The True Facts About Global Warming

Looking for the real facts about global warming? Find out some important true facts about global warming that you need to know!You may have found that there is a lot of “confusion” over the facts about global warming– especially online. It's true- there are a lot of global warming deniers out there on the internet who distort scientific claims and promote half-truths. Thankfully, there are also well-known, documented and referenced facts about global warming that are impossible to deny.

The Simple Facts

The most important fact to know about global warming is that it is a reality. We know it is real because it is a measurable process that we can see through the lens of science. From samples taken from cores of ice in the arctic to records of temperatures around the world from over a century ago, you can clearly see for yourself that global warming is an unfortunate reality.

Second, it is alarmingly clear that humans are causing the problem. There is virtually no denying this, and I challenge you to dig behind the claims of anybody who says otherwise. All top climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change, and that we are accelerating the problem through our production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Here is a great list of common arguments from global warming skeptics for you to reference if you meet a global warming denier- or if you are one!

Climate Change: Destroying Earth As We Know It

Global warming is happening right now, and the consequences will only worsen as we wait. It is not some far-off fantasy future. The average global temperature has already risen 1.3 ° F since the beginning of the 20th century. Sea levels have risen 20cm in the past century due to human-caused global warming, and that figure is expected to accelerate in the future. It might not sound like much, but this rise has a profound effect on coastal areas. Many countries like the Maldives already have plans made for when their country will be completely submerged by water- a direct result of human-caused climate change. The only way we can stop changes like this is to use emission-free energy sources and stop producing CO2.

150,000 people die every year as a result of global warming that you likely contribute to- one of the hardest-hitting true facts about global warming around. These deaths result from droughts, floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters connected to a changing climate. 150,000 is a huge number of people- but you can help reduce it. Below, you can find some really powerful ways that you can help stop climate change right now.

You Can Take Action Against Global Warming

There are a lot of ways that you can take action to reduce your impact and help with global warming prevention. Start by checking out the top ten ways to prevent global warming. However, the best way to combat global warming is to act right now and reduce your emissions by visiting the neutral existence eco-store and learn how you can dramatically reduce your footprint- You'll save money and, more importantly, save lives.

Sources

True Facts on Global Warming: A Cooler Climate
Wikipedia: Global Warming
How to Decrease Your Carbon Footprint

Growing Veggies in the Snow

It’s cold out there…Brrr.  The likelihood is, in most parts of the country, the cold has frozen everyone’s resolutions for a greener 2009.  But now’s the time to get moving, especially for those who have made a commitment to eat locally this year.

If you’re truly concerned about the distances foods travel to your table, you need to get down and dirty – literally.  You can’t get any more locally grown that a garden in your back yard, or somewhere on your property.  And while it may be hard to imagine beautiful growing vegetables with all that snow, start thinking now about where you’ll be putting that garden.  It’ll be time to till before you know it.

Winter is the time to start planning your summer vegetable garden.  Go on line, or get some catalogs from companies like Burpee and start considering what you want to grow.  If you’re new to gardens, you might want to start with some research at your local library on the different types of gardens and how they work.  You’ll also want to start observing your yard to find out where plants will get the most sun and grow best.

Think now about what you want to plant in that garden.  How about some herbs to spice up your cooking?  Some – like basil, parsley, rosemary – are easy to grow.  You can even plant them in containers on your porch to save room in your garden for things like fresh tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, zucchini and peppers. It’s amazing what you can grow in your own garden under the right circumstances.  Watermelon, any one? 

But getting back to winter.  If you want to plant certain items, it’s important to research their germination dates, so you know when to plant them.  Germination varies for every plant, even for various types of the same vegetable, so be careful. Some vegetables can take quite a bit of time from plating to eating.  Don’t disappoint yourself by waiting too long to get seeds or seedlings in the ground.

