Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Twelve simple steps to shrink our oil footprint and save our seas

As the author of an optimistic green book who's admittedly felt somewhat challenged since BP's cataclysmic gusher, I was invited to speak to a local Surfrider Foundation chapter about simple ways we can help protect the seas in our daily lives. Can individuals really make a difference in the face of such vast damage? The answer: Yes. Our collective consumer muscle, which represents 70% of the U.S. economy, matters more than ever now in redirecting the marketplace away from energy and products based on fossil fuels. Surfrider members agreed, and we had a lively and productive discussion about steps to take right now.

Wherever you live or travel, here are some things you can do this summer to reduce our demand for fossil fuels and save our wounded seas. In 1988,the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled 11 million gallons, or about 261,904 barrels, of oil in Alaskan waters. As of this June 15, it was estimated that up to 60,000 barrels, or 2.5 million gallons, are spewing into the Gulf every day, meaning that BP's gusher may be surpassing the Exxon Valdez total every 5-6 days.

Worldwide, by improving energy efficiency in buildings and transportation alone, we can save 64 million barrels of oil a day, the equivalent of one and a half times U.S. annual energy consumption, McKinsey & Co. reports.In this way, we can conserve our own resources and the sensitive ecosystems that are threatened by oil and coal extraction.

As summer heats up, there are many simple things we can do in our energy and product choices to stop unnecessarily "spilling" oil. Below, 12 tips to get you started:

1 Say no to bottled water and toxic, non-recyclable plastics

If every American stopped buying water in disposable bottles, we'd save at least 17 million barrels of oil a year. That's 6 million more than the Exxon Valdez, and the equivalent, in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, of taking one million cars off the road, according to the Pacific Institute.
Not only are plastics made from fossil fuels and likely to release unhealthy chemicals such as Bisphenol-A and phthalates into our water, food and air, but they make their way from landfills out to sea, where they strangle turtles and birds and collect in floating continents of trash. For a list of safer reusable plastics, click here.

2 Eat sustainably sourced fish.
Seventy-five percent of fisheries worldwide are on the brink of collapse due to overfishing and habitat destruction (like BP's). Make healthy green choices with the Monterey Bay Aquarium's newly updated fish & seafood lists at

3 Use compost and organic, not synthetic, fertilizers in your garden.

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, made from fossil fuels, overload the soil with nutrients, which run off into waterways and out to sea, stimulating the growth of algae and causing oxygen-depleted dead zones. For organic options, click here
For the same reason, choose USDA certified organic food, which is required to be produced without synthetic fertilizers.

4 Eat just a little less red meat, and choose certified sustainably produced animal products.

If all Americans skipped red meat for one day (3 meals) a week, it would reduce the equivalent in carbon emissions of taking 20 million cars off the road for a year. Substituting vegetables for one day equals driving 1,160 fewer miles per year. As Michael Pollan reported in "Power Steer," the fossil-fuel fertilizers used on the corn fed to one beef calf adds up to about 284 gallons of oil. About thirty-two million cattle are slaughtered in the U.S. each year for beef, so in addition to blood, that "spills" more than 9 billion barrels of oil.

In addition to their cruelty, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) result in runoff of nitrogen-rich manure. CAFOS splling into the Mississippi River have produced one of the largest dead zones on the planet--in the Gulf of Mexico, where algae that feed off spilled petroleum may cause yet more hypoxia.

Choose meat and dairy that's certified humane, organic, biodynamic, or Animal Welfare or Food Alliance approved.

5 Use green cleaning and personal care products.
Many conventional detergents, liquid soaps and shampoos contain chemicals, such as alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) and nonylphenols (NPEs), that harm reproductive development in marine life--and may impact human hormones, too. Happily, many cleaning and cosmetic brands steer clear of these and other toxic tongue-twisters. Purer shampoos include Aubrey Organics, Burt's Bees, Dr.Bronner's. and Nature's Gate Organics.

6 Reduce runoff.
Keep soapy, greasy water out of storm drains, which carry it out to sea, by collecting "grey" water to irrigate plants, and using porous materials like gravel and pebbles for terraces, driveways, and paths. Catch rainwater in barrels, and don't wash cars on slopes. Conserve clean water by taking shorter showers, turning tap off while sudsing, shaving or brushing teeth, and using water-efficient faucet aerators, shower heads and appliances. See for more tips.

7 Use a nontoxic sunblock.
A widely used sunscreen chemical, benzophenone-3 (BP-3), also known as oxybenzone, has been implicated in the feminization of male fish and viral infections in coral. BP-3, rated a high hazard by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), is also a suspected human hormone disrupter that's been found in 97 percent of Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control. Enough, already!

Here's a short list of mineral-based sunblocks that are free of BP-3 and other problematic synthetic chemicals, and rated highly protective in EWG's comprehensive guide.
While you're at it, try not to break or step on coral!

8 Buy green power and Energy Star appliances/electronics
In many states, we can now choose green power, like solar or wind, for our homes through our utility. Replacing old appliances, like air conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines, with Energy Star models also means big savings for the planet and, thanks to state and federal rebates and other incentives, for our budgets.

9 Drive alone less, take public transportation and carpool, bike and walk more. "If enough people reduce driving or switch to more energy-efficient vehicles, gasoline demand would decline and prices would be dampened," the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports.
It's basic economics: reduced demand results in reduced production.

10 Make sure automobile tires are properly inflated.
By conservative estimate, this would save 800 thousand barrels of oil a day. See more driving tips that will conserve oil and reduce your carbon emissions from the Union of Concerned Scientistsand Environmental Defense Fund.

11 Turn off lights and turn up the a.c. temp.
Incandescent lightbulbs waste 90% of their energy as heat, and even CFLs waste 30%, so turn off unneeded lights to keep your space cooler. Now you can comfortably turn your air conditioner temperature up a bit. Air conditioning represents 21% of annual home electricity consumption. A shift from 72°F to 74°F in the summer will save 366 pounds of CO2/year and $28 on the average annual energy bill.

12 Join hands to take action: Clean a beach, sign a petition,tell your Congressional delegation to support green energy and tough new environmental protections.
*For Gulf spill volunteer efforts in your locale, petitions and more info, visit Oceana's website.
*Join the Hands Across the Sands campaign June 26 to show solidarity for the people and environment of the Gulf and encourage the growth of clean, renewable energy sources. is one of the organizers.
*Help clean an ocean, bay, river or reservoir beach. Get inspired on Surfrider's event site for International Surfing Day June 20th, which is also the summer solstice and Father's Day.
*Hands in your pockets! Give $ to Gulf wildlife rescue and families in need.

Many more everyday green living and safer food, water & product tips can be found in my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.


M'lou Arnett said...

Thanks for the list and for linking it back to the BP "spill" (still seems like a ridiculous term. What about BP gush instead??). None of these steps are difficult, and I hope people can incorporate them into their lives in a way that will make them stick for the long haul. Thanks again for the list and the great writing.
M'lou Arnett

GreenFemme said...

Thank you, M'lou, and good suggestion! I've replaced "spill" with "gusher."
I'm glad of your confirmation that these steps are not difficult to take, and share your hope for positive changes we can make.
Mindy Pennybacker

Unknown said...

This steps are helpfull..