The price of oil may have fallen, but the long-term costs associated with burning fossil fuels continues to threaten both economic and environmental stability around the world.
Though energy awareness has grown, people are still unsure of how their carbon footprints. Christine Woodside has made it her business to provide practical ideas for how regular folks can go green without giving up their favorite creature comforts.
Woodside is author of the book, Energy Independence, a guide that energy-conscious consumers can use to build more sustainable lifestyles. An environmental reporter by trade, Woodside spent years writing for The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor before she began work on her first book, Living on an Acre: A Practical Guide to The Self-Reliant Life. She took a moment to speak to MainStreet.com.
MainStreet.com: Experts, scientists and politicians have said that energy is going to be of profound importance to consumers in the 21st century. Are regular people as concerned about energy as policymakers are?
Christine Woodside: People are beginning to care a lot more. Certainly, when I go to the library to give a talk and see 50 people in a back room in the cold, you know people are thinking about it.
Did people only start to care about energy when the price of oil increased to $140 a barrel?
CW: I think that the public first started to take notice when the Pentagon released its report on climate change. Then there was Katrina(), which experts attributed to the changes brought on by global warming. People are a lot more educated today. These days people are coming up to me saying, “I’ve insulated my house, I’ve got a wood stove, what do I do now?”
Wood stove? Burning wood may be cost effective, but is it really environmentally responsible?
CW: Well, wood stoves have come a long way. If you’re burning wood in the old wood-burning stoves from the 1980’s, you’re definitely spewing some stuff into the air. But the new ones—and by “new,” I mean stoves from the 90s that conform to the Federal New Source Performance Standards—burn hotter, so there are fewer particles in the air. Now I’m not going to say that you don’t get some pollutants but, either way, it’s a lot better than relying on coal.
True. But it seems like it’s easier for a homeowner to cut back on emissions and become more energy independent than it is for someone who lives in an apartment. How can someone who doesn’t have a house live in a more environmentally friendly way?
CW: First of all, when you’re living in a small apartment, you’re already using less power than someone who lives in a house just because you have a much smaller space. But, aside from that, you can just unplug your computer. Even when you’re not using it, that computer still draws power. Unplugging sounds like such a small thing, but when you do those small things on a regular basis, your savings add up.
I’m fine with unplugging my computer but what about everything else? What about the cable box or the refrigerator? Where do you stop?
CW: Becoming more energy independent doesn’t mean that you have to go off the deep end. I keep a wood rack in my bathroom to dry the clothes because it takes energy to run a dryer or to heat anything. Sometimes my kids say “Damn it, we’re going to use the drier just once,” and that’s fine. You don’t have to cut everything off, you just have to be more responsible about how you use energy. Wash in cold water rather than hot water. Don’t keep your refrigerator on the coldest setting. And think about drying your clothes on a rack rather than putting them in the dryer. Those are things that you can do regardless of whether you live in a house or an apartment.
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