Something else you’ll want to start now to create a healthy, environmentally friendly garden: compost.  If you’re not already a composter, you’ll want to be if you choose to grow some of your own food.  Composting is one of things many tend to think of as a major undertaking. It’s not.  You don’t need a fancy bin for the backyard.  You can make your own, or even go without one.  When done correctly, compost should not cause an odor problem or invite pests.  Just know that without a fancy bin, you’ll have to go out and turn the heap from time to time.  Bonus – its good exercise.

Those counter top composters with the carbon filters are nice. But you really don’t need that either.  Find a container with a tightly fitting lid, and some room for it under your kitchen sink, and your ready to go.  From time to time, empty the container to your main compost heap in the yard, turn the heap once in a while, and soon you’ll have some nice dark soil to apply to your garden for nutrients.

The trick to compost is a balance between carbon sources and nitrogen sources.  The ideal ratio is about 30:1 in favor of carbon. Carbon sources are things like coffee grounds, egg shells, and fruit wastes, in addition to leaves, pine needles, straw, newspaper, and wood chips.  Nitrogen sources are items like manure, weeds, garden waste and grass clippings.  Don’t use food wastes like meats and fats. For complete instructions on composting, check in with your local agricultural extension office.

Remember, most farmers markets aren’t in full swing until mid-summer, but you can get moving on your commitment to eating locally right now.  Feeling warmer yet?

Civics and the Environment: A Modern Cautionary Tale

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently ran a story that illustrates how politics can slow environmental progress in ways many of us never stop to think about.

Neither the writer of that story nor I would be surprising anyone by stating that the outgoing Bush Administration has not exactly been a friend to the environment.  What is surprising is how deftly the Administration has apparently used our convoluted government and court system to get nothing done. For eight years.

The Inquirer story looks closely at how, through EPA, the Bush Administration did an end run around the House and Senate, which it knew would never agree to its new rules and changes to older rules when the American public had become so focused on global warming.  The point may not necessarily have been to set environmental policy backwards (even though it did), but more to delay inevitable regulation its industry friends knew would be coming their way sooner or later.

Because any summary of mine will be inadequate, read the article  for all the details. Here’s what I gathered:

It seems that the Bush Administration and EPA created the ultimate stall tactic by supporting rules that its own legal eagles warned them would never stand up in court. Case in point, its proposal on reducing mercury emissions through a nationwide mercury-credit trading program. Judges in the D.C. Circuit Court threw this rule out, noting that if enacted, it would likely concentrate toxic mercury emissions in specific sectors of the country. Not exactly fair for all Americans – a problem easy to see for the seasoned Court.  The Court eventually saw so many problem-plagued cases on EPA rules in the last eight years that it – including its more conservative members – began to question EPA’s motives.

The article also talks about the infamous “New Source Review” rule, which calls for power plants, oil refineries, paper mills and other big air polluters to submit to a re-permitting process whenever their facilities are expanded or upgraded.  Without getting into the gory details on the fight, the article points out a new fact here – arguments that ensued over the administrations proposed changes to this rule lead to the resignation of Bush’s first EPA Administrator, Christine Todd Whitman. Publicly, she allowed the administration to save face on the issue, but now, after years of silence, admits her refusal to sign off on the change led to her resignation.

All very enlightening.  But perhaps the most interesting item that comes out of this article is that the Bush Administration’s insatiable desire to lift the burdens of environmental responsibility on various industries, hurt everyone – including the very groups it was trying to help.  The Inquirer gives the example of Pennsylvania Power & Light, a power producer in Eastern Pennsylvania that initiated expensive scrubber installations at two of its plants in anticipation of generating emissions credits it could later sell on the market.  The investments would have put the company ahead on its environmental record, and generated revenue to pay for the projects.  That is if a rule the Administration had been warned was questionable had not been rejected in the courts. 

