Back in 1873, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner collaborated on a political satire entitled The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The novel, which satirized greed and corruption after the Civil War, was remarkable for two reasons: One, it was the only novel that Twain ever wrote with a collaborator, and two, its title became synonymous with graft, materialism and corruption in public life. And, unbeknown to most, it would also become the source for one of Twain's most endearing, enduring quotes: "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."
Were Twain writing today, he might well amend his maxim to "Everybody talks about global warming, but hardly anybody does anything about it." Well, maybe not everybody's talking about global warming; after all, there are all those neo-cons who, like Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss, persist in believing that this is "the best of all possible worlds." Unbelievably, with all the sobering scientific data now before us, there are still those who, for whatever reason, offer up bogus arguments about why the United States shouldn't bother reducing its carbon emissions in order to avert global catastrophe. "Greenhouse gases aren't even causing climate change," they say, and anyway, "a warmer planet won't be that bad." Of course, these claims are patently false, as recent assessments from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change make clear. Tell the polar bears about how good a few extra degrees can be.
I've got to believe that were he privy to what's going on in 2007, Twain would say "don't just talk about it . . . do something." But what? And when?
Believe it or not, by the time you finish reading this single sentence, nearly 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide will have entered our Earth's atmosphere. Each passing second brings 1,000 more. Approximately 75-80 million tons of the stuff get belched out into the atmosphere every single day. And while you are reading, Congress -- not to mention governments and industries all over the world -- are talk, talk, talking. It seems to me that while everyone else is talking, its high time that we, as individuals, start doing something.
Permit me to outline a handful of things we all can do: at home, on the move, and in the community:
Replace a regular incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent [CFL] one
- CFLs use 60% less energy than regular bulbs. This simple switch will save about 300 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, per bulb. If every family in the U.S. made the switch, we'd reduce carbon dioxide by more than 90 billion pounds! You can purchase CFLs online from the Energy Federation [www.energyfederation.org].
Move your thermostat down 2* in winter and up 2* in summer.
- Almost half of the energy we use in our homes goes to heating and cooling. We could save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year with this simple adjustment [and save money to boot].
Clean or replace filters in your furnace and air conditioner
- Cleaning a dirty air filter can save 350 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
Use less hot water
- It takes a lot of energy to heat water. You can use less hot water by installing a low flow showerhead [350 pounds of carbon dioxide saved per year] and washing your clothes in cold or warm water [500 pounds saved per year] instead of hot.
Turn off electric devices you're not using
- Simply turning off your television, DVD player, stereo, and computer when not in use will save thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
Unplug electronics from the wall when you're not using them.
- Even when turned off, things like hairdryers, cell phone chargers, and televisions use energy. In fact, the energy used to keep display clocks lit and memory chips working accounts for 5% of total domestic energy consumption, and spews 18 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year!
Only run your dishwasher when there's a full load and use the energy-saving setting.
- You can save 100 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
Buy locally grown and produced food
- The average meal in the U.S. travels 1,200 miles from the farm to your plate. Buying locally will save fuel and keep money in your community.
ON THE MOVE
Keep your car tuned up
- Regular maintenance helps improve fuel efficiency and reduces emissions. When just 1% of car owners properly maintain their cars, nearly a billion pounds of carbon dioxide are kept out of our atmosphere.
When it is time for a new vehicle, choose a more fuel efficient one
- You can save 3,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year if your new car gets only 3 miles per gallon more than your current one. You can get up to 60 miles per gallon with a hybrid! You can find information on fuel efficiency at www.fueleconomy.gov and www.greencars.com.
Try telecommuting from home
- Telecommuting can help you drastically reduce the number of miles you drive every week. For more information, check out the Telework Coalition [www.telcoa.org].
IN THE COMMUNITY
Encourage your school or business to reduce emissions
- You can extend your positive influence on global warming well beyond your home by actively encouraging others to take action. You can find a wide variety of things you can do at www.theclimateproject.org.
Encourage the switch to renewable energy
- Successfully combating global warming requires a national transition to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and biomass. These technologies are ready to be deployed more widely, but there are regulatory barriers impeding them. Take action to break down those barriers with Vote Solar [www.votesolar.org].
Consider the impact of your investments
- If you invest your money, you should consider the impact that your investments and savings will have on global warming. You can learn more about how to ensure your money is being invested in companies, products, and projects that address issues related to climate change at www.socialinvest.org and www.ceres.org.
Make you city cool
- Cities and states around the country have taken action to stop global warming by passing innovative transportation and energy saving legislation. 194 cities nationwide representing over 40 million people have made this pledge as part of the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Find out how to make your city a cool city at www.coolcities.us
Make sure your voice is heard!
- We must have a stronger commitment from our government in order to stop global warming and implement solutions. Such commitments won't come without a dramatic increase in citizen lobbying for new laws with teeth. Get the facts about U.S. politicians and candidates at Project Vote Smart [www.vote-smart.org] and The League of Conservation Voters [www.lcv.org/scorecard]. Make sure your voice is heard by voting!
In sum: assuming that it has taken you about 5 minutes to read this op-ed piece, 300,000 pounds of carbon dioxide have entered the atmosphere. Chilling? No. Warming? Definitely.
I wish old Sam Clemens were still alive and dipping that pen of his in the acid of human folly. For I've got to imagine that he would be at the forefront of those pushing, prodding, cajoling and actually doing something other than talking about global warming. And while we're at it, let us permit him the final word, which comes from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court:
" . . . the citizen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth's political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal; he is a traitor.