By Brian Clark Howard
Today's teens are more wired up, plugged in, worldly and savvy than ever. Many care deeply about the threats facing our environment, and are committed to making difference. But it's not always easy to know exactly what to do. Here are some suggestions to get started.
- 1. When You're Done Surfing and IMing, Turn Your Computer Off. If you shut your machine off before bedtime, you'll save an average of $90 worth of electricity a year tell your parents that, and ask for a raise in your allowance! If you must leave your computer on, tell it to go into "sleep" or "hibernate" mode, which saves power. Save even more juice by unplugging your computer (or flip the switch on a surge protector) to stop the "phantom load" problem.
- 2. Put Together a Cool Vintage Outfit. Impress your friends with your fab style sense when you show up to a party in a vintage Betsey Johnson number (you can find gently used clothing for a steal at thrift stores and garage sales). Go glam by raiding your parents' closet for 1970s and '80s pants, vests and jackets.
- 3. Instead of Insisting on Driving, Catch the School Bus. No, it may not be as cool as driving yourself, but it is a lot safer, according to the National Academies of Science and Engineering. Buses are also much more fuel efficient than cars, saving gas and lowering emissions that cause global warming.
- 4. Get Involved! Most schools have environment or Earth Day clubs, so give them a chance! It's a great way to meet nice people, and you can learn so much from your peers. Many clubs convince their schools to recycle, start a garden or hold an Earth Day fair.
- 5. Turn Off the Lights Behind You. Remember that riddle about the tree falling in the forest when no one is around? Well, why leave a light on when no one is around? It's just plain waste. Your parents may even bug you about it because they have to pay the energy bills, and they know lighting accounts for an average of 11% of that total.
- 6. Join the "Virtual March." Founded by eco-warrior Laurie David, Senator John McCain and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the Stop Global Warming Virtual March is a Web-based effort to bring people together to take a stand against climate change. So far nearly 900,000 people have joined up to demand that our leaders begin reducing carbon dioxide emissions now.
- 7. Help Lose the Litter. Littering is a blight on our landscape that chokes wildlife and releases toxic chemicals when it breaks down. Plus it's just plain ugly! Many neighborhoods hold regular cleanups, so volunteer! It's an easy way to get some exercise while making a difference and meeting new people.
- 8. Go Veggie Once Per Week. The commercial meat industry takes a huge toll on our environment. It takes 4.8 pounds of grain (fed to cattle) to produce one pound of beef, as opposed to serving those grains directly to hungry people. One pound of wheat can be grown with 60 pounds of water, but a pound of red meat requires 2,500 to 6,000 pounds of water. In a world where water, land and energy are premiums, making a small cutback in the meat you eat is healthy for the planet, as well as your body.
- 9. Instead of Buying Bottled Water, Get a Refill. Ever see an empty water bottle tossed by the side of the road? Less than 20% of those single-use containers make it to the recycling bin. They also waste fuel for shipping water is heavy! Get a cool metal bottle instead and fill it up when you're thirsty, and cut down on the expense and waste.
- 10. Get a New Shampoo and Make It Natural! Typical drugstore shampoos can have some pretty scary-sounding chemicals in them (just look at the labels!), but why take the risk of putting all those lab compounds on your sensitive scalp? Lots of companies make more natural shampoos from plant extracts and even organically certified ingredients. They smell great, and are less toxic to make.
- 11. Download (Legally!) the Latest Album from an Eco-friendly Star. John Mayer. KT Tunstall. Dave Matthews Band. Kanye West. A number of today's hottest musicians are also going green in big ways, by running tour buses on clean-burning biodiesel and recycling all their show waste. Do your part by buying music online, which cuts out waste from shipping and all those CDs and cases.
- 12. Ask Potential Colleges About Their Eco-Practices and/or Check Out a "Green Collar Career." College can be the best time of your life, but you don't want to be dragged down by a school that doesn't get your green values. Fortunately, many colleges are leading the way with exciting recycling and reuse programs and even eco-friendly dorms! Whether you seek higher ed or not, think about a career that makes a positive difference: not just park rangers, but also teachers, government workers, organizers and media.
- 13. Buy a Comfy Organic Cotton T-Shirt. Cotton is one of the most pesticide-intensive crops, and millions of gallons of toxic residue runs off cotton fields into rivers and lakes, poisoning wildlife. Plus, why put something that had been treated in harsh chemicals so near your skin? Organic cotton is now widely available (from H&M to Wal-Mart to boutiques), in the cutest styles and graphics.
- 14. Take Friends and/or Family to See The 11th Hour. Leonardo DiCaprio's recent doc is a heavy hitter, but it's also inspiring and gorgeous. It just may be the push to get your dad to start recycling his papers, or your friend to stop littering. And it's pretty entertaining.
- 15. Make Your Next Cup of Coffee Organic and Fair Trade. Coffee may pep you up, but it may have been grown under chemical-intensive conditions that destroy rainforest and poison poor workers. Organic means no industrial chemicals are used, and fair trade means growers are given incentives to protect local forest and tend plots sustainably. They are paid a decent living wage, so you can feel proud about what you're buying.
- 16. Earn Great Grades (Mother Nature Needs Smart People to Help Protect Her). Sure, you've heard it a million times before: it pays to stay in school. Here's one more reason: human population, and consumption rates, continue to swell, while habitat for wildlife shrinks. Global warming, ozone damage and acid rain are scary stuff. Humankind can right a lot of our wrongs and invent new technology to live lighter on the Earth, but it will take a lot of smarts.
- 17. Green Your Boyfriend or Girlfriend. Everyone knows that a significant other can influence our behavior in major ways. So way not encourage your honey to cut down on unnecessary trips, turn the water off while brushing his/her teeth and other common-sense tips? You'll grow closer together as you share in protecting the Earth.