“An Inconvenient Truth” recently won the Academy award for Best Documentary Feature. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is essentially Al Gore giving a presentation on global warming.

The presentation itself isn’t anything fancy – more like a lecture by one of your more captivating college professors, along with some really cool graphics. But it does state the facts of global warming quite clearly.

There are dissenters, but the prevailing school of thought these days is that global warming – the widespread rise of temperature on our planet – is a direct result of the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil, as well as the clearing of forests. Both of these increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn heats things up. These are manmade problems — not natural ones.

You might think a small rise in temperature is not such a big deal, but it does have consequences, such melting glaciers, severe storms and droughts in greater frequency, and serious changes in plant and animal habitat. According to the website, “The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years,” and if global warming continues at its current rate, “Sea levels could rise by more than 20 feet, devastating coastal areas worldwide.” Some of the documentary’s most compelling scenes were computer-generated oceans rising to fill the streets of modern cities.

What I liked best about “An Inconvenient Truth” was the tips it offered as the end credits rolled – Ten Simple Things You Can Do To Stop Global Warming. I also liked the fact that movie’s message wasn’t all doom and gloom – instead, it reassuringly stated that we CAN solve the problem of global warming, and that small efforts could bring big results.

So here’s what you can do:

Replace regular lightbulbs with compact fluorescents. The compact fluorescents screw into the socket the same way. They cost more, but they last much longer. Also, turn off lights when you’re not using them.

Drive less. If you can walk, bike, carpool or take mass transit instead of driving, consider doing so. A friend in Albuquerque started taking the bus instead of driving to work. He’s saving money, using less fossil fuel, and also meeting new people and seeing things he wouldn’t ordinarily see on his daily commute.

Recycle. Aim to recycle half of your household waste. Most paper, plastic, cans and jars can go in the recycle bin. You can also donate things you no longer need to charity (instead of sending them to the landfill). Organizations like Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Vietnam Veterans of America will come to your house and carry away your castoffs.

Check Your Tires. Keeping your tires inflated properly can improve your gas mileage by more than 3%.

Use less hot water. Install a low flow showerhead or take shorter showers. Only do laundry with hot water when you need to – warm and cold usually suffice. Be mindful when you wash the dishes and avoid keeping the water running when you don’t need it.

Consider how things are packaged. Choose products with less packaging to reduce the overall amount of garbage in your household. When purchasing fresh produce, ask yourself if you really need the plastic bag. Most of the time you don’t.

Adjust your thermostat. Would you still be comfortable with the inside temperature a couple degrees lower in winter or higher in the warmer months?

Plant a tree. Trees absorb carbon dioxide. They can also shade your house and reduce your need for fans and air conditioning in the summer.

Turn off electronic devices when they’re not in use. Do you keep your television or computer on when you’re not using it? Turn it off and save energy! You’ll notice a difference on your electric bill too.

Encourage people to see “An Inconvenient Truth.” Hopefully they’ll get the message and pass it on.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, correspondent
February 2007

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.