These days, you can’t turn around without hearing about climate change. It’s a big issue that can feel overwhelming — but it’s possible for each of us to have a positive effect right in our own homes, by making simple changes in the way we eat, play and get around. Chip Giller of environmental magazine Grist.org offers a 7-day solution for cutting your family’s energy consumption by almost 10 percent. Try it for a week, then stick with it if you can — because every little bit helps.
Day 1: Turn down the heat
Here’s a quick, easy solution that will save money and energy: Turn down your thermostat. Lowering your heat in winter by just 2 degrees can cut your energy bill by 10 percent. Get an automatic or programmable thermostat to make it easy to save on heating; set it to turn down when you’re away from home or sleeping, and to turn back up half an hour before you’ll be up and around.
Day 2: Unplug gadgets
Electronic equipment and appliances suck up energy even when they’re turned off — they’ve even earned the nickname “vampires.” Americans waste $1 billion a year powering items like TVs and DVD players while they’re turned off. So unplug your TV, stereo, computer, microwave and other electronics when you’re not using them — or use a power strip that you keep turned off unless you’re using one of the items. And make sure to unplug your cell phone and MP3 player chargers as soon as the devices are powered up.
Day 3: Wash clothes efficiently
When it comes to laundry, there’s lots of room for savings. Ninety percent of the energy used in clothes washing goes to heat the water, so washing cold is a simple way to cut energy use drastically. Plus, make sure to wash full loads. When it’s time to dry, make sure to check the lint screen before every load, and clean it afterward. And if you want to take efficiency a step further, hang some items and let them air-dry instead of running them through the dryer.
Day 4: Eat less meat
Meat production takes a lot more energy and resources than growing vegetables or grains, and 18 percent of human-generated greenhouse gases come from the livestock industry. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to make a difference in this area: Try skipping meat just one day a week. If every American had one meat-free day per week, it would reduce emissions as much as taking 8 million cars off the roads.
Day 5: Put the brakes on driving
Vehicles consume half of the world’s oil, and spew a quarter of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. Leaving your car at home even one day a week can save a lot of gas and emissions over a year. Try walking, biking, car pooling or taking the bus or subway to get where you need to go — or see if you could telecommute to work one day a week. When you do drive, make sure your tires are properly inflated — underinflated tires can cut your gas mileage by 5 percent.
Day 6: Go green in the home
Pick a small project you can do around the house to cut energy use. Here are a few ideas: Replace six regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs use about one-fifth as much energy as regular bulbs, and last about 12 times longer). Install a low-flow showerhead, which will save on water heating and use. Lower the temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees and insulate the tank. If you’re feeling ambitious, undertake a home energy audit to identify projects for the future.
Day 7: Write a letter
While it’s true that small changes at home can make a big difference, one of the most important things you can do when it comes to climate and energy is to let business and political leaders know that you care about these issues. Take some time to write a letter to a store, a manufacturer, or your representative to thank them for their good work — or to encourage them to do better. Look at their Web sites for contact info. You don’t have to be an expert on the issues to speak up. And if we all put in our two cents, it will add up to some positive planetary change.
Chip Giller is president of Grist.org.