Read an Excerpt
50 SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO SAVE THE EARTH
By John Javna Sophie Javna Jesse Javna
HYPERION Copyright © 2008 John Javna
All right reserved.
Chapter One BRING BACK THE ELECTRIC CAR
Estimated fuel cost for an all-electric car to go 40 miles: about 85o Fuel cost for a gas-powered car to go the same distance: $5.60
BACKGROUND. Wouldn't it be great if your family car was electric, and you could just plug it in instead of taking it to a gas station? Well, you can't go out and buy one from your local car dealer right now, but there are dozens of companies working on an improved electric battery ... and major carmakers say they're developing "plug-in hybrids"-cars that run on electricity, but switch to gasoline when the battery's charge is used up.
What these pioneers need right now is public support. It's important for automakers to know that we really want electric cars ... and that we'll buy them as soon as they're available.
DID YOU KNOW
The first cars in America were electric. Until Henry Ford made the combustion engine more affordable, electric cars were just as popular. Since then, auto companies have ignored electricity in favor of cheap oil.
That may be why people don't believe electric-car technology exists. But it's here, and it's been tested. GM, Honda, and Toyota all developed electric cars in the late 1990s, and the lucky people who drove them loved them. Now GM and Toyota say they'll have plug-in hybrids on the market by 2010.
The benefits of plug-in electric cars are impressive: They're cleaner, cheaper, and fueled by domestic sources of energy. Even with today's power plants, a plug-in car with an "all-electric range" of 40 miles can put out 50% less greenhouse gases than a conventional car. If that electricity is generated by renewables, the number skyrockets to almost 80% less than a regular car.
Electricity is cheap-you'll pay less than $1 for the energy equivalent of a gallon of gas. And many utilities plan to offer special low rates for people willing to charge car batteries at night.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Your Partner: Friends of the Earth (FOE) is the U.S. voice of an international network of grassroots groups in 70 countries. Get acquainted at PlugInNow.org
Your Goal: Use your influence as a car buyer to convince carmakers to invest in electric technology. Let them know people want electric cars. "The key to success is the automakers," says FOE's Kate Homer. "They'll only get behind these cars if they feel there's a market for them. Once they see how many of us are waiting for plug-ins, the auto industry will be changed forever."
Movie night. In 1990, California passed a law requiring "zero-emissions vehicles." Automakers were forced to develop all-electric cars, which they leased to the public as "demonstration vehicles." You can't lease one anymore, because GM crushed its electric cars-literally-despite owners' pleas to keep them. Rent the film Who Killed the Electric Car? for this fascinating story. Better yet, buy a copy at PlugInNow.org, watch it, and pass it on to friends.
Steps for Success
Step 1. Fight the myths about electric cars. Learn more about them; become a salesperson for the concept. Read "Electric Cars 101" at PlugInNow.org
Step 2. Join FOE's Electric Car Club. Sign up at FOE's Web site. They'll send you updates on the latest electric vehicle developments and tell you how you can help.
Step 3. Talk to automakers, especially GM and Toyota-the two most likely to build plug-in hybrids. Sign FOE's online petition saying you'd consider buying a plug-in hybrid and mail letters to GM and Toyota telling them you're interested in buying one. (Their e-mail and snail-mail addresses are at FOE's site.)
Step 4. Talk to your legislators. Make sure the government provides the same benefits to plug-ins and all-electric vehicles that they have with hybrids, like tax credits ($2,000-$3,000) and research grants. Get the facts at PlugInNow.org
For more resources: 50simplethings.com/electriccar
Chapter Two GO ORGANIC
By planting only 10% more organic food, we can transform over 25,000 square miles of depleted soil into rich, highly productive cropland.
BACKGROUND. It wasn't long ago that most Americans thought of organic food as something only "health nuts" ate. But today, about one in four U.S. families buy organic products every week. Organics is the fastest-growing segment in the food market.
This is great news for people who care about the environment, because organic farming is the essence of sustainable agriculture. It builds soil, provides habitat, and eliminates pesticide runoff. But the movement is just beginning to get firmly rooted. We need to help make it grow.
DID YOU KNOW
"Organic" means something is grown without "toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers." It also refers to a method of agriculture that uses natural systems to maintain and replenish topsoil.
Organically produced foods are also grown without antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering (GE), sewage sludge, or irradiation. (Yes, believe it or not, it's common in America to use sewage sludge on crops.)
