Earth is home to a magnificent, interconnected series of ecosystems that maintain an astonishing variety of life, from microbes to elephants, from algae to eagles, from fungi to your next-door neighbor. But the planet—and its inhabitants—face some major challenges. Climate change is making the seas rise and the weather change, and threatening biodiversity. There isn’t enough clean water in many parts of the world. Natural habitats like forests and wetlands are disappearing. Mountains of trash are piling up at an alarming rate. And people are being exposed to toxic chemicals in their homes and at work.
These threats are caused by people who have put their economies, technologies, and convenience first—and the Earth is paying the price. But more and more folks are starting to recognize the importance of living in harmony with the earth rather than exploiting it. They want healthy, natural foods and products instead of those laden with chemicals and toxins. They’re trying to conserve resources by reducing consumption, using energy more efficiently, and finding renewable energy sources. And they’re doing things with an awareness that we’re stewards of the earth—not just for ourselves, but also for other creatures and for future generations.
This book takes a look at how things got this way. And, more importantly, it tells you specific things you can do every day to live a greener life.
When you look at the mess humans have made of the planet, it’s easy to despair. What good does it do, you may wonder, to carry reusable shopping bags or sort recyclables when factories continue to belch out more pollution each day than you cause in a whole year?
Doing your part makes a difference because there’s power in numbers. As more people take steps to save the environment—reducing consumption, recycling and reusing, wasting less, becoming more energy efficient, insisting on renewable energy and sustainable industry—the effect builds. Think globally, but act where you can: at home, in your community, at work, and by joining or donating to environmental groups. Educate and encourage others, as well. The more people who work together to protect the environment, the bigger impact they’ll have.
The planet didn’t get this way overnight: It took lots of small steps to create these huge environmental problems. Fixing them won’t happen overnight, either. But everything you do to live a healthier, more responsible, greener life is a step in the right direction.
You’ve probably heard people mention carbon footprints, but you may not quite know what that term means. Your carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere because of things you do. (As Wind Energy explains, greenhouse gases trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere and cause global warming.) You may already think about emissions when you drive your car or pay your utility bills, but there are many factors that contribute to your carbon footprint:
The size of your household.
How energy efficient your home is.
How much you travel and how you get there (plane, car, and so on).
What you eat and how that food was produced.
How much waste your household produces and how you deal with that waste.
Even factors like your age and where you live contribute to your carbon footprint. For example, according to one U.K. study, people aged 50–65 have bigger carbon footprints than people in other age groups.
So how do you find out how big your carbon footprint is? The University of California at Berkeley can tell you. Point your browser to http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu to use the school’s Cool Climate Carbon Footprint Calculator.
Spend a few minutes telling the site about your household, energy use, and consumption, and it’ll figure out the size of your footprint and how it compares to similar households, your country’s average, and the world average.
Worldwide, carbon footprints average about 4 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year. But in North America, the average is five times higher: 20 tons per person per year. European countries tend to do better. For example, the average footprint in the U.K. is about 10 tons per year, and in France it’s only 6.
Once you know your carbon “shoe size”, you can take action to mitigate it by changing your habits (walking or taking the bus instead of driving, for example), consuming less (it takes energy to make the products you buy), and doing things to offset the carbon emissions you cause (like planting trees or investing in clean energy; Buying Carbon Offsets tells you more about carbon offsets). Throughout this book, you’ll find lots of suggestions and tips for saving energy, money, and the climate.
Ever since Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring sounded the alarm about the effects of pesticides on the environment, countless books have been published that show how human behavior is taking a toll on the planet. Taken together, they present a convincing argument. But even if you want to start living a healthier, more environmentally responsible lifestyle, where do you begin?
That’s where Living Green: The Missing Manual comes in. Although this book gives you plenty of reasons to think about your impact on the planet, its real focus is practical suggestions for making your impact a positive one. These pages are packed with tips, ideas, and instructions for greening in all areas of your life: at home, on the road, at work, at the grocery store, and beyond.
You probably picked up this book for one of two reasons: Either you’re wondering what all the environmentalists are so worked up about (and what it has to do with you) or you’re committed to living more responsibly and looking for more ways to put your ideals into practice. Either way, this book is for you. You’ll get both the whys and the hows of greener living, and learn things you can do today to make the world a better place for everyone—now and for generations to come.
You’ll be happy to know that the pages of this book are printed on 100% recycled paper that’s made using biogas energy, a renewable fuel source. Every ton of this paper that’s manufactured saves 17 trees and over 10,000 gallons of water compared to paper from virgin materials.
