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by Lisa Rainwater, Ph.D.


The key to reducing regional greenhouse gas emissions is to change the way we use energy.  This requires active participation by apartment dwellers, homeowners, business owners, and school officials alike, because all the windmills in the world won’t negate the social and economic costs associated with energy if we continue to increase our consumption at the current rate.
   There is no better time than now to consider how we use energy on a daily basis and to improve our practices accordingly. If we all do our part, small changes at home, work, and school can bring huge payoffs — economically and environmentally.
   Here are some simple actions with which to get started:
Increasing efficiency
Buy and/or replace appliances and technological equipment with Energy Star products. These items use less energy while performing the same functions. The upfront costs may be slightly higher, but the amount you save over time on energy bills will more than compensate.

Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.  The bulbs may cost a bit more, but they last up to five years and reduce your energy bill significantly.  Make sure to properly dispose of compact fluorescents, as they contain a trace amount of mercury.  Contact Westchester County at (914) 813-5425 to find out when Household Chemical Clean-Up Day is in your community.

—Spring clean year round.  Keeping the vents on your appliances free of dust and debris enables them to run more efficiently, requiring less energy to keep your food cold and to dry your clothes.

—Install a low-flow faucet on your showerhead.  You won’t feel the difference in the shower, but your water heater won’t have to work as hard to keep large volumes of water hot.
Conserving energy
Two degrees on your thermostat.  By setting your air conditioner or central air two degrees higher than your current setting, you greatly reduce your energy use without sweating during those hot summer days.  In the winter, turning down your thermostat by two degrees will also greatly reduce your energy use without your needing to throw on a sweater.

Keep doors and windows closed when using air conditioning.  Businesses, in particular, often prop doors open to lure customers in during hot days.  If you see a business cooling the outdoors, ask to see the manager and explain the importance of Smart Energy use.

—Think before you open your refrigerator.  Every time you open the fridge, you are letting out cold air.  The longer the door remains open, the warmer the fridge becomes, prompting the motor to kick in.

Unplug energy vampires when not needed.  The conveniences of modern day life have brought with them a mountain of tiny gadgets that need to be charged.  The charger continues to draw energy, even if the device is not plugged in.  (This also applies to television sets, cable boxes, computers, and other common equipment found in the modern home).

LISA RAINWATER, Ph.D., is the policy director of Riverkeeper, which has been working to safeguard the ecological integrity of the Hudson River and the watershed of New York City since 1983.

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