In 2006, scientists reviewed 76 different studies that compared conventional and organic farming. They created 20 categories to analyze. Organic and conventional were about equal in 8; organic was better in the other 12. That included organic farms having an average of 30% more biodiversity, 24% less soil erosion, and, of course, 100% less pesticide runoff.
New studies confirm other benefits. In 2007, a $24 million, four-year experiment conducted for the European Union showed that organically grown produce has considerably more antioxidants, and higher levels of vitamins. "The health benefits were so striking," one critic explains, "that moving to organic food was the equivalent of eating an extra portion of fruit and vegetables every day."
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Your Partner: The National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture (NCSA). They help individuals and organizations build "healthy, environmentally sound, profitable, and humane" rural communities and agricultural systems. Get acquainted at sustainableagriculture.net
Your Goal: To promote and support organic, sustainable agriculture one step at a time.
Buy organic! Start small; pick one organic item to replace a product you usually buy. Start with soft-skin fruits, vegetables, or nuts. Tests show they absorb the most pesticides.
The Shopper's Guide is a wallet-size card that lists the most-contaminated fruits and vegetables, as well as the most "consistently clean" items. Download it at foodnews.org
Steps for Success
Step 1. Use your consumer power. Build the market for organic food and products by buying them for your family. Start with produce, then add staples like milk and bread. Think of it as an investment in a cleaner environment and a healthier food system.
Step 2. Lobby locally. Grassroots tactics will help build the movement: Talk to store managers; bring organic brownies to a meeting or school event; plant a small organic garden; encourage your favorite restaurant to use more local, organic food.
Step 3. Support organic farming. Current government programs subsidize only the biggest farms. Encourage lawmakers to create laws that support organic farming; add your voice and efforts to local, state, and national groups working to ensure a healthy food system. For more info: sustainableagriculture.net/organic.php
Step 4. Protect organics. The National Organics Program's (NOP) "USDA Organic" label guarantees that the product meets high standards. Be a watchdog: Get on the Organic Action Alert list run by NCSA; help protect and strengthen the organic label and ensure proper enforcement of NOP standards: sustainableagriculture.net
For more resources: 50simplethings.com/organics
Chapter Three HERE COMES THE SUN
The total amount of energy that comes to Earth from the sun each year is enough to provide more than 10,000 times the energy we use globally.
BACKGROUND. Do you think solar power is just a dream for the future? Then you've got a pleasant surprise coming: Reliable solar technology is available right now.
In fact, at a rate of over 30% a year, solar is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the world ... and for good reason: It's free, it's renewable, it's plentiful, and it doesn't pollute. What more could we want?
DID YOU KNOW
In 2006, the solar power industry grossed over $16 billion. But most of that wasn't spent in America-it was spent mostly in Germany (about 50%) and Japan. The reason: Both countries are subsidizing solar to drive down the cost and jump-start the market.
Germany's solar industry, the biggest in the world, generates over 10,000 jobs in production, distribution, and installations. And they're fighting global warming at the same time: Using solar power to supply a million homes with energy, for example, reduces C[O.sub.2] emissions by about 4.3 million tons per year-the equivalent of taking 850,000 cars off the road.
Our federal government, on the other hand, is doing very little to promote or support solar energy-even though the U.S. has always offered incentives to emerging energy industries. In fact, we still give billions to Big Oil (one estimate: $15-35 billion a year in subsidies!) and nuclear power companies (tax credits, loan guarantees, and insurance through the Energy Policy Act of 2005).
Without government support, the U.S. will lose green-collar jobs to other nations that are investing in solar as a national priority.
Experts predict that with the right government incentives, the cost of solar could fall rapidly over the next few years, and within a decade, solar could be about as cheap as fossil-fuel-based energy. "At that point," says General Electric's chief engineer, "you can expect pretty much unbounded growth" of solar power.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Your Partner: The American Solar Energy Society (ASES), a national organization dedicated to advancing the use of solar energy and bringing solar supporters together to create a sustainable energy economy. Get acquainted: ases.org
Your Goal: Be a "solar advocate." Work with ASES to strengthen education and outreach efforts needed to bring solar into the mainstream. Spread the word that this is the science that can save us.
Prove it to yourself. Want proof that solar technology is viable? Go online and Google "solar products"; see what's available.
