Weatherize for Wildlife

Five easy tips to stay warm, slash your energy bills and save wildlife this winter

If you’re like me, you saw the photos of penguins wearing sweaters knit by Australia’s oldest man and thought that your heart might implode from the cuteness of it all. But beneath that first overwhelmingly endearing layer, it’s actually a really tragic story. Animal rehabilitators put sweaters on penguins after oil spills to prevent the birds from ingesting toxic oil while cleaning their feathers — making this adorable avian couture yet another example of our desperate efforts to mitigate the consequences of our addiction to fossil fuels.

Layers on layers: The author’s dog Penguin wearing a penguin sweater in an homage to penguins in sweaters

The real irony here is that rather than accepting these fossil fuel-driven tragedies as inevitable, we could reduce our energy demand substantially, help prevent future oil spills and avoid the worst impacts of climate change simply by wearing sweaters ourselves.

Obviously sweaters aren’t the sole solution to our climate change crisis, but they do represent an important piece of the puzzle: conservation. By putting a sweater on and turning the thermostat dial down a few degrees this winter, you’re making a move toward reducing your energy footprint. The United States accounts for almost 17 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions but is only 4.4 percent of the population. Our per-capita energy footprint is higher than almost any other country in the world — almost three times that of China’s. Fortunately there are plenty of low-cost solutions out there to cut your energy use this winter with minimal effort.

So let’s turn “Netflix-and-chill” season into “Netflix-and-stay-warm-without-the-climate-cost” season by following these energy-saving tips:

  1. Rock the caulk: Keep heat from escaping around stationary windows and electrical outlets by caulking in preparation for the cold season each year.
  2. Weatherstrip: Similar to caulk, weatherstripping can help prevent drafts under movable components such as doorways and windows.
  3. Use daylight to your advantage: Just as closing your curtains during the day in the summer can help keep excess heat from the sun out, opening your south-facing curtains when the sun is up in the winter can help naturally warm your home while providing you with some much-needed Vitamin D.
  4. Turn down the heat: By reducing the temperature on your water heater and furnace, you can save a significant amount of energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can reduce your heating needs by 10 percent a year simply by setting your thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees for 8 hours a day. Also you get to don some sweater style yourself.
  5. Do some winter cleaning: A faster process than “spring cleaning,” cleaning out your furnace filter can help to improve airflow and efficiency of your heater in the winter. Before the season begins, it’s always a good idea to have your HVAC system checked (and if you’re in need of a new system, update to an energy efficient model before the cold weather hits).

These are just a few steps you can take to cut your carbon footprint. Eating more plant-based foods, limiting your airplane travel and opting to gift sustainably this holiday season by cutting out any unnecessary plastic packaging are also all great options to show you care about wildlife and the climate while reducing future demand for penguin-sized sweaters.

Greer Ryan is the Sustainability Research Associate at the Center for Biological Diversity