Cool Global Warming at Home


THE greenhouse effect shows up these days on every serious agenda of 21st-century issues. Its causes: excess carbon dioxide (CO2) and other ``greenhouse'' gases loaded into the atmosphere. Its effects: a gradual warming of the earth, producing migration of forest and agricultural zones, changes in rainfall, and rising sea levels as polar ice melts. Said that way, the problem sounds huge and distant - hardly something that any of us can do much about. Which is exactly why ``The Greenhouse Crisis,'' a 24-page booklet recently released by the two-year-old Greenhouse Crisis Foundation, is so timely. Subtitled ``101 Ways to Save the Earth ... and How You Fit into the Puzzle,'' it tells citizens how to help combat the global-warming trend.

Joining forces in this publication is an impressive array of organizations, ranging from Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America and the Girl Scouts to the National Science Teachers Association and the National Council of Churches. Which is a tribute to the coalition-building ability of Jeremy Rifkin, the foundation's founder and a controversial opponent of biotechnology. This well-balanced set of tips is aimed at average Americans who live in ordinary kitchens, have ordinary shopping habits, and lead ordinary lives.

Why single out Americans? Because the United States, with only 5 percent of the global population, consumes one-third of the energy produced on earth. Most of that energy comes from combustion. And almost all combustion produces CO2. Getting Americans to trim energy use, then, will produce a disproportionately large benefit for the atmosphere.

Many of these tips focus on the home - and for good reason. Generating a year's worth of electricity for the average home sends a total of 4.5 tons of carbon dioxide up the stack at the power plant. Heating the same home with oil produces another 6.5 tons. So some of the steps are fairly obvious: Insulate the house, caulk and weatherstrip doors and windows, close off unused rooms, turn off unneeded lights, use cold instead of hot water whenever possible in the kitchen, use small electric pans or toasters instead of firing up the whole oven when you can.

Or how about the laundry, where you can save energy by air-drying clothes when possible, not overdoing the detergent (since excess suds make the washing machine work harder), and using the automatic cycle on the drier. And, of course, the bathroom, where a five-minute shower takes about half the hot water needed to fill the tub.

And did you know, for example, that properly inflated tires on your car can save up to 10 percent in fuel consumption? That when you shop for cars, you don't have to settle for a fuel efficiency of less than 35 miles per gallon? That you can select products with less packaging, since packaging (which consumes energy when it's made and produces CO2 when it's burned) accounts for 50 percent of the nation's waste-disposal costs?

Practical and reasonably painless, these are helpful tips - not only for the CO2 they save, but for the connections they make between individual behavior and global issues. Those connections matter. Global issues, after all, are the accumulation of unsolved local issues. Where better to start solving them than in our own backyards? Copies of ``The Greenhouse Crisis'' are available for $5 from the Greenhouse Crisis Foundation, 1130 17th St., N.W., Suite 630, Washington, DC 20036, or by calling 800-326-5963.

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