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Cutting back carbon a daunting challenge

Much of the adjustment was hard, but after 10 days, it began to seem like a worthwhile effort.

Published April 22, 2007


As I squeezed the last drops of apple cider vinegar from my mop on a recent afternoon, I realized just how much I longed for the lemony smell of Pine-Sol.

Being green had left my house smelling like a giant salad.

I've never been a tree hugger, but using vinegar instead of my arsenal of chemical cleaners was part of a 10-day attempt to assuage my global-warming guilt.

Haunted by images from Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth, especially the part where most of Florida gets swallowed up by the rising sea, I volunteered to go on a low-carbon dioxide diet for 10 days earlier this month.

For a little over a week, I tried to lower my carbon emissions, which some scientists believe causes global warming. That meant putting the bike pedal to the metal as much as possible. It also meant eating locally grown food, reducing the amount of trash I send to the landfill every week, using fewer harsh chemicals, and saying goodbye to energy gobbling appliances like a dishwasher, which produces approximately two pounds of CO2 with every use.

Reducing one's carbon footprint, the measurement of pounds of carbon dioxide each individual is responsible for emitting annually, is becoming increasingly trendy among the environmentally conscious. The Sierra Club has a support group for dieters on its Web site. Dozens of online sites allow the curious to calculate their wastefulness, for free.

Usually, I would disregard such efforts. I love my SUV too much to give it up, and until recently, I regarded recycling as an unappealing chore.

But after using these calculators on a whim, I realized that between my occasional flights to visit friends in New York and frequent road trips to Miami to be with family, I was emitting a little more than 15 tons of carbon each year, double the national average of 7.5 tons. Ouch.

I decided to start slowly. After checking with my city's curbside recycling program, I sheepishly realized it involved as little as remembering to wash out the empty cans of my favorite diet cola and place them out front on Tuesdays along with the stacks of newspapers I read.

Leaving an appliance unplugged was simple. Riding my bicycle everywhere meant I didn't have to hit the gym.

But grocery shopping became an ordeal. Farmer's markets tend to be closed at night, when I like to shop. The bags of frozen veggies and fruits I usually buy are a big no-no. Frozen foods, which often are transported at greater distances, use 10 times more energy to produce than fresh foods.

The Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg, where onions, green peppers, and strawberries from Plant City are in abundant supply, was a nice way to spend the morning, but on my bicycle, I opted against buying the watermelon that I really wanted.

After 10 days, I wish I could say my car seemed less appealing, but sadly, I nearly hugged it the first morning I was allowed to use it again.

The 10-mile round trip to the office on my bike was feasible, but not on the mornings when I woke up late.

But by Day 11, the idea of living more responsibly was slowly starting to grow on me.

If anything, it seemed healthier, with the bigger picture in mind, you know, Florida as a wading pool, I realized I might have to start making some lifestyle changes.

Maybe next time I clean, I'll try baking soda and lemon.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or

You can do it, too

Making small adjustments in your daily activities can reduce carbon dioxide emissions and prevent further global warming, according to climate change experts.


- Ask your boss to set up a car pool.

- Use public transportation whenever possible.

- If you can, walk or ride your bicycle to wherever you need to go.

Your house

- Swap your regular light bulbs for compact fluorescent light bulbs and spare the planet 300 pounds of CO2 a year. When you buy new appliances, replace them with ones that use less energy.

- Kick your paper addiction. Switch to cloth napkins. Use recycled toilet paper. Pick up spills with dishrags instead of paper towels. Recycle newspapers. Remember, trees absorb carbon dioxide.

- Go natural. Give your thermostat some rest by opening the windows during these spring months when it tends to get chilly at night. In the summer, raise your thermostat just two degrees, which can save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually.

- Clean green. Chemical products tend to be petroleum-based with dubious environmental implications. Try natural products, like baking soda, lemon, vinegar, or biodegradable, nontoxic cleaning products.

[Last modified April 21, 2007, 20:13:39]

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