Moral of the story?  Denying and delaying when it comes to strengthening environmental policy and rule-making allows unacceptable levels of pollution to linger, but can also put American regulated industries in a state of confusion.  These kinds of political guessing games only diminish U.S. leadership on the environment on a global scale.  Be sure that your elected representatives – local, state and federal – know that you understand this when they tell you increased regulation hurts business.

How To Go Green And Save Too In 7 Simple Tips

At a time when the world faces increasing global warming, as more and more harmful greenhouse gases pour out into the atmosphere, more and more people are wondering how to go green and make it cost effective too. The good news is that it’s very easy to do. In fact, done properly it’s hard not to save money while helping the planet recover. So, here’s how to go green (and save money) in 7 simple tips.

1. Lower your winter heating by at least one degree. If you can stand two or three degrees lower, then all the better. You will use less energy and still feel comfortable. Then in summer, let the air conditioning cool the house a little less. That’s a great start in how to go green.

2. Set your washing machine to wash clothes in cold water. Modern cleaning powders don’t need hot water, and heating the water is what consumes most of the energy that the washing machine uses.

3. Don’t use the dryer to dry your clothes! That’s not how to go green. It uses far too much energy and it’s expensive too. Hang your clothes out to dry. The air is great at drying clothes – your grandmother could have told you that.

4. Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs use 10% of the energy that a standard bulb needs and they last 10 times longer. So, change your light bulbs. And if you want to know how to go green in a bigger way with lights, check out the new LED bulbs. They can be twice as efficient as the CFL bulbs.

5. Use less water. Check all faucets for leaks and fix any you find. Take shorter showers, don’t bath, and consider getting a new toilet cistern that will use less than two gallons of water per flush. Standard cistern use some three and a half gallons. Using less water uses less energy and saves you money!

6. Walk rather than drive for very short trips. Use a bicycle for moderate trips, and only use the car if you really have to. Gasoline is expensive and it pollutes the atmosphere. Save on burning it and you will save on your money too, as well as help the environment.

7. When you have to drive, keep your speed down to around 55 miles per hour if possible. Your car’s engine will be running at its most efficient at that speed burning the minimum amount of gas. Practice driving smoothly as well. Don’t accelerate fast from a standing start, and don’t brake hard. This is how to go green with your car, though using public transport, walking and cycling is even better.

Natural Cleaners - Vinegar and Baking Soda

I really hadn’t thought much about the cleaning products I used until recently.  I grew up with the mindset that the harsher the cleaner, the more sterile the surface became.  My husband and I started thinking about natural cleaners after our son was born.  We read up on the benefits of using vinegar and baking soda and started using that in our laundry, and especially when it came to washing our son’s diapers.  Before, we only used detergent on the diapers, but it would mask the smell. The combination of vinegar and baking soda took out the odors completely.  Lets go over the benefits of both components.

This alternative cleaning article showed us how we can use vinegar not only to disinfect and deodorize laundry, but for all of our house cleaning needs. 

You’re probably wondering, but what about the smell?  Once the vinegar dries, the smell disappears completely. 

You’re also probably wondering if the acid in vinegar could harm certain surfaces. Yes, it could harm tile or marble, so make sure it is diluted well. 

Of course, in areas like toilets, the higher the concentration, the better, as it is wonderful at taking out toilet rings: After first reading this, I tried it and it works very well. 

Diluted vinegar is also excellent at getting rid of soap scum and hard water stains!  Put some in a spray bottle and it also works great for cleaning floors, counter tops, stoves and appliances. I don’t know about you but I’ve tried many cleaners, many harsh ones, that claimed to work but they didn’t, so I’m excited to share the good news about the wonders of vinegar.

Baking soda is widely known for combating odors, but did you know it’s also wonderful to use instead of your typical “scrub” cleaners, not to mention much healthier! Another natural cleaning article mentions that baking soda is wonderful at dissolving dirt and grease in water, so as previously mentioned, it is wonderful to add to your laundry.  Two tablespoons of baking soda diluted in a liter of water create a safe all-purpose cleaner. 

