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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Sept/Oct 2001 : Lifelines

Turning the Tide

By doing simple, everyday actions, individuals can have measurable impact on helping the environment.

Global warming, extinction, drilling in the Arctic—amid the bewildering array of scary news about the environment, it’s easy for people to become discouraged. But according to a new survey commissioned by the non-profit Center for a New American Dream, even while the U.S. resists international pressure to reduce American energy consumption and global warming emissions, 96 percent of Americans say that individuals should take personal action to conserve energy and protect the environment.

Actively, California seems to be reducing both problems without sacrifice. A poll, conducted in late July, found that 89 percent of Californians acted to reduce their energy consumption. Also, 81 percent of Californians who took personal action to conserve energy during the recent power crunch report that it has not had a significant negative impact on their quality of life.

“We don’t have to shiver in the dark or droop in the heat in order to protect the environment,” says the center’s executive director Betsy Taylor. “This is a dramatic rebuke to the myth that Americans have to suffer if they want to conserve resources. “Our findings also show that not only can Americans reduce their energy usage without sacrifice—they are in fact more than willing to do so.”

Turn the Tide

In a national survey conducted by the center, almost two-thirds of Americans acknowledge that they would do more to conserve energy if they felt that their actions had a measurable positive impact on the environment. Fifty-seven percent would do more if they thought it would teach kids an important lesson. Time, on the other hand, was not as important a factor, as only 43 percent said they would do more to conserve energy and protect the environment if they had more time.

But what can just one person really do to make a difference? Nine things, says the Center for a New American Dream. And what’s more, they can prove it.

In the wake of a new poll revealing that recent action to conserve energy in California has not had a significant negative effect on quality of life, the center has launched “Turn the Tide,” a program of nine simple actions that individuals can take that will have a measurable positive impact on the environment. “Turn the Tide” provides the necessary information by showing the actual environmental benefits of these actions using a real-time on-line calculator that demonstrates to Americans that what they do really matters.

Visitors can log on to the “Turn the Tide” Web site (, sign up, take a few easy actions and find out immediately how much carbon dioxide (CO2) they are keeping out of the environment. They can take a few other actions and find out how many trees and how much water they’ve saved. Participants can click yet another button to see how many resources all of the program’s members have protected. For those without Web access, the center will provide a free workbook to report and mail in their calculations. It’s that simple.

In just the first month of the program, “Turn the Tide” participants have already taken personal action that will prevent the emission of almost half a million pounds of CO2 and save more than one million gallons of water per year.

But will Americans really take these simple actions to heart and do them? Nationwide, according to a center survey, almost half of all Americans are willing to reduce their driving by 20 miles a week, and seven in 10 would install energy efficient light bulbs. Using the “Turn the Tide” Web site calculations, these actions show a savings of an astonishing 159 billion pounds of carbon dioxide per year (CO2/y). Even 43 percent would eat one fewer beef meal a week, saving five trillion gallons of water and 8.5 billion pounds of grain and preventing the emission of 37 billion pounds of CO2/y. These three actions alone would account for more than seven percent of the necessary carbon reductions needed to meet the emissions targets of the Kyoto Protocol.

As the center sees it, it’s up to the American people. When surveyed, only 38 percent of Americans said that they trust government to provide the necessary leadership on energy conservation and environmental protection. Power utilities and businesses fared evenworse than government on leadership, receiving 33 percent and 29 percent of support, respectively. By contrast, 56 percent said they trust individuals to provide leadership.


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