Jim and Robyn Dahlin knew replacing the roof of their home in Greenbrae, Calif., would be expensive. But they hadn't planned to spend an extra $15,000 on solar panels. For that, they have their 8-year-old son, Luke, to thank.
After Luke acted in a school play about global warming, he went on a campaign to get his parents to install the panels. He routinely lectured his dad from the backseat of the minivan about how reducing their energy consumption could help save the planet....
This year's global-warming documentary "Arctic Tale," for instance, closes with a child actor telling kids, "If your mom and dad buy a hybrid car, you'll make it easier for polar bears to get around." Kids on field trips to the Garbage Museum in Stratford, Conn., are sent home with instructions to recycle cans, bottles, newspaper and junk mail. The museum hosted 388 schools visits last year, 42 more than the year before. At one California elementary school, kids are given environmental activities to do with their families -- including one where parents have to yank out the refrigerator and clean the coils to make it more energy efficient....
Nicole Thomas thought her 4-year-old son's interest in the environment was cute -- until he told her she needed to quit drinking coffee. Ailer said he's worried that coffee growers in Central America are cutting down forests to grow their crops. "Going to a coffee shop with a kid who's saying, 'Mommy, you can't have a cup of coffee' isn't very pleasurable," says the 35-year-old mom from Boulder, Colo.
Ailer's obsession with the rain forest started when a neighbor gave him a copy of the book "The Umbrella" about a boy who walks into the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica and discovers exotic animals like the kinkajou and toucan. His mother was soon raiding the library to find more books, like Jane Goodall's "The Chimpanzees I Love: Saving Their World and Ours."
Ailer often tells his mom about the wonders of composting and runs around the supermarket parking lot picking up trash. He has pestered her, his grandmother and a Safeway cashier to get rid of plastic bags and use reusable cloth ones instead. In response to his complaint, the cashier fired back that eating fast-food hamburgers is worse than using plastic, referring to the environmental impact of beef production. Now Ailer is bugging his mom to stop buying hamburgers.
In honor of the "Spoonful of Sugar" principle, I offer some suggestions for kids who are truly interested in conserving energy. And since they involve the kid actually taking responsibility and feeling the consequences of his actions instead of trying to ram change down Mom or Dad's throat, they should serve to impress the parent instead of making him want to tell Junior to shut up.
- Offer to wash the dishes by hand. If you rinse the dishes beforehand, use cold water (most of the energy consumed by a dishwasher is used to heat the water). Make sure you leave the water off while you're washing, then rinse in hot water.
- Do the laundry and wash in cold water. (Your clothes will also fade less, allowing for longer wearing without replacement.) Take the clothes out of the dryer the first time it buzzes. You only get points for this if you then fold the clothes and put them away.
- Take a cold shower. (Hey, heating water takes a lot of energy.) You'll not only save energy, but time, because the temptation to linger in the shower will be gone.
- Turn off the TV. Turn off the computer. Turn off the video games. The website for An Inconvenient Truth tells us to "Turn off electronic devices you’re not using.
Simply turning off your television, DVD player, stereo, and computer when you’re not using them will save you thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide a year." Imagine how much more carbon dioxide you'd save if you didn't turn these things on in the first place! And that same site also reminds us to:
- "Use a clothesline instead of a dryer whenever possible. You can save 700 pounds of carbon dioxide when you air dry your clothes for 6 months out of the year." Check with your parents first on this one, kids: some home owners' associations don't really care about the environment and will give your parents crap about having a clothesline:
The clothesline was once a ubiquitous part of the residential landscape. But as postwar Americans embraced labor-saving appliances, clotheslines came to be associated with people who couldn't afford a dryer. Now they are a rarity, purged from the suburban landscape by legally enforceable development restrictions.
Nationwide, about 60 million people now live in about 300,000 "association governed" communities, most of which restrict outdoor laundry hanging, says Frank Rathbun, spokesman for the Community Associations Institute, an Alexandria, Va., group that lobbies on behalf of homeowners associations.
But the rules are costly to the environment -- and to consumers -- clothesline advocates argue. Clothes dryers account for 6% of total electricity consumed by U.S. households, third behind refrigerators and lighting, according to the Residential Energy Consumption Survey by the federal Energy Information Administration. It costs the typical household $80 a year to run a standard electric dryer, according to a calculation by E Source Cos., in Boulder, Colo., which advises businesses on reducing energy consumption.
- Take up a musical instrument. Turn off your iPod and your CD player.
- Quit sports, theater, and other activities to which your parents must chauffeur you. Your family will save money on gas, and your parents will probably be grateful for the time you've saved them, and perhaps even increase your allowance. You can build a clubhouse in the back yard or join a local yuppie gang instead.
- Pay for recycling out of your increased allowance, and sort it yourself. (In some states, you can even get money for turning bottles and cans in.)
- Plant a garden. You'll have fresh organic produce, and it won't have the carbon footprint of produce grown elsewhere and shipped to the grocery store. Plus when you were ignoring science class, they mentioned that plants consume CO2 and produce oxygen -- this almost turned the Earth into an iceball a billion years ago, but that's not much of a danger at the moment. We'll let you know when that changes.
- Eat the hamburger. The methane produced by cows "generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation", according to the U.N. That's right: eat a cow, save the earth.
- You don't want to drive your parents nuts, but your teachers are all gung-ho for decreasing global warming. Why don't you suggest that the school turn off the air conditioner? Think of the money they'll save on energy bills (maybe you won't have to do that stupid candy drive this year) and that way your teacher can practice what he or she preaches! Of course you'll be uncomfortable, but you'll be combating global warming in a major way! This will also allow you to find out if your teacher uses enough deodorant -- a product of highly polluting manufacturing industries.