Another tip: Create a paste by adding a bit of water and you can eliminate those stubborn coffee and tea stains.  I also found another way vinegar and baking soda work fabulously together—as a drain cleaner.  Pour a half cup of baking soda, then a half cup of vinegar, let it sit for 15 minutes, and then pour a kettle of boiling water. 

Try these tips yourself and you will see how effective and economical these two ingredients are!

The Top 10 Ways to Prevent Global Warming: You Can Help!

There are so many ways to prevent global warming through your personal action. Indeed, it is only through our personal actions that humans will ever solve the problem of global warming. These solutions listed below will help you reduce your biggest contributions to climate change. But there are many more ways you can help once you have made the vital changes listed below. Learn how!

You won’t have an impact, unless you first take a look at your biggest sources of CO2 emissions. It is crucial that you understand why you are making the changes listed below so you can become a knowledgeable, effective and motivated citizen for change. Once you know the sources of greenhouse gas emissions you will know where you need to act.

1. Use Your Power Company’s Renewable Energy Option
The single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is fossil fuel combustion for the production of electricity. The amount of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants exceeds any other single source of CO2 emissions in the United States. Knowing that, you can make one simple change to completely erase your emissions from electricity generation: use your power company’s renewable energy option.

Once you make this simple decision you will reduce your carbon footprint significantly and with very little effort. Most electric companies offer you the option of receiving all of your electricity from renewable sources. Ameren’s PurePower program, for example, makes it easy to switch to renewable energy for only a small increase in your monthly bill. This not only eliminates your dependence on coal, but also encourages further investment in renewable energy. That means the cost will only go down as more people like you make the responsible choice to use it. If your provider doesn’t have a program, tell them to start one! You’ll be surprised at how responsive they can be.

2. Stop Driving to Greatly Reduce CO2 Emissions
The second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is from transportation. Producing almost as much carbon dioxide as electricity generation, petroleum-based transportation creates a huge burden for the planet. As a result, getting rid of your vehicle is one of the best possible ways to prevent global warming.

Your impact will be enormous when you decide to stop driving your car, and you will save yourself thousands of dollars every year. Millions of Americans commute to work without a car, and you can too. There are dozens of alternatives, from cycling to work to taking public transportation. Best of all, when you decide to sell your car you will be saving yourself the stress and financial burden of owning a personal vehicle. You can live a longer, healthier, more stress-free life when you sell your car.

3. Buy Local To Decrease Emissions
You now know from tip #2 how your personal transportation has a huge impact on climate change. But it’s just as important for you to remember the carbon footprint created from shipping food and other products to the store where you purchase them. Did you know that the average meal travels over 2000 miles to get to your dining room table? That’s a lot of CO2 emissions, and it’s one of the reasons that transportation is the second largest source of carbon dioxide emissions.

4. Eating Less Meat Helps Stop Global Warming
You might not realize it, but it requires a huge amount of energy to raise animals for meat consumption. Did you know that it requires a whopping 16 pounds of grain to produce only one single pound of meat, for example? The energy required to maintain this current scheme is bigger than you probably realize. In addition, animals such as cattle produce greenhouse gases themselves in their digestive tracts. Cattle are one of the largest sources of methane emissions, a powerful contributor to global warming.

5. Take Charge of Your Investments 
If you are like most Americans, you have an investment portfolio of some sort. Many people choose to invest in stocks and mutual funds. What many people don’t realize is that their stocks and mutual funds could be financing environmental destruction. Mutual funds often invest in coal- probably the most environmentally destructive industry on the planet. Instead, choose a green mutual fund. You’ll feel better knowing you aren’t directly funding global warming emissions.

6. Take Trains, Not Planes!
Whenever you travel long-distances, be sure to take the train instead of a plane. Not only are trains safer and more spacious, but they produce dramatically less carbon emissions when compared to air travel. In fact, I’ll bet you didn’t know that trains produce 10 times less carbon dioxide than planes!

