Among the lessons I am learning from this paralyzing pandemic is not to take you for granted, which I have been. I am sorry. If we ever do return to a semblance of our former lives, Girl Scout’s honor, I am going to appreciate you a lot more. I already do.
Though my former way of life feels like a distant memory, I recall a time, not so long ago, when I freely roamed from office to gym, from hair salon to restaurant, from airplane to hotel, never once thinking about being taken hostage by a deadly virus. Then one invisible parasitic agent single-handedly ground this wonderful life we knew to a halt.
I miss my world.
However, this global health crisis has also given me great hope for you, and for all of those who depend on you. I’ve learned that while one person staying home and staying clean matters little, when millions make the same healthy, sacrificial steps, we can have a profound world-changing impact.
You deserve that.
What I’m getting to here is that being forced to stay home has made me reconsider our effect on you, our planet, this big rotating rock uniquely positioned to support life. And we – I’ll speak for myself here, I -- have been remiss.
This week, on April 22 we celebrate Earth Day. Though this awareness day has been around since 1970, I have never, I sadly confess, in the 17 years I’ve been writing this home column, written about it.
But I now realize, thanks to this crisis, that a healthier world – like so much else -- starts at home.
While many of your inhabitants are changing their habits to help humanity, I am going to recommend that from this Earth Day on we all adopt some habits to help you, our amazing planet, too.
I tapped my friend and home improvement expert Kathryn Emery, and GlobalCitizen.org to uncover these 15 easy ways you can start saving resources and healing our world.
1. Bring on the fans. Energy spent heating and cooling homes accounts for about 46 percent of the average household’s energy consumption. Turn off the HVAC and turn on your ceiling fans when possible. Run them counterclockwise in the summer and clockwise in the winter. Use a programmable thermostat to time your heating and cooling use around times you’re home. These can save up to 10 percent on annual heating and cooling costs, said Emery, who is also spokeswoman for Energy Upgrade California, an initiative to help residents be more energy conscious said. “Big savings really can happen with the flip of a switch.”
2. Turn down the heat. In cooler months, you can save about 2 percent of your heating bill for each degree that you lower the thermostat. Changing your thermostat’s setting from 70°F to 65°F, for instance, would save about 10 percent.
3. Cool it on the water. Heating water is the second largest home energy expense accounting for about 20 percent of most household energy use, said Emery. The average family spends between $400 and $600 on water heating each year. Lower that by washing your clothes in cold water. Choose an energy-efficient water heater and set it to 120 degrees or lower.
4. Don’t drive if you can bike or walk. Fewer cars on the road has reduced our carbon footprint and gas consumption. Plus, being outdoors feels good.
5. Hang it up. When practical, line dry your clothes instead of using the dryer.
6. Use recyclable water bottles. U.S. residents consume 50 billion plastic water bottles annually. Most end up in landfills or oceans, according to GlobalCitizen.org.
7. Buy upcycled. Purchase products made from recycled material. This spring a line of planters made from recycled ocean plastic debuted at Lowe’s. Bloem, a planter manufacturer, partnered with recycling organizations to re-use plastic waste from shorelines and create its Ocean Series planters.
8. Unplug. Anything plugged in bleeds energy even when not in use. This “phantom” energy loss costs the average household about $165 a year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, and accounts for 4.6 percent of the country’s total residential electricity use.
9. Be part of nature. Build a birdhouse. Plant a garden or a tree. Start composting.
10. Turn off the lights, when you leave a room. The average household spends about 5 percent of its energy on lighting.
11. Clean it. Don’t make your air conditioner work harder than it has to. Replace dirty HVAC filters often. During the summer, this can lower your energy use by up to 15 percent.
12. Seal it. Don’t heat and cool the outdoors. Seal and insulate around windows and doors, and inside attics and walls.
13. Cook out. Grilling outdoors uses less energy than traditional ovens, and doesn’t heat up the house, Emery said.
14. Switch to LED bulbs. Residential LEDs use at least 75 percent less energy, and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting, according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy. By 2027, widespread use of LEDs could save more than $30 billion at today's electricity prices, compared to no LED use.
15. Shop local. Support local businesses and growers who don’t have to ship goods, and also look for environmentally sustainable products.
If we all do a little, the world will benefit a lot. Happy Earth Day, World.
CAPTION: Upcycled ocean plastic – These Ocean Series planters, which debuted this spring at Lowe’s, contain plastic recycled from waste that washed up on beaches. Photo courtesy of Bloem.