Low Impact Living

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In one version of a popular American folktale its character Paul Bunyan [1] and his blue Ox called Babe stomped the earth with such massive strides that their footsteps created 10,000 lakes around Minnesota. The ecological impact of our footprint is not much different if we take into account the land we need to support our lifestyle. This includes all the land required to produce all the things we need to maintain our lifestyle, and all the land we again need to dispose of all the things we had used to maintain that lifestyle.

A Living Planet Report 2002 [2] had recorded the average number of acres a person consumes continually throughout their entire lifetime:

Americans 24
Canadians 17
Italians 7
Indonesians 3
Japanese 12
Australians 19
Japanese 12
Chinese 4
Norwegians 20
Columbians 3



[edit] Low Impact is Living Lightly

Low-impact lifestyle implies living lightly on the earth, managing our surrounding environment in such a way that we maximize returns (in the forms of energy, water, food, shelter and products) and minimize waste (through recycling, composting and energy efficient systems). In plainspeak, we do more with less.

Can keeping a measly bulb lit all day destroy the earth? Try convincing someone that low impact living can change the world and you’ll be confronted with similar questions. Most people don't realize that their homes are responsible for 2-3 times the environmental damage caused by their cars. Electricity, space/water heating and transport each produce about a third of our domestic emissions.

[edit] Low Impact Life is Easy

If each of us takes a small step to lessen the impact, the cumulative effect will still be immense. As the US Environment Protection Agency has estimated, if every American household replaces just one bulb with a Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb (CFL), there would be enough energy saving to light 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gasses equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800.000 cars.

It’s as easy as that.

If we refuse to taken even such small steps, if we keep pumping out carbon dioxide (CO2) into our environment, scientists predict that the catastrophic flooding in central Europe, the devastating fires and drought in southern Europe or the tragic outcome of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans can become the norm within the next 50 years.

Capitalism’s drive towards expansion and consumption is antithetical to the environment. The environment is finite. We cannot go on thrusting mining, forestry, manufacturing, consumption and refuse upon it without endangering our very civilization.

[edit] Extinction Rate 1000 Times Higher

The UN in its global Biodiversity Assessment [3] estimated that the current extinction rates are around 1000 times the natural (pre-human) rate. Over the past several centuries man has been responsible for extinction of species at a rate much higher than the rate at which species have been becoming extinct for the past 65 million years.

According to the International Botanical Congress [4], there will be a 30-60% extinction of all species of plants and animals during the second half of this century. Loss of species is largely a by-product of the way people have chosen to live.

Reducing the rate of extinctions of species is itself a big reason for us to adopt a low impact living.

But there is no reason to be overwhelmed if we are ready to take that small step to reduce our individual impact on the environment. Given below are some easy ways we can make a beginning. Most are easy. Others don’t cost a thing.

[edit] Making Low Impact on Energy

About 54 percent of the energy used at home goes into heating or cooling. By controlling this area you can make significant savings and reduce CO2 emissions. All are simple to follow and can be adopted by one and all easily.

[edit] Home appliances

• Turn your refrigerator down. Refrigerators account for about 20% of household electricity use. Set your refrigerator temperature as close to 37 degrees F and your freezer as close to 3 degrees as possible. Keep the energy saver switch turned on.

• Switching settings of your clothes washer from ‘hot’ to ‘warm’ for two loads per week can save nearly 500 pounds of CO2 per year if you have an electric water heater, or 150 pounds if it’s a gas heater.

• Use energy saving settings in your dishwasher and wash when there is a sufficient lot to wash. Also turn off the drying cycle manually.

• Turn down your water heater thermostat. Thermostats in your water heater can function well enough at 120 degrees F. Avoid setting it at 140 degrees F. The cumulative effect of all households turning down thermostat by 20 degrees F can prevent more than 45 million tons of annual CO2 emissions

• Select the most energy-efficient models when you replace your old appliances

• Turn off the TV, computers, stereo, radio when not in use

[edit] Heating and Cooling

• Avoid over-heating or over-cooling your rooms. Thermostat at 68 degrees F in winter daytime, and 55 degrees F at night is sufficient. During summer, keep it at 78. Just two degrees lowering of thermostat during winter saves 6 percent of heating-related CO2 emissions.