7. Be Vocal In Your Government
You must help shift global warming into the mainstream. Not until you as an active citizen demand that we prevent global warming will the government move to act on it in a meaningful way. No politician interested in re-election is going to sponsor the kind of legislation required to alleviate our massive responsibility for global warming without an organized citizenry pushing for better climate legislation.

8. Recycle Paper to Prevent Climate Change
If you use paper or tissue made without recycled fiber, you could be supporting the destruction of thousands of acres of centuries-old untouched forests. Not only is this an ecological travesty, but it also greatly reduces the biomass available to store carbon from the air. You see, trees and other plants absorb carbon from the air and use it to grow their stalks, roots, leaves and so on. When we cut down the trees we lose their capacity to store carbon. The solution? Use recycled paper!

9. Be A Responsible Consumer
You can use your purchasing power to help prevent global warming. When you are at the store, make sure to consider the energy required to produce and ship the product you are buying. You can reduce your carbon footprint by purchasing locally produced products and food, and by avoiding products that require a lot of energy to to make.

10. Your Secret Power
You probably don’t realize it, but you have a secret power to help fight global warming.

Give Your Credit Card Where Credit is Due

For many years, environmentalists were known specifically for their ability to stand strong on issues without budging.  Corporate entities could contribute to their causes, join environmental task forces, whatever positioned them as greener, and we’re constantly slammed by eco-groups for “not doing enough.”

Those more militant, extreme tactics worked well in the age of Love Canal when state and federal environmental protection agencies were in their infancy, permitting and regulations were still in development, and there was little incentive – economic or image wise – for business to do the right thing.

But times have changed. With the exception of those dedicated to fighting a loosing battle, most of us, for the most part, accept that we’ve got to find better ways of doing things before we damage our only home in some irreparable way. That change is under way – but it’s going to take some time. 

If you don’t believe me, ask Adam Werbach, once the youngest president of the Sierra Club. He’s now a consultant to eco enemy number one, Wal-Mart (see Fastcompany: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/118/working-with-the-enemy.html). Werbach likely wonders how he got where his is today himself, but Wal-Mart courted him, and took him behind closed doors to convince him they were absolutely serious.  He learned that as the movement progresses, cooperation and discussion are more constructive than protests, sit-ins and the “it’s not enough” attitude that has defined environmentalists for years. 

Werbach has lost lots of friends, yet he pushes on in a spirit of cooperation – he even addressed the Sierra Club as he left about how the traditional tools of the environmental movement have seen their day.

Yes, there are still many businesses out there that still don’t get it.  But Werbach makes a lot of sense in embracing those who are trying, and really do want to do the right thing – for whatever reason.  Think of it in terms of supply and demand.  Corporate efforts – like say Clorox’s commitment to its new Green Works line – will never be followed up on and expanded if consumers do not respond.  Instead of saying “that’s not enough,” we should be saying “OK, this is good start, let’s see what else you can do.”

In addition to following the latest on environmental science, we who truly care need to follow the latest in environmental business.  Yes, start ups and eco companies are great.  But let’s face it.  Few appeal to the larger consumer base, and the stories of breakthrough successes are few and far between.  Mainstream attempts are one of our best bets for real change.  Afterall, you can already buy sustainable clothing, furniture, footware, accessories, and thousands of other responsible items from major companies.

Recently, on a popular networking Web site, a member of the green business community asked others for names of premium brands that are truly green.  I sent in some ideas – Aveda, Timberland, Patagonia, Burt’s Bees, Method, and so on.  Other suggestions were all less than mainstream brands – some I had never heard of.  And of course all of the entrepreneurs were out there trying to pass their newer items off as “premium.”  Then the arguing started.  “Method isn’t really green.” “Not all of that company’s offerings are green, so the company is not either.” “Burt’s Bees is owned by Clorox!!!”

