On April 22, 1970, 20 million people across the country celebrated the first Earth Day. It was a time when cities were smothered in smog and polluted American rivers caught fire.
Now Earth Day is celebrated annually around the globe. This year’s was Wednesday.
Through the combined efforts of Federal, state and local governments, grassroots organizations, business and industry, and ordinary citizens, what started as a day of national environmental recognition has evolved into a world-wide campaign to protect our global environment.
Environmental problems in our country have changed since the first Earth Day. Today, we have severe energy challenges that pose a great threat to our environment, our national security, our economy and our wallets.
Some of President Obama’s top priorities are to invest in alternative and renewable energy, end our addiction to foreign oil, address global climate change and create millions of new green jobs.
How can you help address the energy challenges we face and slow the pace of climate change? As we each go about our day, we are having an impact on our environment. We release greenhouse gases as a result of using energy to drive, using electricity to light and heat our homes, and through other activities that support our quality of life.
All of this adds up to your carbon footprint. The term “carbon footprint” is used to describe the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere each year by an entity, like a person, a household, a building, an organization or a company.
One of the simplest things you can do is to calculate your carbon footprint. In doing so, you will begin to learn ways you can reduce your own environmental impact.
EPA’s climate change Web site is a good resource for more information on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. On that site, www.epa.gov/climatechange, we have a personal emissions calculator. There is even a calculator for kids at www.epa.gov/climatechange/kids.
In the United States, the average household’s total emissions are about 23,000 pounds of carbon per year. Regardless of whether your household’s emissions are at, above or below the average, there is always more that you can do to further reduce emissions.
For example, by leaving your car at home and taking public transportation a couple days a week, you can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 1600 pounds per year.
Another thing you can do is to change five lights. If you replace the conventional bulbs in your five most frequently used light fixtures with bulbs that have the EPA’s Energy Star label, you’d save emissions and energy. If every household in the U.S. took this one simple action, we’d prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions from nearly 10 million cars each year.
Kids can take action too. For example, don’t let the faucet run when you brush your teeth. If all the students in the United States did this, together they would save a total of 30 billion pounds of carbon dioxide per year. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 2.5 million cars.
Or you can recycle. By recycling paper, plastic, glass and cans, an individual can reduce his or her carbon footprint by 447 pounds per year. If all the students in the United States took these actions, together they would save a total of 25 billion pounds of carbon dioxide per year. This is equivalent to the emissions from 2.1 million cars.
We all contribute to climate change. Since we are all part of the problem, we can all be part of the solution.
For more information about the Earth Day activities in the Southeast, go to: www.epa.gov/region4/earthday.
Meiburg is acting administrator for the EPA's Region 4 office in Atlanta.