• Clean or replace air filters as recommended.

[edit] Lighting

By just changing the lighting at your home you can reduce the pollution in the environment and save money. CLFs use much less power and last ten times longer than regular bulbs. Check National Geographic's video This Bulb [5] on You Tube.

Switch off lights before leaving the room, even if you are going to be out for only five minutes. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs wherever possible. They produce the same amount of light by using 1/4 of the electricity, don’t burn out and last for years.

[edit] Low Impact Kitchen

• As kitchen is a high use area, probably for many this could be the right place to begin low impact lifestyle. One method commonly practiced is storing leftovers in plastic containers. Both glass and metal containers, apart from being more healthy, are also more easily recyclable when broken. On the other hand every stage of plastic production involves toxicity.

• When visiting the supermarket it is not only less expensive to buy bulk staples like flours, sugar, dry beans, oats, rice, spices, herbs etc but also when you get them in reusable container or plastic bulk bags. Many supermarkets offer bulk packaging for many items.

[edit] Controlling your movement

• Walk, bike, car pool, or use mass transit whenever possible. There is a saving of 22 pounds of CO2 emissions with every gallon of gasoline saved.

• When buying a new car go for one that gives better mileage. With a car that gives 40 miles per gallon instead of 25, you'll reduce your annual CO2 emissions by 3,300 pounds if you drive 10,000 miles per year

How can you determine whether you are leading a low impact living? Visit Earth Education [6] and find out for yourself

[edit] Water Conservation

We are accustomed to getting water on demand. By exercising caution we not only save water but also energy required for its purification for use as well as reuse. Some water saving measures

• Cut down on your shower durations -- a five minute power shower is likely to use more water than a bath

• Instead of a running tap use a bottle or jug to store drinking water in the refrigerator

• Use washing machine or dishwasher once there is a full load

• During new household equipment purchase go for items with water saving features

• Replacing worn tap washers can prevent water wastage

• Avoid running water and wash vegetables in a bowl of water

• Install a water butt to collect rain water for the garden

• Wherever possible water your gardens with household waste water

[edit] Controlling Stormwater Runoff

Rainwater or water after snow melts is not soaked into the ground but flows across the land and may go directly into a storm drain and straight to a nearby river or creek. Along the way this water can pick up pollutants such as sediment, fertilizers, pesticides, vehicle fluids (motor oil, gasoline, and antifreeze), paints, trash, and pet waste. In the forests such water gets absorbed in the soil but in urban areas it is important to minimize the amount of pollutants that stormwater can pick and dump in our rivers. Stormwater typically flows into storm drains, on parking lots and street curbs where it enters underground pipes called storm sewers.

What you can do to reduce runoffs

• Divert roof drains and other runoff to vegetated areas on your property

• Plant trees and shrubs along streams

• Retain or create 50 to 100 foot buffers of vegetation between waterways and impervious areas to help filter out pollutants

• Repair leaks in your vehicles and keep them tuned

• Don’t wash your car on the driveway

• Plant vegetation wherever possible to prevent soil erosion

• Avoid pouring oil, paint thinners and other pollutants into storm drains or waterways or on the ground

• Store all household chemicals properly

• Use minimum fertilizers and pesticides on your lawn

• Sweep instead of washing off fertilizer from driveways and walkways

• Clean litter from the street in front of your home

• Bury or flush pet wastes.

Visit House2House [7] and take the tour of each area of your home to investigate your water saving opportunities

[edit] Recycling

If every American recycled his or her newspaper just one day a week, they would save about 36 million trees a year. You too make recycling your newspaper a regular practice. Recycle other things too that come with the newspaper, except magazines, which need separate recycling.

Cereal boxes, egg cartons, wrapping paper also can be recycled under the "mixed paper" category. Mixed paper can be made into paperboard for use on roofs. Download and keep Recycling Facts Games and Crafts [8], a fun-filled book on recycling

[edit] Spreading to the Countryside

Maintaining a low impact lifestyle provides an unprecedented opportunity to spread out to the countryside and lead a land-based, environmentally-conscious living. You can very well lead a modern lifestyle in the countryside without it costing you the earth while at the same time developing a mutually beneficial relationship with the natural world.



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