5 Easy Ways to Save Money, Live Longer and Tread Lightly on the Earth
There are countless ways we negatively impact the environment—from the kinds of foods we eat, to the kinds of products we buy, to the kinds of things we throw away.
Most of us can't have zero impact on the environment, but there are so many ways to reduce our footprint and live more in harmony with the natural world. Here are five easy life hacks you can start doing today to be a part of the solution.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
1. Drive less
This one's a no-brainer. Nearly one-fifth of all emissions in the U.S. is caused by cars and trucks, which spew about 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases for every gallon of gas.
Sure, there are fuel-efficient vehicles, cleaner fuels and electric cars and trucks, but the best thing you can do is to reduce your driving. (Or, if you're a car-free urbanite, reduce your taxi-hailing and Uber use). An easy way to stop driving so much is to use public transportation.
According to the American Public Transportation Association:
A single person, commuting alone by car, who switches a 20-mile round trip commute to existing public transportation, can reduce his or her annual CO2 emissions by 4,800 pounds per year, equal to a 10 percent reduction in all greenhouse gases produced by a typical two-adult, two-car household. By eliminating one car and taking public. transportation instead of driving, a savings of up to 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions can be realized.
Or take it a step further and help the environment—and your heart health—by riding a bike. According to the British Medical Association, cycling just 20 miles a week can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent.
But perhaps the simplest and best way to reduce your driving is use your own locomotion and put one foot in front of the other. According to the British Medical Association, regular "active travel" (i.e., walking or cycling) cuts the risk of coronary heart disease in half.
As Hippocrates (a.k.a. Father of Western Medicine) wisely said, "Walking is a man’s best medicine."
2. Kill energy vampires
A lot of people leave their cellphone chargers in the wall socket all the time, plugging in their cellphones when they need some juice. What most of them don't realize is that power is being drawn constantly while the plug is in the wall. "The average charger is consuming .26 watts of energy when not in use, and 2.24 watts even when a fully charged device is connected to it," writes John Schueler, former new media specialist at the Department of Energy.
That unused yet constantly-drawn power is known as "vampire power," and not only does it increase your electricity bill, it wastes a lot of energy.
Vampire power is drawn by a variety of appliances and electronics that are always plugged in but not always "on," such as TVs, stereo systems and coffee machines. When these devices are turned off and there's still a little light on (or a digital clock that's always on), it means that they are in "standby" mode, i.e., drawing power. To avoid this, simply plug everything into power strips, and when you're done using them, switch the power strips off. Those tiny little lights should shut off, killing vampire power. You can also unplug devices you don't often use.
Even when your HDTV and cable box are switched off, "these devices consume an average of 17.83 watts," says Schueler. "That means that even if you simply left your cable box plugged in for a year and never turned it off, it would add $17.83 to your electrical bill. Make that a cable box with DVR capabilities, which is an increasingly popular option, and your total more than doubles to $43.46."
To see how much standby power is used by various products, check the Standby Power Summary Table created by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
3. Take navy showers
"Using water-saving techniques can save you money, and diverts less water from our rivers, bays, and estuaries which helps keep the environment healthy," according to the Department of Energy. "It can also reduce water and wastewater treatment costs and the amount of energy used to treat, pump, and heat water. This lowers energy demand, which helps prevent air pollution."
The average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water every day, with most of it in the bathroom. The toilet can account for more than a quarter of that amount. Replacing older toilets with WaterSense labeled units—or simply placing a brick or two in the tank—will help reduce bathroom water use. Another easy way to save water in the bathroom is to take navy showers.
The average American shower uses 17.2 gallons and lasts 8.2 minutes—that's more than 2 gallons every minute. While a long shower may feel great, it's probably not necessary every single day.
Instead, try taking a "navy shower," a technique developed by the navy to save water on ships. It has three steps: 1) Turn water on to wet body and hair; 2) turn off water while soaping and shampooing; 3) turn water on to rinse. This simple yet effective technique reduces the water flow to five minutes or less and can save up to 15,000 gallons of water a year. Upgrade your showerhead to one with the WaterSense label for even more water efficiency.
4. Eat less meat
In 2010, the United Nations released a report that identified animal agriculture and food consumption as one of the most significant drivers of environmental pressures and climate change, stating that "a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a worldwide diet change away from animal products.
Recent research has shown that giving up red meat in particular would reduce one's carbon footprint more than giving up driving cars. And meat production is water intensive and water inefficient: Approximately 1,850 gallons of water are needed to produce just one pound of beef.
But you don't have to give up red meat completely to make an impact. The Meatless Monday movement hopes you'll consider just giving up meat once a week, on Mondays, not just because it can help reduce your carbon footprint, but also because going meatless just once a week can "reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity."
5. Do shopping online
This one is related to driving less, but it's a tip that seems counterintuitive, so it's worth mentioning: According to a study by Carnegie Mellon University, doing your shopping online is almost always less energy-intensive than actually going to a brick-and-mortar store yourself.
"E-commerce is the less energy-consumptive option approximately 80 percent of the time,” according to the report, which cited transporting customers to stores as the single most important factor. Co-author Chris Hendrickson said he was most surprised by “how small an impact packaging really has, particularly with the growth of recycling channels for packaging.”
The report found that an e-commerce model reduces environmental impact with 35 percent less energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions than the traditional retail shopping model. Of course, this doesn't apply to urbanites who are more likely to walk to do their shopping.
To decrease your shopping impact on the environment even more, consider buying less and buying used. And if you must travel to do your shopping, consider walking, biking or using public transportation.
Do you have any other life hacks that can help reduce environmental impact? Add them in the comments!
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
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