Earth-friendly Energy Answers

Part four of a five-part series for Earth Overshoot Day

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August 8 marks this year’s Earth Overshoot Day — the date, according to the Global Footprint Network, when we have exhausted nature’s allowance of natural resources for the whole year. These resources are disproportionately used. The United States constitutes less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet consumes about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources. On average, one American consumes as much energy as 13 Chinese, 128 Bangladeshis or 370 Ethiopians. The negative toll of overconsumption, however, is felt by all — rich and poor, human and wildlife alike.

Our collective ecological overspending is perhaps most evident in our energy consumption and the greenhouse gas emissions that consumption creates. The carbon and other heat-trapping gases generated by burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas are changing our planet in serious ways. The changing climate, as a result of thickening greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, is causing worldwide problems: Species are being pushed to the verge of extinction; entire island nations are sinking into the ocean as sea levels rise; and persistent droughts are eroding agricultural production, threatening food supplies and economies here in the United States and around the world.

The good news is we still have a limited window of opportunity to turn things around, but we have to act now and act fast if we want to make long-term reductions in our ecological debt.

First things first. There is a lot of oil, coal and natural gas we simply cannot afford to burn without pushing the planet past the tipping point — locking into a world of extreme weather, human health catastrophes and wildlife extinctions. It’s time to kick the carbon habit and keep those fossil fuels where they belong: in the ground.

The planet receives more than enough energy from the sun in an hour to power the entire world for a whole year — we just need to tap into that power. Solar energy is becoming an increasingly affordable alternative to dirty power sources, and in many places the costs are already comparable to fossil fuels.

Moving our energy sources in the right direction is a big step, and at the end of the day it’s individuals like you and me whose collective demand and energy preferences help shape our energy future. If you are able to switch to rooftop solar, that’s a great way to help stem the overshoot trend. Unfortunately, due to bad policies, installation costs and other factors, that’s not an option yet for everyone. But there are many other ways to reduce your individual carbon footprint through energy conservation and adopting cleaner sources of energy.

With simple steps you can help save the environment from costly carbon emissions and also save money for your family by driving down utility bills. Here are some carbon-saving steps you can take right now:

  • Perform an in-home energy audit, which will help you determine if you can save money by updating light bulbs and appliances or your heating and cooling system;
  • Switch off and unplug electric appliances when they are not in use. Electronics in “standby” mode use energy to power features like clock displays. According to U.S. Department of Energy, 5 to 10 percent of your residential electricity is sapped by devices that are plugged all the time;
  • Install motion sensor switches that turn on when they sense someone in the room and turn off after a period of inactivity. You can find motion sensors for lighting at most hardware stores;
  • And make sure your house is weatherized so you can cut down on heat transfer, which has the bonus of keeping your house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Check the Center for Biological Diversity’s Wild Energy campaign to learn more about wildlife-friendly energy. And make this Earth Overshoot Day count by making a #pledgefortheplanet to conserve energy and reduce your individual carbon footprint, help keep fossil fuels in the ground and drive the solar energy movement in your town.

Chad Tudenggongbu is a senior renewable energy campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity.