3 billion tons of body fat. Source: A 2007 study reported by the AP's Seth Borenstein, who recently wrote "Oil, oil, everywhere."
Reward: You'll look (and feel) better in your swimsuit.
2: Stop "cleaning" with petroleum. Dawn dish soap, positioned as the gentle but thorough cleanser of oiled birds, is itself made of oil, Procter & Gamble told NPR. In a recent study, Dawn was found to form carcinogenic nitrosamines; like most conventional cleaners and cosmetics, Dawn contains "fragrance," a blanket term for synthetic phthalates linked to reproductive deformities in amphibious wildlife and male infants, and asthma and obesity.
Choose botanical-based household cleaners, soaps & shampoos.
3: De-plastify your life. Say no to single-use containers & bottles. During a local Surfrider summer solstice beach cleaning, most of the plastics I picked up came from McDonald's.
Tote bottles & picnic ware made to be reused, except for polycarbonate plastic which releases toxic Bisphenol-A.
4: Recycle everything you can, including food and yard waste. Making new stuff consumes oil and trees, and trash gets out to sea. For where to recycle what in your area, see Earth911. For composting, EPA provides basic info.
6: Grill greener
Every July 4th, our 60 million U.S. barbecues emit 225,000 metric tons of CO2 . Propane/gas releases the least CO2 when burned. Electric grills cause the highest CO2 emissions (from power plants) but no air pollution while they cook. Charcoal contributes to deforestation and burns dirtiest, spewing lung-threatening soot. Better to burn solid charcoal from well-managed forests than toxic-glue-bound briquettes (never dump these on a beach!). The EPA advises a chimney or electric starter instead of lighter fluids, which produce 14,500 tons of smog.
7: Q: What to grill (besides BP)? A: Petroleum-free food
Hats off to vegetarians and vegans! If the rest of us skipped red meat & dairy one day a week, we'd save as much petroleum & CO2 as taking 20 million cars off the road a year. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are made with fossil fuels, and you don't want to eat the toxic residues, so choose organic, local & in-season affordable at farmers' markets! . Here's more re: sustainable veg, meat & fish.
8: Keep insects off without petroleum-based repellents.
Studies find these plant-based formulas repel well, while DEET is losing its effectiveness. Keep synthetic pesticides out of your harm and garden to protect children's development and our drinking water. For nontoxic pest control tips, Bio-Integral Resource Center.
9: Let the grass grow.
Longer grass fights weeds and conserves water. When you trim, use a rotary mower. Although EPA restrictions on oil-fuelled mower emissions take effect this year, they still produce unhealthy noise and smog. Add native shrubs and trees to support birds & beneficial insects and keep water in the ground. More tips here.
10: Travel mindfully.
The Union of Concerned Scientists' green vacation travel tips maximize fuel and carbon savings whether you go by car, bus, rail and plane.
11: Chill without overkill.
Make air conditioning your last resort. Curtain/shade sunny windows. When it's cool outdoors, open up & ventilate. Set a.c. at 78 degrees F. and save 726 lbs. of CO2 a year. Cool by replacing incandescent lights, which waste 90% of their energy as heat, with CFLs (30%) or LEDs (none).
12: Save the hot for your (shorter) shower.
Cutting your daily shower from 8 to 5 minutes saves 513 lbs. of carbon a year. If every U.S. household washed 4 out of 5 loads on cold, we'd stop 50 million tons of CO2 emissions a year; hanging just half our loads dry saves us each 723 lbs/CO2/yr and $50, minimum. Source: EPA.
Extra credit: Take action!
Sign Oceana's petition to stop offshore drilling. Donate $ to Gulf wildlife http://www.ibrrc.org/adopt_a_bird.html and families who've been hurt.
This Saturday, June 26, demand climate and energy regulation by joining hands across the sand.
Follow Mindy Pennybacker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/greenerpenny