Sunday, October 21, 2007


So I'm cheating today and just posting my speech that I wrote for Toastmasters this past week. Speech went pretty well, still need to get more comfortable and rely less on notes, but overall pretty good.

It seems you can't turn on the television or read a magazine these days without the words "green," "carbon footprint" and "eco-friendly" leaping from the headlines. Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth really brought the issues of global warming to the forefront and made it hard to ignore our own wanton waste. We're repeatedly reminded that we have a moral obligation to make changes to our daily routine to help slow global warming. But what changes can we reasonably be expected to make that will have an impact on the climate?

Well, luckily for me, I have spent 40 years and learned a lot with the most eco-friendly person I know: My 90 year old grandmother, Sophie. Sophie's been "green" long before Al Gore invented it. And Sophie didn't need some documentary to teach her how to conserve. She learned to conserve from the toughest teacher of all time: The Great Depression. Sophie learned to reduce, reuse and recycle because they just didn't have anything to waste.

Depression-era lessons in conservation have stuck with Sophie throughout her lifetime, in spite of the fact that she now has plenty of money to afford a few luxuries. Today I will be sharing some of the recommendations from "the experts" as well as Sophie's take on how to really make an impact on the environment.

One simple change the experts recommend for reducing the impact on global warming is switching out our regular light bulbs for compact flouresents. Sophie's the master of electricity conservation. Turning off the lights and electronic devices when not in use is a given – it doesn't even warrant a discussion. Sophie's rules don't allow electronic devices to even be turned on before noon. No –sir- eee. You can use the natural morning light to see just fine. And there is absolutely nothing you need to see on television before the news comes on at noon. It was just too bad that The Price is Right came on at 11:00. Even Bob Barker didn't justify wasting electricity. Sophie wasn't going to be making the electric companies rich. Little did she know that she was also saving thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide waste along with saving pennies.

Another recommendation for reducing carbon emissions is a simple adjustment to your thermostat. Turning your thermostat down 2 degrees in the winter and up 2 degrees in the summer can save 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. Sophie has saved enough each season to represent a small town. In the winter she walks around the house with a babushka on her head and layer upon layer of fleece clothing. If she's cold, she adds another layer and never considers turning up the heat. It took a few threats and the words "nursing home" thrown into a conversation last winter to get her to move the thermostat up from the 58 degrees it was set on. As she argued time and time again with me, "Dolly Girl, I just don't want to make those damn gas companies any richer."

Now, on the other side of the coin, she refuses to turn on her central air in the summer. As you all remember, we had some scorching days last summer and I called her on one of the particularly hot days to see how she was faring in the heat. It was 96 degrees and at least a 2000% humidity level and I asked her if she had her air on, knowing the answer even before she spoke. "Dolly, I have a fan and it's doing a fine job keeping me cool." I'm sure blowing that hot humid air around the room was really cooling things off, but the Polar Bears and Penguins thank her for protecting the ice caps. While Sophie melts in her living room from the heat, she can have a clear conscious that she's not contributing to the melting of the glaciers in the Arctic. And she's not making the electric companies rich, either.

Lastly, a third simple tip for the good of the environment is to Use Less Water. The experts suggest to run the washing machine with a full load every time, and washing on the cold or warm water setting saves about 500 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. That's nothing compared to what I learned growing up. Trips to the bathroom warranted the reminder "if it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down." We were encouraged to use less water by eliminating any needless flushing. Gallons upon gallons of water have been saved over the years from this simple rule. Not so good was seeing a daily dose of pee in the toilet if I had to use the bathroom, and I got yelled at more than once for flushing both before I used the toilet and after.

Sophie's efforts in conservation have had less to do with the environment and more to do with her pocketbook. Regardless of the reasons, her ideas have sunk in.

I find myself turning off lights as I leave a room, shutting off the water when I brush my teeth, and keeping my thermostat about 2 degrees away from total comfort in both the summer and the winter.
Knowing that I'm helping to slow down global warming and making my own carbon footprint just a little bit smaller gives me a sense of satisfaction that I'm meeting my moral obligations to do so. And saving a few cents along the way doesn't hurt, either.

Maybe you'll find one of these ideas to help the environment and slow global warming helpful, too – be it Sophie's old-school suggestions or the less radical tips from "the experts." Sophie's spent a lot of years on this earth and I do know one thing. Had she received the proper recognition for all her conservation efforts during the past 90 years, she would have stolen the vote for the Nobel Peace Prize right out from under Al Gore's nose!

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