Taking Climate Change Personally

As summer turns to fall, it’s a good time to take stock of recent efforts on clean energy policy. A lot happened this summer: The Gulf Coast oil spill was finally capped and serious talk occurred in Washington, D.C. about moving the U.S. away from dependence on oil. Unfortunately, little came of this conversation. Climate and clean energy legislation stalled in the Senate and meanwhile, an attack on California’s clean energy law called Prop 23 will be on the November ballot. 

Amidst these political challenges in Sacramento and DC, I thought I’d lighten it up a little by reminding us how we can take action in our own lives to reduce our oil dependence. Simple personal actions we can take: No congressman to convince, no legislation to support. 

With the help of my favorite green guru Mindy Pennybacker, below are ten every day actions you can you can take to shrink your oil footprint while getting outside to enjoy the warm fall weather.

‘Wait’ you say? Can individuals really make a difference on these issues? The answer: Yes! Our collective consumer muscle, which according to Mindy represents 70% of the U.S. economy, matters now more than ever in redirecting the marketplace toward energy and products that rely less on fossil fuels.

Mindy’s new book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices offers a number of great tips we can use in every day life to protect the Golden State.

Below are the top ten things you can do for the environment today.  Starting from #10… 

10. Say no to bottled water and non-recyclable plastics.
If every American stopped buying water in disposable bottles and used free water from the tap, we’d save at least 17 million barrels of oil a year. That’s equivalent to taking one million cars off the road. And certainly we can do our part to reduce the great Pacific Ocean garbage patch. For a list of safer reusable plastics, click here. 

9. Use compost and organic fertilizers in your garden.
Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, made from fossil fuels, overload the soil with nutrients.  These nutrients run off into waterways and out to sea, polluting groundwater supplies and stimulating the growth of algae which causes oxygen-depleted dead zones in the ocean.  Use natural composts when possible and while you’re at it, complete the composting cycle by putting your food scraps into the green composting bin. More than 200 vineyards and farms in Northern California now use compost from San Francisco instead of man-made fertilizers. 

8. Use green cleaning and personal care products.
Many conventional detergents, liquid soaps and shampoos contain chemicals that harm reproductive development in marine life–and may impact human hormones, too. Keep toxins out of the gay by using one of the many cleaning and cosmetic brands that steer clear of these and other toxic tongue-twisters.

7. Use a nontoxic sunblock.
Headed out for an afternoon in Golden Gate Park or the Oakland hills? Don’t forget safe sunscreen. A widely used sunscreen chemical, known as oxybenzone, has been linked to harming fish and coral. BP-3 is also a suspected human hormone disrupter that’s been found in 97 percent of Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control. 

6. Reduce runoff when washing your car.
For those of us who have driveways, keep soapy, greasy water out of storm drains by washing your cars on flat surfaces instead of sloped driveways and use porous materials like gravel and pebbles for terraces, driveways, and paths.  For car-less BART and Muni riders (you guys are a step ahead!), conserve clean water by taking shorter showers and turning off the tap while sudsing, shaving and brushing teeth. 

5. Drive alone less, use public transportation, carpool, bike & walk more.
Not only are these methods of transport environmentally friendly, they are much cheaper ways of getting around. Casual Carpool is a great way to get around the Bay Area especially if you don’t live near public transportation hubs.  “If enough people reduce driving or switch to more energy-efficient vehicles, gasoline demand would decline and prices would decrease,” the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports.  Its basic economics: reduced demand results in reduced production. 

4. Properly inflate your tires.
Believe it or not, low tire pressure wastes over two million gallons of gasoline in the US—every day! Save about a tank of gas a year by keeping your tires properly inflated. And make sure to have your tires correctly aligned to maximize fuel economy. 

3. Use propane/gas or natural charcoal to fire up the grill.
Every July 4th, our 60 million U.S. barbecues emit 225,000 metric tons of CO2.  Use propane and gas tanks that release the least carbon when burned.  Get rid of toxic charcoal that spews sootcook with solid charcoal from well-managed forests instead of toxic-glue-bound briquettes (never dump these on a beach!). The EPA advises a chimney or electric starter instead of lighter fluids, which produce 14,500 tons of smog. Next time you’re headed to Crissy Field for a BBQ, make sure you grab clean charcoal!

2. Turn off lights and avoid air conditioning.
Incandescent light bulbs waste 90% of their energy as heat. Even CFLs waste 30%, so turn off unnecessary lights to keep your space cooler. For those rare, toasty days when you use air conditioning in the Bay Area, turn the temperature up a bit. Air conditioning represents 21% of annual home electricity consumption. A shift from 72°F to 74°F in the summer will save 366 pounds of CO2/year and $28 on the average annual energy bill.

 1. Most importantly, join other Californians to TAKE ACTION. Two Texas oil companies are trying to kill clean energy and air pollution standards in California by killing our landmark law AB32. The oilies have put Prop. 23 on the November ballot, which will allow polluters to avoid our state’s clean energy standards, kill competition and jobs from California’s emerging clean technology companies, and keep us addicted to dirty, costly oil. 

Join the NO on Prop 23 campaign and fight to keep California’s landmark clean energy policy moving us forward. 

This entry was posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Pacific Ocean, Politics. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Dr. James Singmaster
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 2:53 am | Permalink

    This is such small thinking when we need big action. We have a monstrous organic waste problem as indicated by the Salmonrella-egg problem blamed on wastes recently in the news and by EPA’s putting limits on several drugs showing up in drinking water systems. To get these wastes under control, we need to have a federal waste control agency established that can call for using pyrolysis of the wastes to make them into a biofuel resource. By using pyrolysis on them, we can save many billions of dollars spent because monitoring costs would be eliminated as all drugs, toxics and germs would be destroyed so no expenses for monitoring dumps would be necessary and no costly escapes would be possible. I have outlined this in quite a few comments on EDF blogs and with e-mails to EDF staff, who seem to be out to lunch on the problems of our massive ever-expanding messes of organic wastes and sewage. Due to lack of attention to those wastes, they may be what compromise our descendants’ survival. Dr. J. Singmaster, Fremont, CA

  2. Posted September 22, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Dr. Singmaster, your call for larger action is accurate from my view. I would like to receive more informational resources on this issue via email (wcrowfoot@edf.org). Thank you for commenting. Wade