by Brett Arends
It's been the hottest summer on record, from New York to Tokyo. Russia is scorched earth. This year's global temperatures may surpass those of 1998: If so, that would mean the two hottest years on record have been in the last 13.
The National Academy of Sciences recently published a survey of nearly 1,400 climate researchers worldwide. About 97% believe that we are causing global warming. (Meanwhile, the deniers cling to their peculiar upside-down logic: "You can't prove for certain that my house is going to catch fire, so fire codes are a total waste of time, and there is no point buying an extinguisher.")
If you're worried about the environment, here are 10 "green" moves you can make that also have a payback—they'll help the earth and your wallet.
1. Stop the energy leaks from your home. Just over a fifth of U.S. energy consumption happens at people's homes, says the Department of Energy. That costs the average homeowner $2,400 a year. Half of that goes to heating and cooling, much of which is pure waste. Insulate ceilings and walls. Seal cracks and gaps. "Often people have so many small leaks around the home that it's the equivalent of having a three-foot by three-foot window wide open," says Kateri Callahan, president of the Washington-based nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy.
2. Change your light bulbs. The typical household has 46, says the Department of Energy. But only five of them are energy-efficient compact fluorescents. These can cut light bills by 75%. Don't like CFs? Matt Patsky, veteran green investor and the CEO of Trillium Asset Management, says new LEDs are much better still. They cut energy use by 95% and emit a much softer light. They're more expensive, but prices are coming down pretty quickly.
3. Stop heating an empty house. Or a house when everyone is asleep. Get programmable thermostats. They can cost as little as $50. "They typically pay for themselves in three months," says ASE's Ms. Callahan. They can cut your heating and cooling bills by 10%, she says, without any effect on your comfort at all. Turning down the thermostat in winter (and up in summer) a little helps too: Experts say each degree can trim 2%-3% from your heating bill.
4. Rethink your appliances. Replace any old ones with new, energy-efficient models. The older your current fridge or washing machine, the faster the payback. The more efficient models today have an EnergyStar seal from the Department of Energy. They typically use about 30% less power than a model without the seal, experts say (more details at wwww.energystar.gov). As for your TV: The bigger the screen, the more power it's using. How big do you need? Do you really want to see, say, a life-size Snooki when you're watching "Jersey Shore"?
5. Stop leaving your computers and home entertainment systems on standby overnight. The screen's black but they're still sucking power, needlessly. Power strips make it easier to switch everything off at once, and new smart strips make it easier, for example, to power down the TV while leaving the TiVo connected.
6. Make the most of your green taxpayer incentives. For example, Uncle Sam is offering to pay up to $1,500 of your costs on things like insulation or better-insulated windows, although the program expires at the end of this year. Your state government may provide additional incentives. The best overall guide to these deals is available at DSIRE, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.
7. Tackle your hot water heater. It's one of your biggest energy users. Put insulation around the heater and the pipes. And dial down the thermostat. They are often set at 140 degrees. That's way too high: The Energy Department suggests turning it down to 115 to 120 degrees instead.
8. Drive a more-efficient car. How wasteful are we on the roads? I once watched a young woman drive through the cobbled streets of Boston's historic North End in a monstrous, gas-guzzling Hummer. She looked sillier than Michael Dukakis in that tank. What are we thinking? Super-efficient hybrids can be pricey, but Jessica Caldwell, director of pricing and analysis at car experts Edmunds, says there are a lot of deals around at the moment that can bring the price down. And you don't have to go hybrid: Ms. Caldwell notes the small Nissan Versa gets 29 miles to the gallon and only costs $16,000.
9. Get a home energy audit. The price of these has come down. For a few hundred dollars, experts using high-tech gadgetry, infrared scanners and computer models will analyze your home, work out in detail all the ways it's wasting energy and tell you what you can do to stop it. As the average home uses about $2,400 worth of energy per year, the payback is often impressive. Matt Golden, chief executive of San Francisco-based specialists Recurve, says he often finds he can cut bills by 20% to 40% just by eliminating waste. An audit can also help you rethink your heating and water systems, and identify possible sources of renewable energy, from solar paneling to a geothermal heat pump, that can help the environment and may save you money over time. Check for firms accredited by the trade body, the Building Performance Institute.
10. Buy an e-book reader. If you read a lot, they are very green. Traditional books, newspapers and magazines aren't: They do a lot of environmental damage, from cutting down trees to manufacturing and distribution. Emma Ritch, senior research analyst at the CleanTech Group, an environmental consulting firm, has done the numbers. Bottom line: A device like the Kindle has about the same impact on the environment as 23 books, or 280 newspapers, or 177 magazines, or some mixture thereof. So if you're going to use it to read more than that, you're helping the environment. By my reckoning, someone who buys a newspaper a day, a magazine a week and three books a month will break even by the fifth month.
Write to Brett Arends at firstname.lastname@example.org