It’s that kind of hairsplitting by the so called green-minded that discourages big business from even trying.  Realize it or not, for many compelling reasons, industry cannot change on a dime.  Take the energy industry – we’ve relied on fossil fuels for decades.  They can not simply be removed from the mix tomorrow if we expect to be able to power our homes, businesses, hospitals and mission critical operations.  Any plan needs to consider a change in our energy mix over time – one that replaces traditional energy jobs with new jobs and is thoughtful about phasing in the necessary infrastructure to sustain a move to green power.  That takes cooperation, and unfortunately, time.

So, shop at Wal-Mart – they’ve made a real commitment to decreasing packaging that has spilled over into the retail supply chain.  Reward Clorox for buying Burt’s Bees and spending millions to promote a brand that makes a real difference in the cosmetics field.  Shop in Timberland’s mall stores – they’re the first retailer in the country to insist their mall shops are LEED certified.  Buy L.L. Bean’s “Water Hog” doormats, now made of all sustainable materials. 

Dare to surprise yourself. Be smart enough to know who else is doing what before you fall back on the easy “business doesn’t do enough” attitude.

Give the Gift of Green

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, they say.  And it probably is – but it’s certainly not the greenest. Not only does it generate lots of waste for landfills, but holiday time can leave us with lots of gifts and gadgets we don’t really need, or that are manufactured just to sate our ever-expanding holiday shopping needs.

It is possible to give gifts that are cool, thoughtful and green.  When you’re shopping this season, keep some environmental basics at heart, and you can help to keep your holiday footprint to a minimum. 

Here are some of my favorite gift ideas to get you rolling:

Aveda – started in 1978 to provide a more natural alternative to beauty professionals – is old hat at green, but still progressive in its approach. In 2008, the company raised $2.8 million to support clean water initiatives across the globe.  If you’re lucky enough to have an Aveda salon near you, treat someone special to a relaxing day.  Find locations and the spa menu online at http://www.aveda.com.  If you can’t find an Aveda store nearby, consider some of the company’s amazing beauty products.  I’m a fan of the Be Curly line.

Burt’s Bees is one of the best when it comes to earth-friendly personal care products.  Personal favorites include Burt’s lip shimmers and coconut foot scrub.  For men with rough hands, try out Farmer’s Friend Hand Salve.  The baby line is fab as well.  Available in drug stores, Borders, Target, etc.  Combine products for a great gift, or try out one of Burt’s gift assortments.  More variety is usually available online. Other great brands include Tom’s of Maine, Kiss My Face, and Origins.

The World Wildlife Fund offers a catalog full of adoption opportunities for animal lovers, focused on raising funds for their programs for endangered species.  The options seem almost endless – you receive a various adoption package based on your donation amount, so if it’s a gift, you have something for the recipient to open.  In most cases, you get a stuffed version of your adoptee.  Certainly fun for kids, and a great learning tool.  At the same time, if your home – or that of the gift recipient – has been taken over by plush, you may want to think hard about this option.  WWF’s adoptions are nice, but I have issues with this effort as well – last year I did a few adoptions, and as a thank you, WWF sent me an unnecessary metal tree ornament – made in China.

Uncommon Goods – the Web site (and catalog) is lots of fun, and carries a lot of items made of recycled and reclaimed materials.  Two of my favorites are the depression glass earrings and the hockey stick storage box.  Uncommon Goods gifts can be a little pricey, but they make a real point that almost anything can be made into something else. http://www.uncommongoods.com.

Totes eco-brella.  Protect yourself from the elements while sending a clear eco-message to all you encounter in the next rain storm. Totes eco-brella canopy is 100 percent recycled PET bottles, and the frame is 70 percent recycled aluminum.  A chic bamboo handle and teardrop recycling logo complete the look. http://www.totes-isotonerm.com $30.

Dr. Suess was green before green was cool, in case you didn’t know.  That’s why The Lorax is my all-time favorite gift for children.  Not only is it a great and fun story in the Suess style that makes us all smile a little easier, it offers children the best gift of all – an appreciation for planet earth. Nowadays, The Lorax is produced with recycled and sustainable materials.

