This article from the most recent National Geographic has probably sent me down the path of action, instead of just scheming, in terms of energy conservation. Any headway I've made in energy conservation up until now has always been within my comfort zone. I believe it is time, though, to start conservation tactics that take us out of our comfort zone.
For instance, we have a very nice gas dryer, excepting the fact that I recently broke the selector knob and now we have to use a pair of pliers on it. I know that natural gas emits far less greenhouse gas (GHG, for the environmentally cool) than coal or oil, but I can't help but think that air-drying our clothes outside during the hot, dry Utah summers would be the better approach. Not necessarily an easier approach, in fact it may be a pain in butt, but the upside in terms of saving emissions and money in the form of lower bills could be tremendous.
I have perhaps the world's crappiest gas lawnmower. My goal was to upgrade this spring to a new one, but I have recently become aware of a rising tide of reel, or push, mowers. Yes, the old push mower, as seen here . . .
. . . is now hip again, as seen here:
He's happy because it cuts just about was well (unless you are trying to pulverize twigs and leaves), it emits zero GHG (as opposed to gas-powered mowers which emit 11 times more per hour than your average car), it is way more quiet (you can now listen to your iPod whilst mowing), and he happens to be getting in shape because it is powered by human muscle.
A huge amount of energy is wasted by appliances, no kidding, but specifically appliances that are turned off but still plugged in, or in standby mode. This is called Vampire Energy and is costing you hundreds of dollars a year and emitting, on a national level, millions of tons of GHG into the atmosphere. So the first step, of course, is to turn off those unused appliances like computers, TV's, lamps, DVD players, and Wii's. The next step is to start unplugging. This has the potential to become extremely annoying, I imagine, and I'm not sure I want my little kids to have to start plugging in the TV to watch it in the morning (though the TV is the most blood-thirsty vampire of them all), but the positives once again outweigh the negatives.
My dream, by the way, is to install a solar panel on the garage roof. There is significant headway that needs to be made first in terms of marital relations in my particular case, but this has the potential to be a big deal. There are significant tax credits on both the state and federal levels for renewable energy purchases, including solar panels. This is one that probably won't save you a ton of money, though, in the short term. Even over the long term, say 5-10 years, it may be a wash. But think of the satisfaction of not relying on the grid that is powered, depending on where you live, almost exclusively by dirty coal-fired power plants. Think of the tons and tons of GHG that you won't be emitting, instead relying on the energy provided by the great Giver of Clean and Renewable and Free to Everyone Energy, the sun. Think of being able to turn on your lamp when everyone else on the block has lost their power because some teenager threw his shoes on the powerline down the street. You probably wouldn't even have to worry about unplugging your TV at night. I can picture a time in the not-so-distant future where most houses have a solar panel for their personal use.
The whopper, though, is your car. Americans are driving less recently, but we still have some major progress to make. The average American drives around 33 miles a day, which is staggering. Most of that comes from the commute to and from work. The culprit is the desire to live farther and farther out in the suburbs and exurbs, resulting in sprawl. Factor in that a gallon of gas creates over 19 pounds of CO2, and you will find that the average vehicle (and how many vehicles do you own?) will emit somewhere around 12,000 pounds of CO2 per year.
Small changes in driving habits can save thousands of pounds of GHG every year. Driving slower, inflating tires properly, planning ahead and making mulitple errands at once, taking the train or bus, carpooling to work and school, and actually walking places (like to church!) are some ways to save gas. I know I'm not alone in considering this the most difficult area of improvement. We love the mobility and freedom that come with driving and it is nearly impossible to give it up. But if we are going to make a difference for our children, this is an area way outside our comfort zone where we can make the largest improvements.
If the proper way to understand our relationship with earth is one of stewardship, which I believe is true, then we are going to have to make sacrifices and change our lifestyles in order to be good stewards. And just like in the parable of the talents in the New Testament, I truly believe the Lord will reward our willingness to improve upon our stewardships by making the earth beautiful and healthy through our living a sustainable lifestyle.