It’s been a little over a year since I blogged about my carbon footprint, and detailed some of the steps that I was taking to reduce my environmental impact. Here’s an update, along with a new step that I encourage all of you to look into: purchasing electricity from alternative energy sources.
I grew up dependent on cars for transportation, but I’ve found the transition to not owning a car to be pretty easy. I ride my bike when the weather cooperates, 8 miles round trip to school (EDIT: Closer to 6 miles, now that I’ve found a faster and shorter route). Thanks to a good network of bike lanes and trails, plus (mostly) conscientious drivers, my bike commute is usually pretty nice. I can definitely see why Minneapolis is considered the #2 bike friendly city in America.
UPDATE: If you’re hesitant to start biking places because you’re not sure you’d be able to find a route, Google Maps now has bicycling directions that are fairly good.
When it rains, and during the winter, I take the bus. This is also very convenient, as the Twin Cities have good public transportation. I can use Google Maps to find the best route at any given time. Plus, it’s great that the Twin Cities have a growing number of hybrid electric buses, which furthers the cause of going green.
If you use a car as your only means of transportation, you might be surprised how easy it is to cut out some car trips with a more environmentally friendly option. Most car trips are short, only a couple of miles, but they still do environmental damage, as the car’s emissions controls don’t work to their full capacity until they get warmed up. So try replacing a couple of short trips per week with bike trips instead. You’ll help the environment while getting good exercise. Plus, you get more of a feel for the neighborhood when you travel slowly and immerse yourself in it.
Combining biking and public transit can make both more practical, especially if you live farther from the urban core than I do. Bus stops that seem too far to walk to are made much more accessible when you bike. Many cities have bike racks on their buses, so check your transit authority’s web site. (All Twin Cities buses and light rail trains have bike racks. They’re easy to use and secure.)
Okay, so my life isn’t completely car-free. I do also participate in a car-sharing service, where I can rent by the hour any of a fleet of cars located at designated locations around the city. I mostly use the service for making big trips to the grocery store, and it’s convenient for my purposes. The company I use is local, but there are national brands, and local companies in other cities that you can look into. It might be a viable option for you to replace a car, or maybe as an alternative to owning a second car, with one car saved for longer trips. Many services, including the one I use, are centered around hybrids or other high-efficiency cars.
You don’t need to take major steps to start going green. Simple lifestyle changes can make a difference without requiring a huge investment.
Of course you should recycle. It’s 2009, gosh darn it, the message should have sunk in by now. In some cities you may have to pay extra, which is ridiculous, but whatever the financial cost, it’s a small price to pay for the benefit we receive in a greener earth. Ditch the bottled water, too. If you need that filtered taste, get a water filter and a reusable water bottle (preferably aluminum or stainless), and keep enjoying the taste you’re used to. Or drink from the tap. Trust me, it’s better regulated than what’s sold in stores.
I confess to still needing the air conditioning (yes, it does get hot in Minnesota, thank you). But with a wise investment, you can cut the power you waste. Make sure you have a programmable thermostat. Mine has a timer, so I can shut it off during the heat of the day when I’m gone, but still have my apartment comfortable by the time I get home.
Conservation is the name of the game here. Get in the habit of using less whenever you can, and going green becomes second nature.
Finally, time for my newest green method, which I’m really excited about: using alternative power sources in your own home.
Power companies have begun investing in alternative power sources such as wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, and biomass, and, according to the Department of Energy, half the country now has access to some form of renewable energy. This can take different forms: some may be able to participate in a program through their current power company where they buy clean energy at a small premium, others can buy from a competing green energy company, and others offset their usage by purchasing green credits.
Through Xcel Energy’s Windsource program, my apartment is now 100% wind powered! (Or it will be, once the changes take effect.) Making the change will further reduce my carbon footprint, but I think the more important impact is from showing that I’m “buying in” to the concept of renewable energy. Increased use and demand will fuel further investment in developing the technology needed to move a greater percentage of our power generation to renewable resources. It’s more expensive (a whopping $5-$10 a month for me, going all-in), but it’s worth it.
UPDATE: The change to my electric bill have been almost imperceptible. Granted, I live in a one-bedroom apartment, so the change may be more noticeable for a larger home, but it’s still a fairly small expense.
The change to cleaner energy sources won’t be easy. It will be more expensive at first, partly because the technology is still developing, partly because of the economies of scale involved, and mostly because, at this time, it’s relatively easy to find and burn fossil fuels. But we’re on an unsustainable path, and switching your home to the greener grid will put us one step farther along a more sustainable one.
You can research your options for renewable energy here.
Going green, lightening the burden you place on the environment, is for everybody. It’s not just for the tree-hugging, hemp-wearing hippies anymore. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) You don’t have to be a superhero, and it won’t require a superhuman effort, just a few concentrated steps. It gets easier once you’ve started. And once you get everyone around you thinking green, too, it won’t just seem like the right thing to do. It’ll seem like the only thing to do.