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April 7, 2008

Use your tax rebate to help the planet


It’s a happy coincidence that tax time and Earth Day occur during the same month.

While our government drags its feet on addressing the threat of global warming, it plans to fix the economy by sending middle- and low-income Americans a big chunk of money this spring. The hope is that we’ll all run out and buy a bunch of stuff, collectively yanking the economy out of the impending recession.

The reality is that a lot of people will need this money to pay bills. For those who can afford to spend the rebate: Please don’t blow it at Wal-Mart on a pile of made-in-China stuff you don’t really need. Instead, consider investing some of it in purchases that will help protect the planet in the long term _ and save you money in the near term.

Climate scientists warn that we’re near the tipping point. If we don’t take action right now, we will not be able to avert the worst-case scenarios of global warming. Clearly, many key pieces of the transition to a more-sustainable society need to come from those in charge. We need caps on carbon emissions; higher minimum fuel standards for new vehicles; investments in clean, renewable energy sources and a willingness to work with the rest of the world on climate-change issues.

The good news is that, come November, we’ll have better leadership no matter who wins the White House. In the meantime, there are lots of little things we can all do that, collectively, could make a difference.

Here are 10 ways to spend your tax rebate that will help the environment _ and save you money.

1. Replace the incandescent light bulbs in your five most frequently used light fixtures with compact fluorescent bulbs. Though they cost a bit more, these bulbs last six to 10 times longer and use two-thirds less energy. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that if every household in the United States changed five bulbs, it would prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to emissions from at least 8 million cars.

2. Buy a washable, reusable water bottle and boycott bottled water. It takes a lot of fossil fuel to produce and transport bottled water, which is often just filtered tap water in disguise, anyway. And, since most of these bottles are not recycled, they are also clogging up our landfills.

3. Replace an old appliance with a newer one that has the EPA’s Energy Star efficiency rating. Many new refrigerators use half as much electricity as older models, so you’ll start saving money as soon as you plug in the new fridge.

4. Buy a good pair of sneakers (or a bike) and walk or ride to and from work or errands whenever you can. Besides reducing greenhouse gas emissions, you’ll save money on fuel, and with gas prices projected to hit $4 this summer, can you afford not to?

5. Buy cloth grocery bags. If we are going to survive on this planet, we must move from a throwaway economy to a reuse/recycle economy. Other countries, including China, have banned plastic bags, but we’re still throwing them into landfills.

6. Plant a tree in your yard. In addition to removing carbon from the atmosphere, you’ll be investing in a shady place to cool off on a hot day. If the tree is near your house, it will eventually help cool your home in the summer, reducing the need for air conditioning.

7. Save up for a more-fuel-efficient car. The National Resources Defense Council estimates that a vehicle that gets 40 miles per gallon instead of 20 will emit half as much in greenhouse gases and save you roughly $3,000 in fuel.

8. Fix drippy faucets and drafty doors. According to the EPA, a leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water a day – racking up not only your water bill, but also the amount of energy required to purify and distribute water to your household.

9. Buy a programmable thermostat that you can set to turn down the heat automatically when you’re sleeping or not at home. When used properly, these can save you $100 a year, according to the Consumer Federation of America.

10. Plant a garden, or, if you don’t have the space or a green thumb, set aside some extra money to spend at local farm stands this summer. By reducing the distance your food travels, you’ll cut carbon emissions, support the local economy and lower your grocery bill.

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Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at lisamiller44@hotmail.com.