Cover

101 EASY WAYS TO SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT (AND MONEY TOO)

Indoors, outdoors and on the road: how to be cleaner and greener without breaking a sweat.

BARBARA WICKENS January 24 2005
Cover

101 EASY WAYS TO SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT (AND MONEY TOO)

Indoors, outdoors and on the road: how to be cleaner and greener without breaking a sweat.

BARBARA WICKENS January 24 2005

101 EASY WAYS TO SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT (AND MONEY TOO)

Cover

Indoors, outdoors and on the road: how to be cleaner and greener without breaking a sweat. BARBARA WICKENS reports.

BARBARA WICKENS

ASK WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO US, and Canadians are sure to put “the environment” on any Top 10 list. But what we tell pollsters and how we behave are two very different things. By one calculation, it would require four Earths if everyone on the planet lived the way Canadians do.

Just look at what we’re up against in complying with our commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. The international treaty, which goes into force on Feb. 16, calls for a global 5.2-per-cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2012, compared with 1990 levels. But even after Canada signed on, emissions of gases blamed for creating climatic havoc

kept soaring. Now, just to hit the target, Canada needs to reduce emissions by 20 per cent. In practical terms, that means burning a lot less of the fossil fuels that generate electricity, keep our homes comfortable and our cars running.

And of course global warming isn’t the only environmental challenge confronting Canadians. Habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity, pollutants in the air and

waterways, overflowing landfills—all are crying out for attention. Canada has the world’s third-largest “ecological footprint,” a measure of the area needed to produce what residents consume and to absorb all resulting waste.

So what would make us change our profligate ways, when we already know it’s the right thing to do? Just ask anyone who’s tried to tell a five-year-old to eat his Brussels sprouts how much weight the words “because you should” carry. Besides, it’s difficult to make the connection between how taking the bus instead of driving today will ensure that polar bears still have arctic ice floes to cavort across five years from now.

No, the answer lies in wanting to change. Last fall, for instance, oil hit nearly US$56 a barrel, a price that looked as though it just

might clobber folks into being more energy efficient. But with oil back in the US$43 range, the carrot now seems a better bet than the stick. And, in fact, all levels of government in Canada, and even some corporations, dangle a variety of incentives and rebates before consumers to buy certain environment-friendly products, from fridges to furnaces. While some of these goods have higher upfront costs, many of them more than pay for themselves in energy savings down the line.

People are also more likely to change when it doesn’t require superhuman effort. Yet not only does something as simple as leaving grass clippings where they fall mean less

work, it’s good for the lawn and keeps the yard waste out of precious landfill space.

Still, even with the best intentions, it’s not always easy to know what to do, or to sort out conflicting claims. Does it take more gas to let a car idle or to turn it off and on again? The answer—idling, for anything longer than 10 seconds—is just one of the 101 tips, big and small, you can glean from the following list to help you tread a little more softly upon the Earth.

Think you alone can’t make much of a difference? Consider this: if every household changed just one standard incandescent light bulb to a more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulb, the country would reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 397,000 tonnes. That’s the equivalent of taking 66,000 cars off the road for a year.

For a directory of environment-themed websites, visit www.macleans.ca/ envirolOl. And for a challenge, test your knowledge with our online quiz.

11 IDEAS TO START

Pick up-and properly dispose of-one piece of litter each day.

Take a “working” vacation participating in hands-on conservation. Last year, for instance, Ontario Nature Volunteers’ threeto 16-day expeditions took on projects ranging from building trails to monitoring wildlife to restoring habitat. For an international working vacation, check out organizations like the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. There’s a lot to do closer to home. Volunteers with Project FeederWatch, for instance, count the numbers and kinds of birds at their backyard feeders during the winter months, as bird populations are an indicator of environmental health. Work with your neighbours to create a community garden in an unused open space like an abandoned lot, hospital or school grounds, or ravine.

Join a naturalization project in your community and help bring a stream, wetland or field back to its natural state. Take Ottawa’s One-Tonne Challenge to reduce your annual output of greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent.

Buy food from local growers. Less energy is used to get the food to market and you support your local economy.

The average child who takes a disposable lunch bag with plastic-wrapped food and single-serving items like pudding to school each day generates 30 kg of garbage every school year. Buy reusable food containers and refillable drink bottles and pack it all in a durable carrier. Help organize a litterless lunch program at your child’s school.

Keep your pet cat indoors. One outdoor cat kills, on average, 40 small birds and animals a year, upsetting natural predator/prey balances.

Know and obey your municipality’s bylaws for disposing of household hazardous waste, whether at a separate curbside collection or drop-off depot. Things like antifreeze, any type of battery, medications, mercury thermometers, syringes, oil, gasoline, paints and solvents should never be tossed in the garbage, poured down a drain or storm sewer or dumped onto the ground.