By Noah Horowitz
While shopping for the latest electronics device this holiday season, you can make sure it’s a gift that keeps on giving—when it comes to energy (and dollar) savings and the environment—by following NRDC’s Green Electronics Holiday Guide.
The typical U.S. household already contains about 25 gadgets that consume 10 to 15 percent of your annual electricity bill. So choosing the most efficient models can substantially reduce home energy costs.
The impact can be national, too, in lowering energy bills by several billion dollars per year while preventing the release of millions of tons of carbon dioxide, the main pollutant responsible for climate change, from the power plants that run these devices.
But there are three easy steps everyone can take to minimize their electric bills and the environmental impacts of our gadgets:
- Buy an energy efficient model
- Pick the right settings to ensure the device uses little to no power when not in use
- Properly recycle old, unwanted units and make sure they don’t wind up in the landfill or in a leaking acid pit halfway around the world where the precious metals inside them are recovered.
Read Labels & Buy ENERGY STAR: Since your TV will probably last around 10 years, make sure you buy an efficient one. All TVs now carry a yellow Energy Guide label showing how much they cost to operate and how their energy use compares to similar-sized models. If the TV also has the ENERGY STAR logo, it meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) energy efficiency criteria and uses less energy than similar-sized models, saving money and protecting the environment. For the absolutely most energy-efficient models on the market, see ENERGY STAR Most Efficient 2013 and the list at Top Ten USA.
Choose Internet-Ready TV for streaming video: If you might be streaming videos and accessing apps like Netflix on your TV, purchase one that is Internet-ready. Or purchase a little black box that uses very low amounts of power, such as Apple TV or a Roku Box. Avoid streaming video through game consoles like the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, which can require up to 30 times more energy to play the same movie.
Pick the Right Settings: A TV’s energy use can vary by as much as 20 percent due to the screen brightness setting that is selected. When you are setting up your TV, make sure to select the “home” or “standard” setting, and not the “retail” or “vivid” setting that will be overly bright and power consumptive. Also disable settings such as Quick Start that can greatly increase a TV’s standby power. You’ll hardly notice the difference.
Desktops, Laptops, Tablets, Scanners and Printers
Lighter & Smaller is Better: Unlike desktop computers and monitors that are sometimes viewed by manufacturers as having endless supplies of electricity, laptops/notebooks and tablets are designed to be energy-efficient in order to make the battery last as long as possible, which is great for consumers and the environment. A tablet such as an iPad or Kindle Fire will use 35 times less energy annually than a decent desktop with 20-inch monitor, and 5 to 10 times less than a laptop. So consider buying a tablet or laptop instead of another desktop.
Smart Labels: Always buy desktops, laptops, printers, and scanners (and all-in-one devices), with the ENERGY STAR logo because they meet EPA’s energy efficiency criteria and use less energy in on, sleep, and off modes than similar models. If you are interested in buying a desktop, laptop computer, tablet, or printer that is not only energy efficient, but also contains fewer toxic materials and is designed to be easily disassembled for recycling, buy a model that meets the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool’s criteria and is on their list of registered products.
Smart Settings: For desktops and laptops, take full advantage of power-management settings to also reduce energy use, including avoiding screensavers which actually use more energy by making the computer work harder. Instead set the screen to switch off after 15 minutes or less of inactivity, and the computer to go to sleep after 30 minutes or less of inactivity.
Other inexpensive green gadgets that make good holiday gifts:
Kill-a-Watt Meter: A really nifty device is the Kill-a-Watt meter that enables you to measure how much energy each device in your home uses, both when on and when “turned off.” The meter only costs about $20 and will provide many “ah ha!” moments like: our game console uses 70 watts continuously when our kid forgets to turn it off, which can add up to $100 a year in wasted electricity, or that the “turned off” DVR set top box from your cable or satellite company still draws around 20 watts all night long.
Rechargeable Batteries: Even if you’re not planning big-ticket electronics purchases this holiday season, a battery charger and a set of rechargeable AA batteries can help save lots of money and keep the billions of single use batteries out of the landfill.
Smart Power Strip: As many devices continue to draw some level of power when inactive or even when turned off, the foolproof solution is to plug all the devices in the room into a smart power strip. These next generation power strips can sense when the TV or computer is turned off and will automatically power down all the peripheral devices that are plugged in. For example, consider one for your TV’s ecosystem to ensure not only your TV is really off, but also the DVD player, game console and surround sound speaker system that are connected to it. Many of the models include a few “hot sockets” that allow devices like cell phone chargers to continue to charge while the other devices are turned off. Also make sure to plug your DVR into one of the strip’s hot sockets as they need to remain on to record your shows.
LED Light Bulbs: Treat your friend or relative to one of the new hi-tech LED light bulbs. A good LED light bulb now costs as little as $10 at stores like Home Depot and Wal-Mart and due to its efficiency and long life, will save more than $100 over its lifetime.
What to do With the Old Stuff?
The EPA says about 2 million tons of electronic gadgets are discarded each year, but less than 20 percent are recycled. Fortunately, there are great and easy options to do better.
- Reuse/Resell: It takes a lot of energy to make a new device so it’s often better to keep old functioning consumer electronics in use, especially when it comes to smart phones, tablets, and laptops. Give them to family or friends, or take advantage of small electronics buyback programs from such retailers as Radio Shack and Walmart.com and a slew of websites.
- Recycle: If the old device no longer works or is an energy hog like the older plasma TVs, get it out of circulation. Take it to a certified e-Steward recycler to make sure your e-waste is properly recycled. Best Buy, for example, will accept your waste electronics, including TVs, at all their stores—free and regardless of where they were purchased—and only uses e-Steward recyclers. Kudos for this continuing leadership. Staples has a similar program, but doesn’t accept TVs. Beware many of the E-waste drop-off fundraisers at your local school, as the equipment is not always taken to a reputable recycling facility, so be sure to ask.
This piece originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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