Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=112289
Story Retrieval Date: 5/26/2013 1:13:59 AM CST
"Each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet,” said President Barack Obama in his inaugural address.
He called upon Americans to begin protecting our environment by rethinking the way we consume energy.
The changes Obama urged begin with each individual, experts say. Collectively, Americans who each adjust their energy use a little can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption that contribute to global warming. What’s more, small changes also can save around $1,500 a year for the average household.
"Negawatts" may be the answer. When an individual uses less energy from the local power grid, more energy is available for someone else to use. That leftover, unused energy is measured in negawatts by some experts. More negawatts—a fancy word for available energy—means America would need less energy and fewer new power plants to keep the same lifestyle.
“You look at the cumulative effect and that’s when you see the huge impact,” said Larry Merritt, public information officer for the Chicago Department of Energy. “We want to educate people and let them know that their individual actions combined with other individual’s actions, they do make a difference.”
Visible air pollution, such as sulfur emissions from coal plants, generally affects areas downwind from the source. “CO2 mixes really rapidly in the atmosphere and extends globally,” said Bob Moseley, the director of conservation programs in Illinois for The Nature Conservancy. Unlike local pollution, he said, individual changes to cut CO2 emissions can have a far-reaching effect.
If each person in Chicago turned off the tap while brushing their teeth, saving 4 gallons of water per individual, the city would save enough water to fill 33,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to Merritt.
“The impact is substantial,” he said, adding that Chicago could cut its CO2 emissions by 1,000 pounds if each resident replaced one car trip per month with walking or riding a bike.
To encourage local individuals to adopt such environmentally-friendly habits, the city and state governments have created a variety of online resources including tip sheets, challenges and tools to measure personal energy usage.
“Carbon calculators can help put things in perspective,” said Moseley, whose organization offers a free personal calculator. “Look at the relative amounts: driving less has less of an impact than, say, reducing electricity use in your house [and] eating less meat has a huge impact.”
Other tools are available through the Keep Warm Illinois Web site, which addresses steps homeowners can take, and the Sierra Club.
“We can no longer … consume the world's resources without regard to effect,” Obama said. “For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”