Do Your Part

by Carolyn Chase


It's officially "Earth Month" around the world, as more than 4500 groups in 181 countries have registered events, activities and campaigns ( in honor of the 30th anniversary of Earth Day.

Earth Day has evolved since 1970. Global heartthrob Leonardo Dicaprio, now Chair of the global coordinating group, the Earth Day Network (founded in part by yours truly), is scheduled to interview President Clinton. Pamela Anderson Lee will appear at the National Mall in Washington D.C. for the official national observance on April 22.

This year's Earth Day education and activism focus is on energy: teaching people where it comes from and how important our personal and political energy choices are to the environment, economy and our quality of life.

Energy solutions are being promoted throughout April that make a difference every day throughout the year. As a region that imports a vast amount of energy, San Diegans can make smarter - and greener - energy choices and investments.

One of the easiest and cheapest consumer actions was promoted at San Diego's EarthFair in Balboa Park on April 16th asking people to switch to green power companies: or Green Mountain Energy. Businesses and consumers - to sum it up - just do it. There is no rationale at all for staying with Sempra Energy. There are plenty of economic and environmental justifications for switching.

The National Environmental Trust's "Pollution Solutions" trailer rolled into Balboa Park on April 7th. The trailer features energy-efficient products that are available now - everything from light bulbs to the truck pulling the trailer to 44 cities in 16 states.

Practicing energy efficiency and making informed choices on your appliance purchases and personal transportation can save you money and help save the planet from global warming pollution. According to the Department of Energy, the average U.S. household spends about $1,300 each year on home energy use. The tips from the Pollution Solutions Tour (, can help anyone can shave one third to one half off their power bill-for a typical savings of between $430 and $650!

The tour trailer is entirely solar powered, and capable of independently supplying enough energy to run all the appliances, lights, and computers on board. A computer display shows how the electricity produced by the usual dirty diesel generator can easily be replaced by pollution-free solar energy. The solar energy system can even generate enough electricity to put power back onto the local electricity grid.

More San Diegans will have that option now that Altair Energy has opened an office here to sell and install solar energy generating systems to consumers. Photovoltaic technology (PV) has been used on satellites for more than 40 years, but has only recently become affordable to homeowners. At a time when fossil fuel prices are on the rise and solar electric system costs have dropped, there has never been a better time to install a solar electric system in California.

If you want something less exotic, then change some light bulbs. The Pollution Solutions folks promoted their tour with the simple concept: "If you can change a light bulb, you can change the world." (I keep thinking that there must be a joke in there somewhere. Like, how many light bulb changers does it take to screw global warming? Something like that.)

Compact fluorescent light bulbs CFLs use about a quarter of the electricity to provide the same light, so they significantly lower the pollution and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that result when fossil fuels are burned to make electricity. Over time, the energy savings pay for the cost of the bulb.

If you'd like to change some light bulbs - and raise money for a non-profit project, then visit the Earth Day Bright Lights site ( The Energy Saver "Bright Lights" program hopes to deploy thousands of CFLs across the country. You can participate in this program to raise money for your school or non-profit group, lower electricity bills, educate students, and help the environment.

On April 27th, San Diego EarthWorks will host it's annual VIP (Very Important Planet) Reception and EARTH (Environmental and Restoration That Helps) Awards. Held at the City of San Diego's award-winning "green" building in Kearny Mesa. The Air Pollution Control District will present Clean Air Awards and the San Diego Regional Energy Office will present Energy Leadership Awards. You can nominate projects, businesses or individuals or RSVP by visiting or calling 858-496-6666.

San Diegans on hand at the Pollution Solutions tour included, Robert Rhew, an atmospheric chemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who summarized the variety of research on climate change based here in San Diego.

"The earth's climate is a very complex system. Atmospheric chemists view the atmosphere as a large reaction vessel, but the conditions are constantly changing as more gases are added to the brew. As the late Roger Revelle said, 'Humanity is performing a great, one-time experiment... with the entire planet as its laboratory.'

"It's clear that the prudent thing to do is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while scientists learn more about how the climate works. Scientists are generally reluctant to promote specific policies or technologies, because that really isn't their expertise. But I don't know a single atmospheric scientist who is complacent about what is happening to our global environment."

A recent American Geophysical Union poll indicated that many Americans believe global warming is a problem, but feel hopeless to do anything about it. That's not too surprising given the overwhelming and global nature of the problem. But every problem needs to be cut down to size for change to happen. The San Diego Earth Day theme, "New Energy for a New Era" is not only about electricity. The bottom line on environmental and economic sustainability is that changes require new people energy - to use and deploy technologies and solutions both politically and in their daily lives.