The truth is, it's not so inconvenient to do your part to fight climate change. On Tuesday we observe the 38th anniversary of Earth Day. Here are 24 things you can do — one per hour — to walk more lightly on the planet. • That walk is sometimes impeded by unintended consequences. We buy an energy-efficient refrigerator, then worry that we're loading up the landfills with our castoffs. We feel virtuous about using items made from recycled plastic, only to discover that chemical additives are necessary to make it perform the way we want. We feel good wearing clothing made from recycled plastic bottles until we learn the fibers contain toxins, plasticizers and antioxidants that may harm human skin. The right thing to do isn't always obvious. • To the longtime mantra "Reduce, reuse, recycle," add one more R-word: "Rethink." This isn't about inconveniencing ourselves, pushing the guilt button or shivering in the dark. It's about making thoughtful choices so tomorrow is cleaner and greener than today. This Earth is the only one we have to pass on to our children.
Wakeup time. Take a shorter shower. A typical shower uses 11.6 gallons of water, which makes it the third-largest residential consumer of water each day. Install a low-flow showerhead to limit flow to 2.5 gallons per minute, and don't linger.
Save 5 gallons of water by turning off your low-flow faucet while you spend two minutes brushing your teeth. Ditto for shaving.
Carpool. Why should four cars spew hydrocarbons into the atmosphere when one will do? And with regular gas exceeding $3.40 a gallon, economizing just makes sense.
Take your coffee to go in a reusable mug and skip the daily paper cup and cardboard sleeve. Some coffee shops will give you a discount if you bring your own reusable mug.
Every U.S. office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. (So much for the paperless office!) Think before you hit "print." Do two-sided copying. Use e-mail or online forms instead of hard copy. Cut up unused printouts for scratch paper, or let the kids use them for coloring.
Break time. Sip tap water from a reusable bottle, not a throwaway plastic bottle. We throw away 38-billion plastic water bottles a year, made with more than 17-million barrels of oil.
Lunchtime. Use fewer paper napkins. Each American uses an average of 2,200 two-ply napkins each year, or just more than six per day. Using one fewer napkin per day would keep more than 1-billion pounds of napkins out of landfills.
Before you get back to work, go to www.catalogchoice.org and get yourself off the mailing lists of catalogs you don't want. Each year, 19-billion catalogs are mailed to American consumers. That involves 53-million trees and 3.6-million tons of paper.
Maybe you're at home today. Make your own all-purpose cleaner. Mix 1/2 cup borax (in the laundry aisle) and 1 gallon of hot water in a pail. (Or use 1/8 cup borax to a quart of hot water in a spray bottle.) Dissolve the borax completely. Use to clean floors, countertops, appliances. For a mild abrasive, sprinkle baking soda on a damp sponge and scrub away.
As you walk the dog or get your exercise, pick up one piece of trash and dispose of it properly. How many plastic bags, water bottles and beverage cans do you see in the streets? Amazing, isn't it?
Visit the home center to choose colors for a paint job. Choose one of the new paints with no VOCs (volatile organic compounds — chemicals that make paint smell like paint and contribute to poor air quality). Most of the big labels offer low- or no-VOC paint: Benjamin Moore's Aura, Sherwin Williams' Harmony. ICI just introduced a Home Depot house brand called Freshaire Choice, which claims to have no VOCs in either the base paint or the color additives.
On your way home (good for you for grouping errands rather than making lots of short trips), stop at the supermarket to shop for dinner. Use a cloth bag instead of plastic or paper. Americans annually throw away 14-billion plastic bags, which are made with 12-million barrels of oil. Seattle is considering charging 20 cents per disposable shopping bag at grocery, drug and convenience stores. Starting Oct. 1, IKEA will no longer offer plastic bags.
Close the refrigerator door. Don't stand there with the door open while you think about what to eat. Every time you open the refrigerator door you increase energy consumption by 10 percent.
Rent and watch An Inconvenient Truth, the movie that galvanized public attention on the subject of climate change.
Recycle batteries and old cell phones. Visit www.earth911.org or www.call2recycle.org for a list of retail stores (including Home Depot, Lowe's, Target, Best Buy, Circuit City, many more) that provide dropoff boxes for batteries and phones. At www.911cellphonebank.org, print out a mailing label and get free shipping when you donate an old phone. Don't throw batteries and phones in the trash: They wind up in the landfill, where they leach toxic metals into soil and water. For the full story on the cell phone problem, go to www.collectivegood.com/news.asp and click on the New York Times story on "The Afterlife of Cellphones."
Replace a burned-out bulb with a compact fluorescent, which uses 75 percent less energy and lasts 10 times longer. Don't like the curly look? Manufacturers now offer CFLs that look like conventional incandescents. Some will work with ceiling fans or dimmer switches; check the label.
Relax by candlelight, but make sure they're soy-based candles rather than paraffin, which produces soot and pollutants.
Use the power-saver or sleep mode on your computer when you're not using it. The federal Energy Star program says that if all office computers and monitors in the United States were set to sleep when not being used, the country could save $4-billion worth of electricity and avoid the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of about 5-million cars each year. (Purists will insist you should turn your computer off, saying it takes 100 to 500 trees to offset the carbon dioxide emissions of a single computer left on all year.)
Run the dishwasher now, using its "delayed start" function, when energy demand
and costs are lower. Operate it only with a full load. It uses the same amount of water and energy whether it's full or half empty. Skip the "heated dry" cycle, which accounts for 7 percent of dishwasher energy usage.
Eliminate power vampires, those LEDs
that are on all the time and suck energy 24/7. (Walk through the house in the dark some time. You'll be amazed at how many clocks you have: on the radio, the coffeemaker, the range, the microwave, the portable CD player, the emergency weather radio . . .) Unplug chargers when you're not using them. Plug items into a power strip you can turn off.
Use a programmable thermostat to adjust the temperature while you sleep. No need to heat or cool the house to the max during the night, or during the day when no one's home. Turn the thermostat up 2 degrees in summer, down 2 degrees in winter. Find ways to be comfortable that don't involve burning more fossil fuel.
If you have a lawn irrigation system, run it on the days and hours that comply with local watering restrictions, typically one day a week before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. Watering during the hottest part of the day wastes water.
You're awake listening to a dripping faucet or a running toilet. Fix them. A faucet that drips one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons per year, and you're paying for it.
Recycle. If your city provides it, put items out for curbside recycling. If not, find local recycling dropoff spots and load up the car. Supermarkets provide recycling bins for plastic and paper bags and foam egg cartons.
Sources: Tampa Bay Water, American Home Appliance Manufacturers, Frigidaire, American Water Works Association, Starbucks, reduce.org, catalogchoice.org, The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time, by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen (Three Rivers Press, $12.95), Environmental Protection Agency, General Electric, National Geographic Green Guide, ask.yahoo.com, Consumer Reports, New York City Department of Sanitation, Container Recycling Institute, Cradle to Cradle, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart (North Point Press, $27.50), American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, earthday.net, Tufts University Office of Sustainability, American Water and Energy Savers, Times files