Remember, to give green, you don’t necessarily have to resort to companies and retailers you’re not familiar with.  You can find earth-friendly products through Patagonia, Columbia Sportwear, L.L. Bean, and even here at Neutral Existence.  Organic cotton clothing can be found through Wal-Mart, Pottery Barn, and J.Jill among others.  Look for solar gadget chargers, rechargeable battery sets, or even consider giving vintage or antique items a new life. Or really make someone happy with a sampler of organic chocolates or an organic wine, available everywhere from grocery stores to online specialty shops.

If you’re not ready to jump into green products just yet, take small steps, and remember that every little bit helps.  Buy toys that require kid power, not battery or electric power.  Give someone a beautiful plant to freshen the air in their home this winter. Or offer gift cards so your loved ones can get what they really need – bonus, gift cards also minimize wrap and packaging.

Whatever you choose, have a happy and greener holiday!

Dreaming of a Green Christmas – Take 1

Ah, the holidays.  A time of family, friends, good cheer – and lots and lots of waste.  Wasted energy, wasted food, wasted money.  Holidays can make a cynic out of the most noble hearted of us.  For those paying attention, the month of December alone could turn even the most callous person into an eco-freak.

Like so many of the human world’s un-eco friendly practices, the holidays can only go green with effort on our part. Want your celebrations this year to include more green than a tree?  Here are some easy ways to get going this season without loosing the cheer of the season.

First off, rethink shopping.  I’m not telling you to not shop, just be smart about how and what you give.  Consider shopping online – you’ll be one less person sitting in traffic. FedEx and UPS will be out there anyway.  Some sites are introducing smart new initiatives for the holidays that can ease a green conscious – Amazon.com is launching a pilot that addresses “stressful” packaging like those clam shell packs you can never get open and those endless twisty-ties on kid’s toys.  Also, online you have the option of shopping through a charitable portal like http://www.igive.com where retailers offer a percentage of your purchase cost to the charity of your choice.

Think about what you give.  Look for toys that don’t require numerous batteries.  Seek out products that use less packaging. Consider greener alternatives – solar power chargers for electronics nuts; reusable totes for shopping divas; fair-trade coffees for foodies; Amazon.com’s new Kindle reader for your book worm, an amaryllis for your gardener. As a rule, buy utilitarian gifts from responsible companies.  In a companion to this post, I’ll offer some ideas on my favorite “greener” gifts for 2008.

Check the mailbox.  If you’re sending cards, purchase those made from recycled content.  White envelopes are easier to recycle (brightly colored ones require more de-inking to become recycled paper).  Find new uses for the cards that come on your box – use the front panels as gift tags, or even as holiday postcards.  Consider donating card fronts to charity – St. Jude’s Ranch, a non-profit home for youths collects them for craft projects through which residents can make money – St. Jude’s Card Recycling, 100 St. Jude Street, P.O.Box 60100, Boulder City, NV, 89006.

Next, re-do the wrap.  You can do the obvious and look for wrap made from recycled paper.  Or you can ditch the wrap altogether for reusable gift bags – look for ones in general colors like red, green, gold and blue, that can be used year round. And don’t burn wrap in the fireplace to get rid of it – it releases toxins into the air, but more importantly, it can cause build up in your chimney that can lead to a fire.

Three letters – LED.  Upgrade your holiday lights for LED versions.  STAT.  According to Home Depot, LEDs use up to 90 percent less energy. If you can’t spring for new lights this year, consider décor without lights. And skip the giant inflatables – not only are they one of the more tacky innovations in holiday décor, the blowers used to keep them full of air are major energy hogs.

