I am a founding member of an organization called Green Bellevue. Each year, we walk in our community parade to publicize the need to care for our environment and to promote membership in our organization to learn how to do so. This year, our theme was “Your Earth – Do Your Part.” Using yard signs and a hand glove that said “No Oil In Our Soil,” I protested the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline (see photo).

In this blog, I am not going to try to promote my position against the XL pipeline nor do I intend to promote the ideology of a particular political party. Instead, I want to urge you to “do your part” to better understand and then reduce your impact on our environment.

It’s a given that our population has an insatiable appetite for energy: cars, lights, electric outlets and chargers, heat and air conditioning. My family went camping 30 days out of the last 5 months and, while we spent time outdoors and used campfires each night, we still managed to use quite a bit of gas and electricity. Most of us cannot do without it for a day! Given the size of population in the U.S., it’s not surprising that our country is the 2nd largest energy consumer, with China surpassing us in 2010. Our energy sources are listed below, in order of our largest consumption to least:

  • Petroleum – 36%
  • Natural Gas – 26%
  • Coal – 20%
  • Nuclear – 8.4%
  • Renewable – 8%, mainly from hydroelectric dams, but also wind, geothermal and solar
  • Liquid Biofuels – 1%

We rely heavily on petroleum, coal and natural gas and they are non-renewable fossil fuels, meaning one day they be fully depleted. Much of what we read are regarding initiatives to access more of these non-renewable resources – more drilling, fracking, refurbishing coal plants and projects like the XL pipeline. But these initiatives further our depletion and at the same time, there are scientific reports that the use of fossil fuels for energy is dangerous to the environment. I think everyone is agreement that this type of energy does cause pollution; however, to what extent is at controversy. My question is, are we doing enough to reduce our use of non-renewable energy and to increase the availability of and promoting the use of renewable energy? The 2013 Department of Energy’s Annual Energy Outlook report indicates that the energy we use from non-renewable fossil fuels is expected to decrease from 82% to 78% and renewable energy is expected to increase from 8% to 13% by 2040. That doesn’t seem sufficient, but also, for these figures to be met, the key is for us to adopt the use of renewables at our own free will (with tax credit incentives).

Even though there is a lack of consensus and ongoing political controversy about climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, air and water pollution, reasons for/against Keystone XL Pipeline, and so on, it doesn’t mean that we as individuals do not need to do what we can to become better educated on these topics and at the very least take individual responsibility for our own consumption and waste. If we wait to do our part until some party “wins” this argument or laws are established, and stringent guidelines and bans on certain activities are mandated it will simply be too late.

Please get into action today and consider these simple ideas for reducing your use of our quickly depleting natural resources and also for doing your part to support environmental conservation:

  • Improve your understanding. There are many organizations committed to environmental education including http://www.epa.gov/, http://www.sierraclub.org/education/, http://www.350.org/, and even our own http://www.greenbellevue.org/. Take the time to learn more by reading the posts or watching some of the great videos that are available.
  • Carpool. Once per week, inconvenience your family or join up with a friend, leave your house earlier and ride together, leaving one or more of your cars at home.
  • Use mass transit. When it’s available, use mass transit and leave your car behind. When you do, according to a study by the American Public Transit Association, you could save as much as $9,242 as compared to those who drive their own vehicle.
  • Recycle. Where I live, there is a city contract to provide curbside yard waste, trash and recycling hauling service for a flat monthly fee of $13.20. It’s hard to believe that the local hauler reported that of the 15,000 homes they serve; only 45% put a recycling container out each week! It’s a sad fact that a staggering number of U.S. households still do not separate their recyclables. According to Green Waste, we each produce an average of 4.5 pounds of solid waste per day and 75% of that is recyclable, but only about 30% is truly recycled. What more can you do to recycle your plastic, paper, cardboard, glass and metal at home and at work?
  • Form a sustainability task force. Make it cross-functional, cross-generational. Listen carefully to the ideas of your Millennials as their generation has the most to gain from improving our environmental behavior now.
  • Propose greener office practices including buying recycled paper with a high post-consumer content, digitizing more to minimize paper use, keeping your electronics plugged into a single surge protector at your desk that you can turn off all at once, bringing reusable plates, silverware and cups from home instead of using paper and styrofoam, using a separate waste can at each desk to collect recycling, shred and recycle documents, recycling e-waste with a confidential recycling company and working with your lights off on days where natural light is high.
  • Invest in alternative energy. When you’ve learned more about the environment, begin researching alternative energy options at http://energy.gov/science-innovation/energy-sources/renewable-energy and read the exciting research being done by Stanford’s Marc Jacobson at http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/. Then, consider investing in alternative energy either in your next car purchase, harnessing the power of solar in your home or office or by channeling your retirement account investments away from non-renewable to renewable or green energy sources.

The list of ideas for ways to reduce our environmental impact can go on and on. But listing them is far different from doing them. I know it is easy to play Scarlett O’Hara related to our environment – “I’ll worry about it tomorrow” or even “I’ll let my children (or their children) solve this when it’s more of a problem.” It’s estimated that we have only a few hundred years of reserve left for some of our non-renewable resources and our consumption speed is ever increasing. We may not be alive to experience the crisis of depletion, but do we really want to leave our self-absorbed consumption as our legacy for our children or grandchildren?

I do not and I am striving to do my part. And I will do more. What are you doing to reduce your consumption of non-renewable energies and/or enhance our environment? Please share your ideas and hopefully our discussion will spark small changes that can make a big difference!

A founding Member of Green Bellevue, Ruth Richter serves as Vice Chair of the Board of the Directors from 2010 to present. She has been recognized for her Environmental activism with the 2008 Distinguished Alumni Award from Leadership Bellevue, the Environment Champion Award in 2010, she accepted the First Lady’s Outstanding Community Service award in Ecology or Environmental Stewardship on behalf of Green Bellevue in 2011, and was named one of Bellevue’s Environmental Pioneers in 2013.