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5 Easy Ways to Chase Away Monsters (While Saving Energy)

Worldwatch sustainable living blog by Aaron Schwarze and Gaelle Gourmelon

Cold winds are howling. Nights are getting longer. Are energy monsters creeping into your house? This Halloween, kick them out while preventing terrifyingly high power bills. Read these money-saving tips, and keep your home monster-free and energy-happy.

  1. VAMPIRES (and the cold) HATE SUNLIGHT

vampireOpening your curtains on your south-facing windows during the day is a great way to allow sunlight to naturally heat your home. The extra warmth enables you to rely less on natural gas or electricity for heating. Plus, vampires hate sunlight, so that’s an easy fix. Don’t forget to close your curtains at night, though, to keep drafts (and spirits) out.

Did you know? Up to 40 percent of the heat escaping from your home in the colder seasons is from uncovered windows.

 

  1. GOBLINS (and high power bills) ARE DRAWN TO LIGHT

goblinAs the days get shorter, you’ll turn your lights on earlier in the evenings. Unfortunately, that’s an invitation for sneaky goblins and hair-raising power bills. So, turn off the lights when you don’t need them. Also, look for energy-efficient light-emitting diodes—or “LEDs”—when you shop for bulbs, including holiday light strings to decorate your home for the coming holidays. Can’t find LEDs? Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are another energy-saving alternative.

Did you know? LED and CFL light bulbs use less than a quarter of the electricity of conventional incandescent light bulbs and last 8–40 times longer. Despite their higher price, CFLs and LEDs can lower your electricity bill for lighting by nearly 75 percent.

 

  1. SWAMP CREATURES (and energy waste) LOVE HOT WATER

swamp creatureSwamp creatures love scalding hot water. You probably don’t. Switch your water heater from 140 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to save as much as $46 a year. Not only will you send the swamp creatures packing, you’ll save money for candy treats.

Did you know? Water heaters can consume up to a quarter of the energy in your home. Turning down the temperature 20 degrees saves 6–10 percent a year on hot water heating costs.

 

  1. ZOMBIES (and your thermostat) WANT YOUR BRAIN

zombieIf you put a little bit of thought into it, saving energy is easy. Lower the setting of the thermostat to a comfortable 68 degrees when you are home. Use your brain and remember to lower the temperature (but don’t let your water pipes freeze!) when you leave home or go to bed. Zombies don’t produce body heat like you do, so they’ll soon be heading out.

Did you know? Turning down the thermostat 10–15 degrees for eight hours a day can save you up to 15 percent on your heating bill.

 

  1. GHOSTS (and drafts) CAN FIT THROUGH SMALL GAPS

ghostWhen you notice a draft or a cold spot in your home, it’s time to act! Ghosts can squeeze through the smallest of cracks, and so can heat. Buy low-expanding foam to fill gaps or weak spots in old insulation and door sweeps to close gaps under doors. These adjustments take only a few dollars and a little bit of time, yet they work wonders. Remember, your attic door can be responsible for up to 15 percent of your home’s heat loss (and for those eerie creaking sounds), so don’t forget to check it, too.

Did you know? Reducing air leaks could cut 10 percent from an average household’s monthly energy bill.

TAKE THE EXTRA STEP!

Want to get rid of even the smallest gremlin, all while saving even more money? Have your home checked by an energy auditor. Schedule a room-by-room examination of your home by finding an auditor near you. An infrared thermographic scan may even detect any remaining monsters in your closets.

Monsters are often uninvited house guests, and so is energy waste. Following these tips can free your home from spooky creatures and save you loads on your power bill. It’s so easy, it’s scary!

Aaron Schwarze was an intern at the Worldwatch Institute. He is a student at the Technical University Berlin studying environmental engineering in Germany. Gaelle Gourmelon is the Communications and Marketing Manager at Worldwatch.

