For the environmentally-conscious among us, the onset of summer can induce panic: "Am I just being a baby, or is it definitely hot enough to warrant turning on the AC?" "My hair is frizzy and I'm constantly drenched in sweat -- is four showers a day too many?" "OMFG it's so hot -- MUST I CHOOSE BETWEEN ME OR THE PLANET DYING OF OVERHEATING?"
These concerns are actually pretty legit: Air conditioning accounts for more than 15% of the energy used in an average home, and American households use approximately 260 gallons of water each day. Don't worry though, it turns out there are some changes you can make (even when you're thighs are stuck to the couch), that will keep you and the planet a comfortable temperature.
Embracing The Summer Breeze
“It’s great to take advantage of air conditioning in community spaces,” Andrews told MTV News, pointing out that places like coffee shops, the library, the mall, museums, and the movies can get you out of the heat. “That way you’re enjoying AC that’s running anyway, so you aren’t using up any extra energy.”
“Community pools are perfect,” she added, giving us yet another excuse (as if we needed it) to spend every free moment we have this summer at the pool. “They’re a great social place and when you’re hot, you can just jump in the water to cool off.”
Andrews said that if you’re stuck at home but still want to avoid using AC “you can open two windows or a door and window across from each other to create a draft...to get a little breeze going through the house. ...You can also keep a little spray bottle with you to mist your skin a little bit occasionally. That feels great and is an easy way to keep cool without using any energy.”
She also pointed out that fans use a lot less energy than running a full house’s AC system, and that using a handheld fan or setting up a fan right next to you/pointed directly at you can be a great way to keep cool if you’re the only person in the room. If you’re not alone, fans still work well--you’ll just probably have to share if you don’t want to get called out for being a total jerk.
“Fans consume resources too,” Andrews said. “But they use far less than running air conditioning in the whole house. Any time you can, set up a way to just cool a smaller area to keep yourself cool rather than cooling your whole house.”
Window units to cool a single room generally use less energy than central air conditioning. If you’re shopping for a window unit, Andrews recommends getting one that’s Energy Star certified for maximum efficiency.
It may seem kind of obvious, but it’s also smart to avoid using appliances that will make your house hotter - like ovens (these are the biggest culprit), clothes dryers, and blowdryers.
“If you have access to a little outdoor space and fresh air,” Andrews said, “you can line dry your clothes instead of running the dryer.” This comes with the added bonus of not shrinking your stuff and making your clothes smell like a warm summer breeze.
Conserving water is important, too -- even for non-Californians.
“Conserving water is just generally a good practice if you consider yourself an environmentally-conscious person,” Andrews said. “Water may seem like an infinite resource, but it’s not. The way that every city [and town] processes and treats its water takes energy, and to move it takes energy, so it’s just like any other resource. Treat it [with] respect, take only what you need, and be respectful about the fact that it comes from nature.”
Re-Thinking The Summer BBQ
Many people already know that simple things like turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, using a water displacement device in your toilet, and planting a drought-tolerant garden can help to conserve water, but Andrews said that there’s one way to conserve huge amounts of water that most people don’t usually think about.
“Eating plant-based foods saves more water than almost anything else you can do,” she said. “Animal agriculture is incredibly, incredibly water intensive, and knowing the footprint of your diet is a huge way to contribute to water conservation.”
According to TreeHugger, it takes at least 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, 1,630 gallons to produce one pound of pork, and 815 gallons to produce one pound of chicken. In contrast, it takes only 15 gallons of water to produce a pound of lettuce, 22 gallons for tomatoes, and 224 gallons for tofu. (More comparisons are available here.)
According to the book The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World by John Robbins (the vegan diet-advocating son of Irv Robbins, who co-founded the ice cream company Baskin-Robbins), you can save more water by eating one fewer pound of beef than you could by not showering for an entire six months.
In other words, taking frequent showers to keep cool is less than ideal, but skipping a few burgers can save way more water than skipping your shower can.
Eating less meat saves energy, too. According to the New York Times, “Livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation,” and “If Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius.”
We’d still happily upgrade our crappy old cars to Priuses if anyone offered, but it’s good to know there’s another way to make a difference.
In conclusion: This stuff all seems pretty doable. Summer is upon us! Go forth to save the planet by eating more salads, not baking anything, and spending way more time at the pool. Like these ladies.