Living Green: The Missing Manual is divided into three parts, each containing several chapters:
Part I, Living Green Begins at Home helps you find ways to start living a healthier, greener lifestyle. Individuals don’t have a lot of control over government policies or corporate practices, but you’re the undisputed ruler of your home (well, unless you have a cat—then everyone knows who’s really the boss). These chapters help you make your home a greener, healthier place to live:
Home Green Home: Creating a Safe, Earth-Friendly Place to Live (Chapter 1) gives you a tour of the hazards that may be lurking in cupboards, closets, and other parts of your home. You may be surprised to learn how many seemingly innocuous products could be harming your family’s health. But don’t worry—the chapter is packed with recipes and tips for healthy, natural alternatives. And you’ll also find tips for growing a lawn that’s both lush and nontoxic.
Save Energy, Money, and the Earth (Chapter 2) is all about energy efficiency. This chapter shows you how to do a home energy audit (or hire a pro to do one for you), how to choose energy-efficient appliances, and how to avoid wasting energy and increasing your bills. Saving energy means reducing your carbon footprint, so you can save money and help the planet at the same time.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Chapter 3) takes a familiar mantra—the new three Rs—and shows why it’s important. This chapter also offers fresh thinking on how to reduce consumption (and waste), find new uses for old items, and recycle just about everything, including stuff like electronics and worn-out tires.
Building and Remodeling (Chapter 4) explains the principles of green construction and shows how to put them to work for you, whether you’re building a new home or remodeling an existing one. You’ll learn about LEED certification (what that means and why you should look for it) finding a contractor you can work with, and hazards to watch out for when remodeling.
Part II, Greening Your Lifestyle looks at greener ways to do everyday things. Whether you’re playing with the kids, giving the dog a bath, eating a cheeseburger, or shopping for a new t-shirt, these chapters help you find more earth-friendly ways to do them:
Raising a Green Family (Chapter 5) looks at how to ensure a nontoxic environment for your baby, get through the first couple of years of a baby’s life without adding a mountain of diapers to landfills, teach your kids respect for the earth, and encourage teens to take responsibility and get involved. There’s also a section on green pet care.
Eating Green: It’s Not Just Spinach Anymore (Chapter 6) explains how food is produced in the modern world—and how you can choose food that’s made without toxic chemicals or iffy farming practices. Whether you’re growing your own food or buying it at the store, you’ll learn what organic means and why it’s good for you. You’ll also find tips on eating healthy when you go out.
Responsible Shopping (Chapter 7) helps you feel better about the purchases you make by pointing out earth-friendly options. You’ll read about fair-trade goods, organic and natural clothing, and nontoxic health and beauty products. You’ll also learn about environmentally friendly gifts and companies that give something back.
Going Green: Transportation and Travel (Chapter 8) explores traveling in ways that don’t leave giant-sized carbon footprints all along your route. Get tips for minimizing driving—and getting better fuel efficiency when you do go by car. Find the most fuel-efficient car so you can save money at the pump and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. And if you’re taking a longer trip (whether for business, pleasure, or a little of both), you’ll find tips for getting there greener.
Part III, A Greener World moves beyond the home and personal spheres to the big, wide world. Whether it’s in your community, your country, or across the globe, you can join forces with others to improve the quality of life on earth:
Green Business Is Good Business (Chapter 9) shows that making a difference and making a profit don’t have to conflict. This chapter begins with ways you can green your workplace, from reducing waste to starting an office recycling program. It also looks at green-collar jobs, predicted to grow throughout the next decade and beyond. And it finishes with ways that companies can go greener, by purchasing carbon offsets and donating to earth-loving charities.
Alternative and Renewable Energy (Chapter 10) peeks into the future of energy, looking at technologies that are currently in use, under development, or on the horizon to produce power that’s clean, renewable, and sustainable. The chapter covers wind, solar, and geothermal energy; hydropower; biomass; and hydrogen fuel cells.
Getting Involved (Chapter 11) suggests ways to use your time, efforts, and money to make a difference and help the earth. You’ll learn about starting a grassroots project in your community, finding likeminded environmentalists online, and participating in national and international efforts. The chapter also covers environmentally responsible investing, so you can do good in the world while funding your nest egg.
At www.missingmanuals.com, you’ll find articles, tips, and updates to this book. In fact, we invite and encourage you to submit such corrections and updates yourself. In an effort to keep this book as up to date and accurate as possible, each time we print more copies of it, we’ll make any confirmed corrections you’ve suggested. We’ll also note such changes on the website, so you can mark important corrections into your copy of the book, if you like. (Go to http://missingmanuals.com/feedback, choose the book’s name from the pop-up menu, and then click Go to see the changes.)
Also on our Feedback page, you can get expert answers to questions that come to you while reading this book, write a book review, and find groups for folks who share your interest in green living.
We’d love to hear your suggestions for new books in the Missing Manual line. There’s a place for that on missingmanuals.com, too. And while you’re online, you can also register this book at www.oreilly.com (you can jump directly to the registration page by going to http://tinyurl.com/yo82k3). Registering means we can send you updates about this book, and you’ll be eligible for special offers like discounts on future editions of Living Green: The Missing Manual.
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