Save The Planet And Your Wallet

Session focuses on tips for reducing unsustainable damage to planet


ASU professor Nicole Darnall taught a session on living a sustainable lifestyle at the Women’s Wellness Forum.

ASU professor Nicole Darnall taught a session on living a sustainable lifestyle at the Women’s Wellness Forum. Photo by Pete Aleshire. |

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Save money.

Get healthy.

Save the planet.

Why wait?

That’s the message Arizona State University professor Nicole Darnall delivered recently to a roomful of savvy planet huggers at the Women’s Wellness Forum. The daylong event drew about 240 women to listen to speakers on an array of topics.

Darnall offered a gripping presentation that started with global disaster, but ended with a reassuringly doable list of steps individuals can take to solve the seemingly overwhelming problems.

She also offered some startling insights.

For instance, when it comes to warming the planet through the release of carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping gases, what’s worse fuming cars or munching cows?

The cow, dude. Definitely the cow.

“Livestock generates more greenhouse gases than all the planes, trains and automobiles on the planet,” said Darnall. In part, that’s because the methane from, well, the other end of cows, has 21 times the greenhouse gas warming effect as carbon dioxide.

And don’t hold your breath (yet): The United Nations Food and Agriculture Office predicts our meat production will double by 2050, as the vast populations of China and India move out of poverty.

Darnall’s solution? Meatless Mondays — to start curving that scary trend line.

“We are consuming resources at a rate the planet cannot sustain,” she said, in a talk that blended staggering statistics with household tips.

She opened with an eye-popping overview, to convince her mostly already sold audience of the urgent need to change.

For instance, projections that the 6.4 billion world population will double by 2030 before stabilizing. But we’re already consuming half the world’s fresh water, have reduced old-growth forests by 90 percent, can expect the extinction of 30 to 50 percent of the species alive today and have pushed 18 of the world’s fisheries into a death spiral.

Yet despite that ravenous appetite for natural resources, 1.5 billion humans live in abject poverty — and just 20 percent of the population consumes 80 percent of the natural resources.

But wait: It gets worse.

Most credible projections based on the heat-trapping pollutants in the atmosphere predict that the temperature in Greenland will increase between roughly 3 and 24 degrees, which could melt the huge ice cap there. If the ice sheet covering Greenland melts, it would raise global sea levels by more than 6 feet.

Sounds overwhelming.

But never fear: Since we’re extravagantly wasteful — we can do lots of things to reduce the problem, said Darnall.

For instance, we could recycle the vast majority of the trash we dump in landfills — especially in Arizona where we not only fail to recycle most of our own trash, but we rent out landfill space to people from other states.

The average person generates 4.5 pounds of trash daily. Of that, 75 percent can be recycled — but less than 30 percent actually ends up recycled.

Worse yet, we discard half of the food we produce, which works out to 474 pounds of wasted food per person.

Once again: The answer lies surprisingly close to home.

Start a composting bin: That would reduce discarded trash by about one-third — while increasing the health of your garden, not to mention averting the production of chemical fertilizers.

Quit buying the plastic water bottles that add 25 million items to the waste stream every day. After all, tap water must meet higher health and purity standards than bottled water, she noted.

Worried about all the bleach and other chemicals used in household cleaning products? No problem, said Darnall — before offering up a recipe for environmentally friendly scouring involving vinegar and baking soda. You can also ditch the ammonia in the window cleaner, with a mixture of corn starch — great for smudged mirrors and spots in the carpet.

“For most of these things, we already have them in our houses,” she said.

Worried about the reckless use of fresh water, with predictions of longer deeper droughts well established?

Shorter showers can save 150 gallons each time — and a low-flow shower head can save 175 gallons a month. Get rid of the lawn, cut the water bill by 60 percent.

She moved on through a bewilderment of small, sustainable changes, including the new energy saving LED lights, solar panels on the roof, light tubes and a host of other extensively documented household tips.

But here’s the kicker, she said — you can save your wallet by saving the planet.

Make your cleaning products and you not only protect streams you also save money.

Change over to LED lights, you not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions — you save money.

Install solar tubes and you reduce greenhouse gases — and save money.

Eat less meat and reduce global warming — and also lose weight.

And heck: You might even make the cows happy.

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