12/15/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Forecast Calling for Brown Skies

Yes, it's true. A 1.8 mile thick band of soot, particles, and toxic chemicals spreading across the Persian Gulf to Asia is making days darker and people sicker. Sunlight has decreased by 25% in some areas of Asia and estimates say that this toxic soot is responsible for nearly 350,000 deaths in China and India every year, according to scientist Henning Rohde of the University of Stockholm.

Yesterday, the United Nations reported that this thick brown cloud threatens the health and food supplies around the world and is the newest threat to the global environment. People, this is not a regional problem, it is a global problem. We can no longer ignore our neighbors because eventually, we will soon see brown skies in our own backyard. In fact, this toxic soot can move across continents within three to four days and has even drifted as far east as California.

This is an enormous problem that requires government and business support. Many businesses have adopted sustainable business practices here in the U.S. and should also require that their international operations adopt these same practices. But we cannot wait for big business to solve our problems. We need to take individual action.

According to the Energy Information Administration (a part of the U.S. Department of Energy), the average American household produces 12.4 tons of carbon dioxide each year from household activities, an additional 11.7 tons from using a car, and another 35 tons from the manufacture of all the other products and services it uses. That's a total of more than 59 tons per household per year. The global average? 9.5 tons. Don't believe me? Calculate your own carbon footprint at

We have no choice. We must work, and work really hard, to keep our skies blue. So here are a few tips to reduce your carbon footprint. Yes, you've heard many of them before but what will it actually take for us all to act on them? And if you are already doing the right thing--then commit to spread the word.

* Are you a two-car family? Is that necessary? Answering this question means deciding how much you're willing to contribute to climate change simply because it's more convenient having more than one car. Can you use a train, bus or carpool to get to work? One obvious answer is to persuade your employer to let you telecommute.

* 42% of our energy use is to heat and cool our homes. If your furnace or boiler is more than 20 years old, you'll save a lot of money and energy by replacing it. It'll pay for itself. Then simply adjust your thermostat a couple of degrees. Energy Star says that for every degree difference you make, you will save 3% of your energy use.

* Don't make your water heater work so hard. Use less by installing water-conserving showerheads and faucet aerators--you can cut your hot water use in half. And finally, insulate your water heater and hot water pipes with inexpensive insulation blankets and pipe insulators found at your local hardware store.

* Use CFLs! Why aren't we all already doing that? Energy Star determined that if every American home replaced just one regular bulb with a CFL, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent the release of carbon and other greenhouse gasses equal to 800,000 cars.

* We tend to think about recycling as having to do with waste. It's not. It's all about energy. When we simply throw out glass, paper, aluminum, or plastic, we're throwing away energy: the energy that was used to produce them and that's embodied within them. You wouldn't stand at the gas station and just let the gasoline pour out on the ground and drain away, but that's exactly what you're doing when you throw out a plastic bottle, because plastic is made from oil.