The Green Tide 

Can public action catch up with climate change in time?

This year may ultimately prove to be the one when the masses finally understand the role we play in getting Mother Earth all hot and bothered. However, our environmental enlightenment may have come too late. We've got Category 5 storms crossing 88-degree water before they hit land, escalating coral reef die-offs due to teeny tiny temperature rises, and rapidly melting poles. But much like some war off in Iraq, these truths don't affect our daily routines — a bagel for breakfast, the hour commute to work, eight-plus mind-numbing hours in front of a computer, a guilt-fueled workout at the gym, and a beer-drinking session that ends with us passed out on the couch.

And unfortunately, some folks are doing their part to make sure we all stay blind to our environmental impact. Last week, Bjorn Lomborg released his book Cool It, making the argument that problems like malaria and AIDS are far more critical and worthy of taxpayer dollars than global warming. If the sales of his last book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, are any indicator, Cool It will likely hold a spot in the best-seller list for months, convincing countless vulnerable readers to guiltlessly crank the A/C, kick back in their Lazy Boys, and watch other people live carefully-scripted lives on their 40-inch flatscreen TVs.

We know what's causing the problem, but riding a bike down median-less Folly Road isn't a very attractive option, that is unless you like bumming rides from EMTs. In South Carolina, however, we use 55 percent more electricity per capita than the national average. Earlier this summer, we broke our record for the most electricity used at once, at the peak of the hottest day yet, then broke it again later that week. A recent U.S. Public Interest Research Group study predicts that the number of 102-degree days per year (the threshold for "excess mortality") will rise from four to 21 by 2050. Despite that, our publicly-owned power supplier, Santee Cooper, wants to build what would be the largest coal-burning plant in our state on the Pee Dee River.

Change is slow to come until there's an economic incentive. Fortunately, there are plenty of things we can each do in Charleston to curb our energy consumption. And no, buying a Prius won't do it alone.

1. Learn what your personal impact is by Googling "personal emissions calculator." The average American is responsible for emitting 7.5 tons of carbon each year. Just like budgeting your finances lets you cut back on excess spending, being aware of where you're polluting the most will help you cut back.

2. Switch out every bulb in your house to a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). Each of the twisty little guys saves 500 pounds of coal and lasts far longer than a standard incandescent, though they cost a bit more than your standard bulb. Don't bother letting the old ones run out first. They'll take up just as much room in the dump, and there's no reason not to start saving money (and coal) now.

3. Vote for politicians who make the environment a priority. We need leaders who enthusiastically pursue alternative energy options, not industry cronies who want oil rigs off the protected parts of our coast (cough, Rep. Henry Brown). "Green" public buildings, increase gas mileage standards for new cars, and legislation mandating decreased emissions should all be no-brainers for our leaders.

4. Turn off and unplug gadgets when they're not in use. Your computer doesn't need to be on all night. Neither does the ceiling fan in the living room. Fifty percent of our power usage is considered "phantom power," electricity that goes to appliances and electronics that aren't even turned on.

5. Eat less meat. Eighteen percent of greenhouse gases come from cattle, sheep, and swine, and their methane "exhaust" packs 23 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide. Meat is also horribly energy efficient. According to UN Food and Agriculture, animal agribusiness contributes to more global warming than driving. Animal protein requires more than eight times as much fossil fuel energy than the production of plant protein. Beef is the worst culprit, with an energy input to protein output ratio of 54:1!

6. Use less climate control in your house. Why are you wearing a sweatshirt in July or a T-shirt and shorts inside in February? Open the windows and dress appropriately. Also insulate your house and get some caulk to remove air leaks around windows and doors.

7. Ride a bike. It's invigorating and will change the way you see Charleston. It may seem scary at first, but get a helmet and try it once. You may never go back. Or just take the bus and people watch for a bit. It's better than Big Brother.

8. Get involved. Write a letter. Make a phone call. Join the Coastal Conservation League and sign up for their e-mail alerts. Your sentiments don't matter if no one hears them.

9. Vote with your money. Don't buy your gas from companies like Exxon/Mobil, who are actively funding "research" to downplay our effect on global warming. Study up on the companies you give your money to and be proud of where you spend.

10. Share the changes you make with others! You may be living an eco-friendly life at home, but your office may be a dastardly polluter. Petition your boss to switch to recycled paper. Ask your coworkers to cut off their computers. And if they call you a tree hugger, just grin and bear it. Your grandchildren will thank you.

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