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How did your life collide with the headlines in 2007?
Iraq, the subprime crisis, Facebook, immigration, oil prices - 2007 had no shortage of hefty headlines. We'd like to hear about how these and other major news events of the past year affected you. Where did your life collide with the news in 2007?

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Weekend Carbon Emissions November 10, 2007E-mail this story E-mail this story
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This weekend millions of families are going about their normal weekend activities: Little League games, shopping and running errands, meeting up with friends. Weekend America wanted to know where being green and the weekend intersect. How do normal activities affect one's carbon footprint--or the resources each individual is taking up? Host Desiree Cooper sits down with Lisa Wise, executive director of the Center for a New American Dream, and a couple of listeners to talk weekend carbon emissions.

by Millie Jefferson

As I listened to the interview with Lisa, I was struck by how many tips she gave that seemed practical. Usually when you hear an interview with a "green guru," you leave the discussion feeling hopeless and overwhelmed. I can't afford solar panels or a hybrid car, but Lisa gave me hope with some of the things she said. I feel like there are small things I can do that will allow me to do my part. Just in case you are as easily frustrated as I am when trying to "go green," I made a list below of things I felt were easy to implement into my lifestyle. Maybe you will be able to do the same.

1. Buy Organic and Local- When possible buy organic or fair trade. This will ensure that the food was grown in an eco-friendly way, and if it's locally grown, it didn't have to travel that far. This also goes for going for coffee and eating out. Coffee and foods in restaurants often have a large carbon footprint because of the distances they had to travel to get to the restaurant and how they were produced. Try eating at restaurants that service locally produced or seasonal foods. Lisa promises that the food will taste great and you will enjoy your meal knowing that you are being nice to the environment.

2. Pay Attention to Packaging- When you go out shopping, try to go to stores or co-ops that keep packaging to a minimum. For example, you may chose to buy the loose tomatoes than the tomatoes that are boxed or in the crates with plastic wrap over them. Also, try and take reusable bags to the grocery store. Even though the plastic bags you receive are better than paper, they are still not that great. A cloth tote bag would be better.

3. Ditch Bottled Water- Bottled water has a huge carbon footprint because of its packaging and the fact that it is bottled in one place and shipped all over. Try buying a reusable water bottle or canteen for your water. Also, a lot of restaurants have made the move from offering bottled water to using in-house filtration systems and where the water quality is good enough serving tap water. Although most folks recycle their plastic water bottles, the footprint is still pretty significant because of the shipping.

4. Upgrade Your Home- Check around the house and make sure that all of your windows close properly and that the attic in your home is properly insulated. This can control how much heating and cooling you will need to do and might save you some money. Also, if you keep your heating and cooling systems properly maintained and try not to use disposable filters when possible. One easy thing you can do is change your light bulbs. Most of the light bulbs we use are incandescent. Try switching to compact florescent lighting. They have made a lot of advances in florescent lighting, and it's not as bad as we think. Compact florescent light bulbs use about 75 percent less energy than our normal light bulbs and last much longer. It will be an investment in the beginning, but should pay for itself in the way of lower energy costs.

5. Go Native- When landscaping around your home or business, try and buy local plants. They will probably grow better in that particular environment, and they had to travel a shorter distance to get to where you are. Also, use organic soil when planting: it was made in an eco-friendly way and uses less resources. And remember, green plants are a good way to offset carbon, so plant something--it helps.

6. Window Shop- If you have to buy, try window shopping or browsing first. This will ensure that you are only buying things that you really need or really want and not just impulse buying. Remember, everything has a footprint, so if we are conscious consumers, we can reduce our footprint and the overall footprint of our nation.

7. Take a Direct Flight- If you have to travel by airplane, try and take a direct flight when possible. You will reduce your impact if you only have to take one flight as opposed to hopping on a couple of those jumbo jets to reach your destination.

8. Switch it to Vacation Mode- Most water heaters have a setting you can switch to when you are going to be away from home traveling for an extended period of time. Switching the water heater to the vacation or away mode will still keep the water warm, but will not use the energy it takes to keep a tank full of piping hot water. You will enjoy that trip more knowing you are using less energy and saving money while you are away.

9. Unplug It!- Unplug appliances that you don't use frequently. Most electronics have a standby mode that sucks energy even when not in use. Things like cell phone chargers and laptops should be unplugged when you are not using them. You will save energy and money with this simple step.

10. Keep Your Car- These days the temptation to buy a hybrid or electric vehicle is great. However, if you are driving an older model car that is in good condition, you may be better off sticking with that. Even hybrids have a footprint, so before you go spend money on a new car, with its own footprint, consider driving the car you own for a little while longer. Also, try incorporating other more eco-friendly modes of transportation when possible.

11. Chuck Your Microwave- Okay, maybe that is a bit drastic. But this speaks more to those convenient frozen dinners we rely on from time to time. Keeping frozen foods is actually more energy intensive because it actually costs more to freeze foods, ship them frozen, feature them frozen in the grocery store and then keep them frozen in our homes. So, while the modern convenience of the microwave and the microwave meal is more enticing, it is a little bit more resource intensive. When you can, you should cook fresh foods in bulk and then eat them throughout the week. You will use less frozen foods and eat out a bit less too.

12. Use Cold Water- No, not in the shower, but maybe in the washer. Try washing things that don't need to be cleaned in hot water in cold. It takes a lot of energy to heat hot water to wash with; multiply that by the number of loads, and that's a lot of energy. Most of the major detergent makers make cold water soap so you get the same cleaning power you would with regular soap. Try washing those mixed loads in cold water and save money while you do.

13. Have the Family Over- Lisa says that family gatherings are a good way to spend some quality time with the ones you love with very little carbon impact. "Carbon freebies," as she calls them, are things that we can do that do not really add to our impact and they are usually enjoyable.

14. Block Out Time for Errands- Most us try and run errands in between work and other commitments. Lisa suggests that we try and bundle errands together so that we take care of everything in the same area of town all at once. Going back and forth to the same part of town on different days to run errands uses more gas than if you planned out your errand trips and did everything in the same area all at once. And if you really want to make it a "carbon freebie," try carpooling and running errands with a buddy.

15. Remember to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle- It seems basic but in a capitalistic society like ours, sometimes we lose sight of just how much we buy. Try buying less and reusing things when you can. Your pockets won't be as light and you will be doing your part to save the Earth--oh, you know what I mean.