Monday, March 19 , 2018, 9:06 pm | Overcast 56º


Earth Day Essay: Little Things, Big Picture

Every little bit helps in the worldwide push for a green existence

These days, everyone from celebrities to soccer moms are jumping on the “green” bandwagon. With all of the recent attention and support, one might imagine that more would be accomplished toward “greenifying” our lifestyle. The reason all the new hype has been unsuccessful in generating real change is because it is too terrifying for people to give up the gluttonies and conveniences of modern life.

“I would sell my SUV if the Prius wasn’t so ugly.”

“I could buy local, but it’s too expensive.”

“I would use biodiesel, but I can’t figure out where to get it.”

These excuses and others are just some of the justifications people use for not practicing the environmental policies they preach. People ignore the serious threat that climate presents because they believe that even small solutions are just too much work with little or no effects.

Environmental advocates, who are frustrated by the stubbornness of the public toward a change in lifestyle, should repeat that old adage, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

All the concerts and fundraisers in the world would not have any lasting effect on overconsumption of electricity, but if people begin to shut off unused lights and appliances, electrical demand would be greatly reduced. Beach cleanups are nice, but if people stop using plastic bags and products packaged in too much plastic, the effect would far outweigh any number of beautification days.

Environmental advocates as well as consumers must realize that little steps toward prevention are far more effective and lasting than trying to cure something after the fact.

In 2004, the United States was the world’s top consumer of electricity. In all, Americans use an incredible 3,920,613,000,000 kwh annually. In November 2007, energy consumption decreased 1 percent from the previous year, which is encouraging but still only a small victory in a much larger war. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, if every American household switched just one regular incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb, “it would prevent 90 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants — the equivalent of taking 7.5 million cars off the road.”

That one small action not only would save the consumer money, but in the long run would have a large effect on overall energy consumption. According to, Americans spend an average of $1,900 annually on energy costs, and a large portion of that is spent on heating. Each degree a thermostat is lowered saves 4 percent on energy consumption. Another way to save on energy costs and consumption is to shut off the thermostat in rooms not being used. The reasons should be obvious, but people still consume huge amounts of energy on unnecessary heating and cooling costs.

Another and possibly the biggest way to have a positive impact on the environment is by refusing to use plastic bags. Annually, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used, with the large majority of them ending up as litter. The United States alone is responsible for more than 100 billion units, which results in a $4 billion profit for the plastic industry.

The bags are not only extremely wasteful in production, but they leave a devastating effect on the ecosystems. Bags take more than 1,000 years to decompose, and they have been spotted in oceans and rivers as far north as the North Pole and as far south as Antarctica.

Ultimately, the reason we should immediately stop using those bags is the gratuitous nature of their existence. There is no reason, other than convenience, for people to use such destructive and wasteful products when suitable alternatives are available. If consumers use burlap or paper bags, they can eliminate thousands if not millions of plastic bags annually.

In one of the largest environmental projects ever, Clean Up Australia Day, an army of activists and volunteers removed a record 500,000 plastic bags from marine and land ecosystems. The number may seem impressive, but it is merely a drop in the bucket compared with worldwide consumption and the effect of measures toward prevention.

The effectiveness of government prevention programs is undeniable. In 2002, Ireland was one of the first countries in the world to introduce a tax on plastic bags, or PlasTax, which reduced consumption 90 percent. In 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban plastic bags at checkout stands. The ban has had a huge effect, reducing the number of plastic bags used per month by 5 million.

These statistics show just how effective little programs can be at reversing the ruinous human consequences on the environment. If individuals take little steps toward energy efficiency, it could have a much larger effect than one might think.

It will not be easy to reverse the damage, or change the pitfalls of our glutinous society, but if people understand that the power is ultimately in their hands and they take actions to change their lifestyle, then we may have a much larger effect than we think.

— Keenan Orfalea is a senior at Laguna Blanca and a member of the school’s The Fourth Estate newspaper.

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