MAKING EARTH DAY EVERY DAY
The "greenhouse effect," otherwise known as global warming, is heating up the earth. Our very survival is threatened - and many people think the greenhouse effect is to blame. What's causing global warming?
There always have been gases in the atmosphere acting as a kind of blanket around the earth, which kept us warm enough to stay alive. But now some gases are making the blanket too thick. They include carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), methane, and nitrous oxide. These gases come from cars, power plants, factories, air conditioners, refrigerators, plastics, aerosols, cattle, landfills, fossil fuels, fertilizers, and refineries -- lots of things we believe we can't live without.
If global warming continues, we can expect droughts, floods, and famines.
OZONE LAYER DEPLETION
Ozone at ground level is toxic to humans. But ozone in the atmosphere is very important in shielding us from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays -- the kind that can give you a great tan, but also lead to skin cancer.
There is already a hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic... as big as the entire United States. Scientists have discovered more gaps in the ozone over the northern hemisphere and the Arctic. The problem is worse than they had originally thought. CFCs, from air conditioners, refrigerators, solvents, plastic packaging, and foam insulation, are the main culprits.
In addition to contributing to skin cancer, ozone depletion threatens plant and ocean life. Ocean life, in turn, supplies 70% of the world's oxygen -- what we need to stay alive!
This country's industries, in just one recent year, dumped 22 billion pounds of toxic waste in our air, water, and soil -- and it was all legal! Imagine how much pollution that waste caused. Air pollution alone is so severe that in many places people are warned not to go outdoors on particularly bad days. Our drinking water comes out of the ground. It only takes one gallon of gasoline seeping into the ground at a gas station to pollute almost a million gallons of drinking water.
Every day we eat food grown in soil poisoned by pesticides. And much of the soil we used to grow food in has been lost through erosion or made unusable through contamination.
Our garbage dumps, also called "landfills", are running out of room. We've already closed about half our landfills -- and alternatives like burning garbage can be even worse for the environment.
The problem is that we make too much garbage. One American throws out 23 pounds of trash in one week, much more that the British, German, Japanese, Scandinavians, or French. That's why the Three R's -- Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling -- are so important
Trees are more than an appealing part of the landscape. They clean the air, affect rainfall, control erosion, and keep the climate in balance. They're pretty wonderful. You'd think we'd want to take care of them, right?
Yet most of the original forests in this country already have been cut down. And the tropical rainforest, home of more than half the world's plant and animal species, are systematically being destroyed. A chunk of rainforest as big as a football field is chopped down every second. Much of this destruction is done in order to make room for grazing cattle -- the source of those burgers we consume at fast-food places. Most of us -- and the folks who cut these trees -- don't realize the rainforests produce much of our oxygen.
Just how much time do we have before it's too late to save the earth? You may be surprised by the answer. In 1990 the Worldwatch Institute said the earth would face "economic and social ruin" by the year 2030 if we didn't start improving our environmental habits. By 1992, Worldwatch said the earth was dying already. We need to make a revolution, environmentally speaking, to prevent a disastrous end for our planet.
Environmental revolution might sound like took big a challenge. But every revolution begins with individuals making very small changes, either in how they think or how they act. All these changes add up. And it doesn't have to be all-consuming.
"Environmentalism is something I can do every day without stopping the rest of my life," explains 17-year-old Jeremy Burns. "It's something I can do while I'm doing other things."
- Take shorter showers to save water and energy. Aim for under five minutes. You need to wash your hair only once to get it clean.
- Conserve energy at home. Use heaters and air conditioners efficiently. Turn off lights when you leave a room.
- Recycle everything you possible can...including cans! We hope your school or town already has a recycling program, which should make it super simple to recycle paper, magazines, newspapers, glass, even plastic bottles. Set up a recycling club at your school. Meanwhile, get creative. Use the back sides of used paper for notes and scribbles. You can even staple together stacks of paper used only on one side to make your own notepads.
- Every time a car uses one gallon of gasoline, it creates almost 20 pounds of carbon dioxide -- the nasty chemical most responsible for global warming. When possible, walk, ride a bike, or use public transportation. Combine errands into one trip so you use the car efficiently. Try carpooling.
- It makes more sense to run washing machines, clothes dryers, and dishwashers only when they're full. You use less water, less detergent, less energy, and less time!
- Dry cleaning is not only expensive, it uses chemicals that can be harmful to you and the environment. Buy clothes made of natural fibers like cotton that can be washed and are made with a minimum use of energy and water and free of bleaches, dyes, and formaldehyde.
- Packing your own lunch is a lot better for the environment than eating junk. But avoid plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Try using reusable containers. They keep sandwiches much fresher and neater anyway. Or reuse the bags and other packages that food you bought came in.
- If you do eat fast food, ask them to wrap it in paper rather than styrofoam. Try to use plates and cups you can wash and reuse.
- Although manufacturers claim you can recycle juice boxes, it's really not practical. It's a shame because juice boxes can be very convenient. But they're made of layers of paperboard, aluminum, and polyethylene that are hard to separate. It will take hundreds of years for a juice box to break down in a land fill. How about those reusable plastic squeeze bottles with the built-in straws?. They look pretty cool, they're just as convenient, and they're best for the earth.
The above is an excerpt from the book Students Shopping for a Better World from The Council on Economic Priorities (CEP), published by Ballantine Books (a division of Random House, New York). ISBN 0-345-37333-2
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