 

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Global Economy Inches Up as Environmental & Social Concerns Mount

Washington, D.C. National progress is often measured almost exclusively by growth in the gross domestic product, or GDP. Yet as the global economy inches upward, actual social and environmental well-being lags. Alternative measures for gauging progress are needed to determine true prosperity, write Worldwatch’s Mark Konold and Climate and Jacqueline Espinal in the Institute’s latest Vital Signs analysis (bit.ly/VSOEcon).

Growing economy. The global economy grew moderately (at 4.49 percent) in 2013, resulting in a total combined GDP of $87 trillion for all countries in the world (Figure 1). Emerging markets accounted for a large part of the growth (representing 50 percent of the total), as an affluent middle class formed and young workers migrated into cities, encouraging business investment in developing countries.

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Growing inequality. Even as the global economy picks up, however, social challenges continue to mount. According to the United Nations Development Programme, average household income inequality in recent decades has risen in both industrial and developing countries. One billion out of 7 billion people live below poverty levels and experience most acutely the dark side of development, such as global climate change, water depletion, food shortages, and biodiversity destruction.

In 2013, nearly 202 million people worldwide were unemployed.

There also continued to be labor shortages, increased globalization, and mismatches between current skill levels and job requirements. Developing countries were faced with a growing pool of willing workers in 2013, but limited access to credit for many small enterprises contributed to a lack of investment and job creation in these markets. In 2013, nearly 202 million people worldwide were unemployed, a 6 percent unemployment rate.

Growing consumption. World population is expected to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050, with much of that expansion happening in developing countries. As the world’s population continues to grow, there is legitimate concern about depleting Earth’s resources faster than they can be replenished. The Global Footprint Network, an agency that tracks humanity’s ecological footprint and nature’s capacity to replenish its resources, estimates that the world is consuming resources at the rate of 1.5 planets per year.

Some studies have argued that the world must replace its growth economy with a steady-state economy, in which production is only replaced, not increased, while the economy continues to develop by improving and renewing its existing resources.

Measuring true progress. Studies suggest that although people’s level of happiness increases significantly when societies develop, high levels of uncertainty and social and economic inequality may run counter to this development. Measures such as the Genuine Progress Indicator account for the social, educational, economic, and environmental activities that contribute to economic growth but that go unnoticed in current national accounting frameworks.

Regional Highlights:

  • Although employment rates improved in the United States in 2013, much of the improvement is attributed to fewer people participating in the labor force—mainly newly retired Baby Boomers.
  • In the United States, Baby Boomers—individuals born between 1945 and 1965—continued to retire at an approximate rate of 10,000 per day. It is expected that in retirement, Boomers reduce their levels of disposable income, leading to a decrease in economic growth by as much as 0.7 percent.
  • In Japan, GDP growth between 2000 and 2013 shrank by 0.6 percentage points annually due to an aging population retiring from the workforce.
  • Worldwide, employment rates declined in all regions except South and East Asia, which continued to experience higher levels of growth through 2013.

 

Notes to Editors:     

Journalists may obtain a complimentary copy of “Global Economy Inches Upward as Environmental and Social Concerns Mount”  by contacting Gaelle Gourmelon at ggourmelon@worldwatch.org.

About the Worldwatch Institute:

Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues. The Institute’s State of the World report is published annually in more than a dozen languages. For more information, visit www.worldwatch.org.

About Vital Signs Online:

Vital Signs Online provides business leaders, policymakers, and engaged citizens with the latest data and analysis they need to understand critical global trends. It is an interactive, subscription-based tool that provides hard data and research-based insights on the sustainability trends that are shaping our future. All of the trends include clear analysis and are placed in historical perspective, allowing you to see where the trend has come from and where it might be headed. New trends cover emerging hot topics-from global carbon emissions to green jobs-while trend updates provide the latest data and analysis for the fastest changing and most important trends today. Every trend includes full datasets and complete referencing. Visit http://vitalsigns.worldwatch.org to subscribe today to Vital Signs Online.

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How New York City Was Saved: Sustainability at the Local Level

As noted in State of the World 2014 and in many other places, local and municipal governments have often led their national counterparts in implementing sustainability policies. It is, after all, local and municipal governments which operate close to the people they serve, and so it’s not surprising that they would often have a heightened sense of what works for their people and their environment. This is not, however, an entirely recent phenomenon. Here’s a good example from New York City.