Eco-entertain.  No disposable dinner ware.  But, if you must, use a biodegradable plate like Chinet, and add used ones to your compost pile. Use your dishwasher for clean up – regardless of what some will tell you, current models use so little water, they’re a better option than hand washing.  And using one gives you more time for guests.  Set up a simple recycling area for wine bottles, aluminum cans, etc. near your bar. 

Compost, compost, compost.  The holidays are a great time to embark on this task if you haven’t already.  If you have a nice size yard, you don’t need a fancy bin or even a bin at all.  Just follow good composting policy and you can avoid both odor and pests – check out your local agricultural extension program for tips. One reminder – holiday time is a smorgasbord of rich foods.  Stick to fruit, vegetable, paper and cardboard waste for your pile.  Decadent, fatty foods and meats don’t compost well and will draw uninvited visitors.

Finally, the tree thing.  If you’re more inclined toward an artificial, reusable tree, by all means, go for it. Just remember, artificial trees may be reusable, but they are manufactured products. Don’t shy away from real trees for environmental reasons.  Tree farmers, in most cases, plant additional trees when replacing stock, and through the year, tree farms provide great wildlife habitat.  Nearly every regional area offers some sort of post-holiday program for real trees – some collect them for mulching and composting (two things you can also do on your own), some for fish habitat building efforts.  Some trees can be purchased with the root ball attached for planting after use.  Consider moving yours outdoors for bird habitat after the big gift giving, until recycling programs go into effect. 

So, with apologies to Bing Crosby, start dreaming now of a green Christmas.  And don’t forget to share your ideas for a more responsible holiday on the Neutral Existence message boards.

The Environment and Our Economic Woes

There’s been much discussion of late about a silver eco-lining in the world’s economic troubles.  But will the current financial meltdown really benefit the environment?  Maybe – but it’s more likely to be a wash.

Simple logic tells us that economic slowdowns could be good – manufacturing goes down, emissions are reduced, and fewer green house gases are released into the atmosphere. Deutsche Bank recently predicted that economic recession could cut Europe’s carbon dioxide emissions by 100 million tons next year.  The Australian Climate Exchange, noting that economic cycles are linked to emissions trajectories, has stated that global warming is slowing (Environmental Leader.com). 

I guess nobody told the WWF, which just last week issued a report that concluded that global warming is occurring faster than we thought, and that we better get a move on with the remedies.

Regardless of what we think about the impacts of economic challenges to our commitment to the environment, there is some evidence to suggest that our eco-intentions have at least taken a bit of a back seat for the time being.  The Wall Street Journal has reported that the fall in gas prices – something that makes most of us happy – has actually decreased investor interest in renewable energy stocks. New Energy Finance reports that renewable stocks fell 45 percent, as opposed to 23 percent for the Dow over the same period.  Maybe that’s a reality check for us eco-hearted folks – we’ve always known that in business, green projects are directly related to budgets.  That was recently confirmed at a tech conference where 70 percent of those polled said green IT and efficient technology were important, as long as such efforts also saved money (vnunet.com).

The good news is this – being green does often lead directly to cost cutting, for both business and consumers.  More and more larger companies and businesses are realizing this.  Hopefully, the cost savings the corporate world has realized through greening operations will come to mind as it restructures and re-budgets to address the financial chaos we’re experiencing.  Industry knows that energy costs will continue to haunt bottom lines until there is (and probably after there is) a national energy policy in the United States.  Wall Street will realize that again eventually, once fears subside.

Even better news – you can help by sticking to your eco-guns.  Reward companies that have made real progress with your money.  You’re probably spending less, which makes your dollar more powerful.  Give it to those who get it – companies like Patagonia, Nike, Burt’s Bees, Seventh Generation.  Shop at retailers who are trying to do the right thing – stores like Timberland, the Body Shop, Office Depot, and yes, even Wal-Mart, which should get high marks for forcing other companies to get with the program.

Keep on pre-cycling in the shopping isle, and push forward with demand for greener practices.  Our financial crisis may be a perfect opportunity to remind the corporate world about the principle of supply and demand.