The Science of Sustainability

Five Environmental Resolutions for the New Year

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Picking up local produce at the farmers’ market—that’s my kind of New Year’s resolution. Photo: Mazarine.I’m kind of a sucker for New Year’s resolutions. Every January, I make a list. (Sometimes, I don’t even wait for January—I just like the opportunity for improvement. And I like lists.) Here are my environmental resolutions for 2011. Some of you might think these a bit lazy, but as a person who has made a lot of unrealistic (and unrealized) resolutions over the years, I only want to share the resolutions I know I can keep!

1. Go on an energy diet
A few years ago, I read an article in the New York Times in which the author tries to cut his annual CO2 emissions by half a ton—roughly five percent of his yearly carbon “weight.” He makes several easy changes, all of which he accomplishes in under 8 hours. For example, he turns down the thermostat, washes his clothes in cold water, asks retailers to stop sending him catalogs, and swaps out some incandescent bulbs for C.F.L.s. He overshoots his goal of half a ton of CO2, with minimal effort. This article has really stuck in my mind, because these changes are so easy to make. I’m going to revisit this article, The Energy Diet, and cut some carbon from my waistline.

2. Track my energy usage—and respond accordingly
PG&E just installed a SmartMeter at my home. Once it’s connected to the network (it will take a few months), I’ll be able to track my hourly energy usage. I want to do little experiments to figure out which of my appliances are energetically expensive. I’ll be able to see how much energy I save by turning off my computer at night, rather than putting it to sleep. I can swap out light bulbs and see if the savings are significant. I’m looking forward to doing nerdy energy experiments and seeing my energy usage drop! All PG&E customers should have a SmartMeter by mid-2012. To learn more about SmartMeters, check PG&E’s website, and watch QUEST’s Climate Watch: Unlocking the Grid. And for some of the controversy about SmartMeters, take a look at this post on the Climate Watch blog.

3. Eat local
As food is transported across the country (or across the globe), CO2 is emitted. These food miles can really rack up. This year, I want to buy more food from local farms at my neighborhood farmers’ market. I might even add a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box to the mix. This resolution has a few great by-products: supporting the local economy, spending fun mornings at the farmers’ market with friends, and eating many tasty meals.

4. Get more informed about the environment
I read the newspaper, and I peruse a handful of blogs; my favorites are Climate Watch, Dot Earth, Green, and treehugger. But I can always read more! What are your favorite sources for environmental news and commentary?

5. Get outside
This resolution has nothing to do with reducing my carbon footprint. I just want to breathe some fresh air and enjoy the outdoors. I’ll ride my bike, hike some new trails, and eat my lunch outside when it’s sunny. After all this work to preserve the environment—I might as well enjoy it.

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Category: Energy, Environment, Partners, Sustainable Food

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Jennifer Skene

About the Author ()

Jennifer Skene develops curriculum on climate change and ocean sciences at the Lawrence Hall of Science and teaches biology and science communication at Mills College and the University of California Berkeley. She has a degree in biology from Brown University and a Ph.D. in Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley. She started working with QUEST in 2008 as an intern. She has written for the Berkeley Science Review and the UC Museum of Paleontology’s Understanding Evolution and Understanding Science websites.