Go on a solar tour. Communities all over the country offer tours of homes and businesses that have converted to solar. It's really inspiring. Most tours take place over the first weekend in October. Find the list of tours all over the country at NationalSolarTour.org
Steps for Success
Step 1. Bring solar to your family and friends. "By learning and talking about solar," says ASES president Brad Collins, "you'll already be helping to make it grow, because the biggest drawback (besides cost) is that people don't understand how real it is." ASES will supply all the resources you need to become solar-energy literate. Start with ASES's Web site. For more info and a variety of links, go to 50simplethings.com/solar
Step 2. Be an advocate. Government officials have to hear, over and over again, that the people want solar power, and that we want the government to invest in it now. Help elected officials stand up to Big Energy lobbyists who insist everything is just fine the way it is. Sign up for "solar action alerts" that will inform you whenever there's a legislative showdown you can be part of. Go to ases.org/about.htm and click "Get Email Updates."
Step 3. Bring solar to your community. While the cost of conventional types of energy go up, the cost of solar keeps coming down. Find out what solar rebates and incentives are available where you live; join forces with other pro-solar volunteers to push for new incentives; explore solar financing options. And if you can install solar at home, do it! ASES will help: ases.org
Chapter Four SUPPORT SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY
Forests once covered at least 48% of the Earth's land surface. Half of them are already gone.
BACKGROUND. Old forests feel magical. It seems like they've always been there ... and somehow they'll survive forever, no matter what we do.
But that's an illusion. About 95% of the ancient forests that existed in America 200 years ago are gone. As demand for forest products grows, the pressure to harvest more of America's natural forests keeps increasing. If we want them to survive, we have to make sure they're harvested sustainably.
DID YOU KNOW
Forests are more than just trees; they're complex ecosystems-delicate balances of plants, animals, microorganisms, soil, and water. They support about two-thirds of all life on the planet.
"If a forest is managed sustainably," says Richard Donovan of the Rainforest Alliance, "it can last forever. Even if it's logged, a sustainable forest will be healthy enough to support life."
Case in point, according to the NRDC: "The Collins Almanor forest in California contained 1.5 billion board feet of standing timber when harvesting began in 1941. Sixty years and 2 billion board feet later, this sustainably managed forest still holds 1.5 billion board feet of standing timber, and supports great blue heron rookeries, black bears, rubber boas and bald eagles."
Not all "sustainable" forests are equal. To some American lumber companies, a sustainable forest is one that keeps producing wood. So they have no problem cutting down old forests, destroying their ecosystems, and replacing them with fast-growing tree plantations.
Are those two forests equivalent? Not even close. "A plantation forest is more like a field of corn than a natural forest," says Donovan. "Unless a plantation is designed very carefully to protect ecosystems, it will be a hostile environment to nearly every animal, bird and even insects. And it's been shown to have a negative impact on the water cycle because nonnative, fast-growing trees use high volumes of water. Pesticides are also commonly used."
So although the total amount of trees in the U.S. is rising slightly, we're still losing forests. "And what we're not losing, we're degrading," Donovan explains. "They're taking out all the good trees and leaving the sickly ones, which degrades the seed base so only the weakest trees reproduce. It's a Darwinian nightmare."
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Your Partner: The Rainforest Alliance believes it's possible to create a sustainable society that protects the planet and provides sustainable livelihoods for its people. Visit rainforest-alliance.org
Your Goals: Find ways to protect America's forests and make sustainable forestry commercially viable.
Find 100% postconsumer recycled copier paper at a local office supply store. Chains like Staples or Office Depot normally carry it (call ahead to be sure), and it's probably more affordable than you think. Encourage others to do it, too. It's not just theoretical: By using paper that's been used before, you're saving trees and forests. For more information, go to 50simplethings.com/forests
Steps for Success
Step 1. Find out about sustainable forestry. In 1993, a group of businesses and environmental groups created the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to certify products from sustainably managed forests. The timber industry invented its own group, Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which condones practices like clear-cutting. Learn the difference: Go to rainforest-alliance.org and click on forestry. Other sites: fsc.org, dontbuysfi.com, 50simplethings.com/forests
Step 2. Support sustainable forestry. Buy wood and wood-related products (even maple syrup) certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (look for FSC on the product) and the Rainforest Alliance (look for a frog logo). By supporting local FSC businesses with your dollars, you're contributing to the long-term sustainability of working forests and the communities that depend on them. Check for the FSC logo on catalogs, too. For info, check out fsc.org or rainforest-alliance.org/forestry
Excerpted from 50 SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO SAVE THE EARTH by John Javna Sophie Javna Jesse Javna Copyright © 2008 by John Javna. Excerpted by permission.
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