Sweat the Small Stuff

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Gwenda Kaczor / www.gwenda.com

It’s become fashionable for cynics and contrarians to point out the relative uselessness of “personal solutions” to environmental concerns. Change your lightbulbs? A drop in the bucket. Drive one less trip? Try getting rid of your car, jerk. A year ago, we pointed readers to a piece in Orion by Derrick Jensen in which the firebrand prodded readers to think beyond “simple living as a political act” and confront the larger consequences of an environmentally destructive industrial economy.

Jensen’s point remains relevant, if only because the systemic status quo is still an environmental nightmare. But some new numbers make it clear that sweating the small stuff can pay dividends. Conservation(April-June 2010) reports that Americans could reduce the country’s annual CO2 emissions by 7 percent–roughly the total emissions of France–just by taking 17 relatively painless environmental actions.

Some of the changes are ambitious, such as weatherizing attics and replacing inefficient HVAC systems. Others are more basic: reducing laundry water temperature and line drying, regular vehicle maintenance, eliminating standby electricity. Making an extra effort to silence the skeptics, the researchers who ran the numbers figured that not everyone would be persuaded to fall in line, so they adjusted adoption rates based on previous recorded responses to environmental interventions. For a link to the research and the complete list of 17 actions, visit Utne.com/SmallGreen.

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