Even the environmentally sensitive can do more on the home front


January 02, 1991|By Susan McGrath | Susan McGrath,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

We separate our garbage. We recycle. We schlep our own bags to the grocery store. We wash everything that doesn't move in a solution of vinegar and water. We use rechargeable batteries. We wrap presents in the funny papers. We cut the grass (such as it is) with a push mower. And we would never, ever, dump our motor oil down a storm drain.

Yes, here at my house we certainly are pretty environmentally aware. We do all the easy things to reduce our impact on the environment. Easy, that is, compared to the biggest environmental challenge of all -- reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. For us, as for everyone else, conserving energy is, well, it's HARDER.

Take transportation, for example. Cars are one of the planet's principal environmental villains, particularly in the United States. Not only do they burn billions of gallons of gasoline, but they pollute the air and require the paving over of an enormous amount of land.

And yet, like most Americans, I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time behind the wheel. We all know the reasons. In most places, public transportation is inadequate, and it can be more expensive than driving your own car. Most of us live too far from work to walk. And riding a bike requires nerves of steel and showers at the office, a combination few of us possess.

What about those other big guzzlers of fossil fuels -- home heating and electricity? Weatherstripping the house is a worthy occupation I haven't really found time for, and the night set-back thermostat was the wrong kind and is now languishing on the mantelpiece. So much for MY heating bills.

My seeming inability to tackle this harder-to-tackle issue is not something I'm very happy about. So, as I contemplate the coming of the New Year -- the coming of my winter heating bills, the possible coming of an oil war in the Middle East -- it seems appropriate to try a little harder to save energy.

So I would like to propose something radical for the New Year: that each of us does three simple things to conserve energy use in 1991.

They don't need to be big things. In fact, let's start with modest things. Here's what I suggest:

(1) Wear a sweater at home and never turn the thermostat above 68 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're young and hardy, make that 65.

(2) Install a night set-back thermostat. Program it to turn the heat down to 55 degrees at night, and again during the day if the house is empty. You can buy these thermostats at a good hardware store. Ask a lot of questions to make sure you get the right style for your furnace and wiring. (Take it from me, you can't make an educated guess on this one.)

(3) Find a colleague willing to suffer the inconvenience of car-pooling with you just one day a week. Chances are it will be inconvenient, or you'd be doing it already. You may have to adjust your timing slightly. You may have to drive somewhat out of your way. But, if the colleague is one with whom you can discuss work, you can make the commute time more valuable by doing so.

If car-pooling even one day is completely out of the question for you, how about walking, riding a bike or taking public transportation one day? Try it. It may not be as impossible as it seems. If you don't work outside your home, apply the car-pooling idea to any regularly scheduled car trips: to the playground, religious services, soccer practice, the grocery store. Either double up with a friend, or go for a walk instead of taking a drive.

The nice thing about saving energy is that, as Alan Durning of World Watch Institute points out, you get report cards in the mail every month: from your electric, gas and oil utilities, and from the gasoline credit card company.

I don't know about your report cards, but mine haven't been exactly awe-inspiring. Here's hoping we'll all do better in 1991.

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