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Thursday, March 27, 2008

A little green goes a long way

By Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

Whether or not you believe in global warming, your impact on the planet does leave a mark. Being aware of that is your obligation.

Terry Mayer/The Week
Jeff McKinnon adds to his compost pile in his back yard.
It's easy to dismiss becoming more eco-friendly, even though we all intuitively know we should.

Those days may soon be gone. Everyone has to try, even if it's just what municipalities force citizens to do. Doing what you can shouldn't be a choice anymore.

"Obviously things are a disaster, frankly," says Jeff McKinnon, biology professor at UW-Whitewater and co-organizer for the Earth Day 2008 event set for April 22. (for a schedule of events, visit www.uww.edu/earthday) "We're all obligated to do what we can to make things better."

Apathy is likely the biggest obstacle in creating change, McKinnon says.

"I'll bet half of my students drive big trucks and they're the only ones riding in it--and they're biology students," McKinnon says with frustration.

"They may as well be saying they have no hope."

But that's ridiculous when perfectionism isn't the goal--only trying is.

McKinnon does more than the average person, but most of what he does anyone can do. Cumulatively, it can make a big impact--or reverse one.

He uses power strips for electrical fixtures, and turns off all electricity to them while not in use. For other fixtures he uses timers.

He chose his home based on its distance from work so he can bike to work, while his wife, Irene Rafael, and kids Andrew, 10, and Tara, 13, take the Prius.

"We save a ton of money on insurance, license repairs and gas when we're not driving one of our cars," he said. "We saved money very, very quickly and used the extra money to pay off the house faster.

"And as a bonus it's good for our health and good for the environment."

The family minivan parked in the driveway is perfect when the whole family is traveling together, but most days it keeps watch over the neighborhood.

"Shop carefully," McKinnon adds. "Well-managed wild-catch seafood is almost always better than farmed."

Habitat destruction and the health of the seafood is better if we choose domestic sources, he said.

Nobody's expecting you not to buy your favorite things, even if they're not the environmentally soundest choice--just try to make up for it in other areas at the very least.

"You don't have to get neurotic, but as a shopper and a citizen to think about it," McKinnon says. "I don't stay up at night worrying about it, but it is our job to try to do better--it's a moral issue."


What can you to to help?

Here are a few new ideas that are easy to do. Pick a few, or try them all:


Wash your car on the grass rather than pavement. Don't use chemical fertilizers on your lawns. And never throw chemicals in the trash or down the drain. They will leach and/or drain into the water supply. Set them out on the days that your local municipality collects them.


Read labels for non-petroleum products, most will say biodegradable or renewable, or make your own. Vinegar and baking soda mixed with a little warm water can be used to clean almost anything. Antibacterial and antimicrobial cleaners add to the risk of supergerms--offspring of bacteria-resistant parents.

Dry cleaners

Use dry cleaners minimally and air-clean clothes outside before wearing or hanging them in the closet. Dry cleaners are the largest user of the highly toxic industrial solvent, Perchloroethylene. Some cleaners use green methods.


For dishwaters, skip the pre-rinse, set heat at 120 degrees and air dry. Keep large appliances away from each other; refrigerators next to dishwashers have to work harder to stay cool. Use dishwashers and washing machines on evenings and weekends, when power use is lower.


Buy locally whenever possible. This goes for food, furniture, clothing, etc. Go to farmers markets, yard sales, flea markets, auctions, second-hand stores, etc. to cut way down on the use of fossil fuels to transport the products to you and increase the quality of most goods.


Choose location within walking distance places you frequent; install weather- stripping, grow your own ground or countertop garden, place reflective foil behind radiators, use sun-shielding shades or blinds; install water-efficient faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads and only use washing machines and dishwashers with a full load for starters.

Kids toys/Gift giving

Don't buy it unless you're sure the recipient will use it. Give consumable gifts like teas, treats or flowers. Give a service like babysitting, cleaning or shoveling. Wrap your gift with a gift (scarf, blanket, shirt) or the Sunday funnies. Or be extreme, give a llama or sheep in their name to a family through Heifer.org or another reputable organization.


Adopt from a shelter or rescue, not a breeder. Petfinder.com and local shelters actually recycle life. Spay or neuter--70,000 puppies and kittens are born every DAY in the United States. Clean up after them with biodegradable bags. Plastic bags last hundreds of years in a landfill.

Team Treehugger



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