Sunday, December 30, 2007

Celebrate the new year by helping the environment

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel December 30, 2007)

With the exception of birthdays, anniversaries, Halloween and April Fool's Day, I'm not a fan of most celebratory events. There's something about the intense commercialism surrounding all American holidays that spoils their meaning, souring my attitude in the process.

But when the new year comes around, I take exception to my long-standing rejection of all things generically festive. There's something momentous about the start of each annual cycle that captures my attention like no other holiday. It warrants appreciation, and I'm glad to oblige.

A new year invites reflection. It presents another chance to get things right, to start over, to wipe fresh the slate and letter it anew with fresh ideas, goals and wishes.

During the past few weeks, I've been mentally reviewing 2007. My thoughts have drifted back over time and ahead to the future. Throughout this introspective journey, I've found myself pondering a two-word phrase -- daily dues. It could just as easily be spelled daily do's, as in things to do every day, but daily dues -- payment made for services rendered -- is equally appropriate.

In this world, circa 2007-2008, where catastrophic problems totter precariously, it can be all too easy for feelings of hopelessness to overtake us. Questions such as, "What can one person do to stop climate change?" or, "What can be done to end the war in Iraq?" seem impossible to answer.

Rather that backing away from these imponderables, burrowing our heads in the sand or giving up hope completely, there is another option. We can face the new year with an optimistic can-do attitude. It may sound singularly simplistic and Pollyanna-ish, but it has been proved over and over again that people can make a big difference with small steps.

Each of us has the power to make the world a better place. We can do it in tiny ways -- one kind word or good deed at a time -- or by methods that are more magnanimous. It doesn't matter how we go about contributing to world betterment; the important thing is to do something. That's where daily dues come in.

Imagine if, in exchange for our existence, we had to pay a daily fee. But the payment couldn't be made with money -- it had to be paid with actions. We had to do something every day to make the world a better place. Daily dues -- daily do's.

Here are a few examples:

*In the bathroom, we could turn off the faucet while brushing our teeth. That simple step will save four gallons a minute or 200 gallons a week for a family of four.

*In the kitchen, rather than throwing kitchen food scraps into the garbage or down the garbage disposal, we could collect them in a countertop bucket to be emptied into a backyard compost pile. Compost piles convert household wastes into valuable soil while preserving space in our already overburdened landfills for objects that, unlike kitchen wastes, are not biodegradable.

*In the bedroom, instead of turning up the thermostat on those chilly winter nights, we could get under the covers with someone we love. Snuggling not only saves energy; it gives energy to the people involved. From spouse to children to pets to a good book -- cozying up under the covers is a far more rewarding way to generate heat than dialing up the temperature gauge.

*In the laundry, we can switch from hot water to cold. A simple turn of the dial results in big-time energy savings. Cold water uses 90 percent less energy than water that must be heated. Ninety percent is huge. And detergent made for cold water still cleans. Buying phosphorus-free detergents also protects the environment from unnecessary pollution.

*In the yard, we could stop bagging and throwing out grass clippings. Grass clippings contain valuable nutrients that when left in place, feed the lawn. If leaves must be raked, spread the piles around trees, shrubs and garden plants. Used as mulch, they prevent weeds from growing while adding nitrogen to the soil. Grass clippings are a free-for-the-raking way to fertilize our landscape plants without using harsh chemicals.

*In our automobiles, we could slow down and gain fuel efficiency. It's hard to maintain a steady 55 mph when everyone else is zooming by at 70-plus mph. It helps to know that by driving within the speed limit, we not only are driving more safely but also are saving money and taking steps to decrease our dependence on fossil fuel. At 65 mph, a car is 12.5 percent less fuel-efficient than at 55 mph. Up that to 75 mph, and the fuel loss is even greater. A car going at 75 mph is using 25 percent more fuel than the one going 55 mph.

There are so many ways to pay our daily dues. It doesn't matter how we do it, just that we choose to do something for the environment every day. With a new year about to begin, we are at the perfect point to introduce new patterns. Ante up today and begin to pay your daily dues. The world has been immensely kind to us, especially here in America.

Isn't it time we gave a little something back?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on ways to pay our daily dues. What types of things do you do every day to make the world a better place? Send your ideas to me via e-mail at the address below.

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