Dion-Kirschner: In 2017, resolve to live greener

Hannah Dion-Kirschner, Columnist

It’s the start of a new year, and many of us are reevaluating our habits. In the next few weeks, motivated Northwestern students will attempt to hit the gym more or the snooze button less. But the year we’ve left behind was, yet again, the warmest on record — so while you’re in the New Year’s resolution mindset, consider taking a few science-backed steps to a more Earth-friendly lifestyle.

First, green up your eating habits. Beef and lamb production causes significantly higher carbon emissions per calorie than all other sources of protein, including vegetarian sources like beans, dairy and tofu — but also other meats, especially poultry. Cows and sheep are ruminants, meaning they enlist friendly gut microorganisms to help their digestion. Unfortunately, the microorganisms not-so-helpfully produce large amounts of methane (CH4), a potent greenhouse gas. Limiting consumption of these animals is a great first step for those not willing to go whole hog (ha, ha) and cut out all meat. For the ambitious omnivore, avoid threatened fish species, like tuna and trawled seafood, like most shellfish. And, at home or in the dining hall, don’t serve yourself more than you plan to eat: even the greenest meal is an environmental burden if it ends up in the trash.

When you’re sitting down to dinner, think past the food on your plate. Disposable grocery bags, water bottles, sandwich bags and dishware are also best avoided. Not only do these items inevitably find their way to landfills (and even if they’re recyclable, the recycling process is energy-consuming), but significant energy and water go into their production.

Second, save some for the fish. Many water-saving habits are easy to build into your day. The bathroom is the largest culprit in U.S. water use, so shortening your shower is an obvious choice: each minute you cut will save about 75 gallons monthly. Less obviously, many sinks have a flow rate on par with your shower. To save water, wash your hands and dishes with less water pressure and turn off the faucet when you don’t need it running.

Wise use of home appliances can further your water savings: for example, only run the washing machine or dishwasher when you have a full load. The average dishwasher uses about five gallons in a cycle, while most kitchen sinks flow at about two gallons every minute. Unless you can hand-wash a load of dishes in under three minutes, leave it to your dishwasher!

Decreasing your water footprint reduces not only the wastewater destined for treatment but also the energy required to treat it and to pump clean water to your faucet in the first place. Depending on where you live, you may also receive water from an aquifer or another watershed. Reduction in water use means protecting precious groundwater or surface water resources that are at risk of depletion over time.

Lastly, power down. Streaming video (really any internet use) has environmental impacts beyond the end of your charger cord. Small changes can reduce electricity use if, like me, you’re unlikely to forgo your Reading Week Netflix binge. Unplug electronic devices you’re not using, because they can draw power even when they’re off — a phenomenon appropriately named “vampire power.” (Using a power strip helps, so you only need to unplug one cord to disconnect everything at once.) Swap out any burned-out bulbs with CFLs, which lose less energy as heat and are more efficient. During the daytime, open your shades and take advantage of the sunlight. To kill two birds with one stone, wash clothes in cold water and hang them to dry. It’s better for the environment and your clothing.

These suggestions can help you start off living greener in 2017. With a particularly uncertain year of climate policy ahead some of you might wish for more ways to contribute to the cause. Contact your representatives, federal and local, about environmental issues on the table. If you find yourself with extra money, consider donating to any number of excellent environmental nonprofits. Better yet, donate your time to a national advocacy group or one in your neighborhood (a great list of Northwestern’s environmental organizations can be found through the Environmental Studies department website).

If these more demanding options are a bit of a stretch for you, you’re in the American majority. But if, one step at a time, you commit to living greener this year than last, you’ll invest in a safer and healthier future.

Hannah Dion-Kirschner is a junior in Weinberg and Bienen. She can be reached at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.