Robert Moses inspecting an urban planning model. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Robert Moses inspecting an urban planning model. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Robert Moses is usually remembered as the man who organized the 1964 New York World’s Fair, a celebration of American ingenuity and international culture built on a reclaimed landfill that was later turned into a public park. That’s to his credit. However, Moses, an arrogant and power-hungry bureaucrat, was also very nearly responsible for what might have been the destruction of New York City’s very essence.

The weapon was the Lower Manhattan Expressway, a proposed highway project that would be gargantuan even today. Intended as a 10-lane elevated highway linking the East and West sides of Manhattan Island, it would have required the demolition of several entire neighborhoods encompassing nearly 2,000 families (and therefore many more individuals) and about 1,000 small businesses. It would also likely have shifted New York City’s emphasis on neighborhoods, street life, and walkability to a greater emphasis on the needs of the automobile. Conceived in 1941, the project remained on hold during the war, but as the United States entered the age of the automobile and the interstate highway in the 1950s, debate over the LME heated up rapidly.

The opposition to the project, which was unexpectedly visceral and unusually effective, came from a wide swath of community members and business owners led by the urban community activist Jane Jacobs. Author of the influential book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs targeted not only the indiscriminate clearing of neighborhoods, but the shifting role of city streets from places based on natural – yet seemingly disorganized – community life to barren conduits for auto traffic.

She wrote in her book, “Great cities…are not like suburbs, only denser.” The understanding that suburbs, and their lifeblood, the automobiles, were fundamentally different from cities (and not in a negative way) motivated Jacobs to defend what she called street life, or the natural formation of communities and human activity which she considered part of the unique essence of cities. Jacobs held that expressways and other mass projects “eviscerate great cities.” To her, cities were an important and unique means of organizing people and communities, and they were being fundamentally degraded by projects like the LME.

In 1962, Jacobs and hundreds of people from the neighborhoods slated for demolition finally defeated the proposal for good. When it came to a vote before the New York City Board of Estimate, a now-defunct board with authority over land use issues, it was voted down unanimously.

Rendering of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, with proposed vertical housing and parking garages (Image courtesy of Library of Congress)
Rendering of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, with proposed vertical housing and parking garages (Image courtesy of Library of Congress)

While the opposition to the expressway was too early to have been motivated by mostly environmental concerns such as air pollution, it was still prescient in its understanding not just of the importance of community and neighborhoods but in foreseeing the tendency toward separateness, if not social isolation, that the primacy of the automobile would bring. Of course, cities are hardly the only places where genuine communities thrive; but where they do exist, they should be preserved and fostered, and the LME certainly would not have preserved them in New York City.

Far from dismissing this episode because it was not motivated  by environmental concerns, we in the environmental movement can learn much from it. For one thing, if we rebuilt and strengthened genuine communities of the sort that have been stretched thin by the expansion of disconnected suburbs, we might well be happier. And the excessive consumerism that has become a part of our culture might well be reduced if there were something more substantial for us to enjoy. The link between excessive consumerism and social isolation is probably greater than many of us would like to think.

And we now know that both community and healthy environments contribute to happiness and well-being. And we also know that cities where historic communities are reshuffled or split apart without consideration are, all things being equal, worse off. Though the opponents of the LME would not likely have called themselves environmentalists, there is in fact an environmental ethic that underlies their ideas.

Furthermore, the LME incident demonstrates that there is much to learn from our semi-forgotten past, and than an enthusiastic, “future”-oriented approach to urban planning – or social planning in general – is not always best. While many now accept as normal the suburban-auto model of society, serious doubts existed only 50 years ago as to the wisdom of automobile primacy. This should remind us that the present is not the only path to the future. The socially isolating and environmentally damaging suburban-auto model has existed as yet for only a fraction of our national history. There are still many Americans living today who remember a different world. We would do well to look for our sustainable future at least partly in our past.

 

 

 

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