Diana Christopulos and Mark McClain campaign to educate people that simple small steps to reduce energy use also contribute to reducing the problems of a warming planet.
The way Diana Christopulos sees it, the issue of global warming is not about saving the planet, it’s about saving something far more precious.
“We are not saving the Earth,” she says. “We are saving ourselves.”
Indeed, the idea that humans would be able to destroy something as impressive as the Earth is a fallacy. Our planet will continue to exist far into the unforeseeable future; we humans, however, may not.
Christopulos helped found the Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition (RVCCC) in 2006 with her partner Mark McClain, with a focus on reducing the carbon footprint of area businesses and individuals through the elimination of unnecessary energy use. Both Christopulos and McClain had been involved in environmental activism to varying degrees throughout their adult lives, but when they retired to Roanoke in 2003, they saw a need for more community leadership on the issue. The RVCCC is now a lead advocate and facilitator of green programs in Roanoke.
The coalition works closely with local governments to develop programs designed to educate citizens and business leaders that reducing energy consumption is not only good for the environment, but also good for the bottom line. They have handed out thousands of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), created the Cool Green Biz program to recognize green businesses, given presentations to civic groups, and advocate for clean energy policies. It can be a tough sell, says Christopulos.
“Behavior change is a real barrier,” she says. “Most people don’t think it’s terribly important.”
Touting cost savings is a great way to gain a foothold in the community, but McClain is quick to point out that they are focused on the bigger picture.
“The issue is not that people are paying too much in electric bills,” he says. “The issue is that the environmental problems associated with global warming are directly linked to energy use, and there is a way to reduce that energy use and solve that problem.”
The process may start with the individual, but the bigger picture includes linking clean air and water to other contributing quality-of-life factors of a locality like economic development and overall community health. Reducing electricity use lessens the need to burn as much fossil fuel, which in turn contributes to a cleaner environment which leads to a healthier population and steadier workforce. The connection of all these factors is sometimes lost in the rhetoric of energy policy. The RVCCC aims to educate the public, while also putting pressure on local governments.
“When you go out to church and civic groups, you are talking to the community leaders, so that creates a buzz in the community that this is an issue people need to be thinking and talking about,” says Christopulos. “At the end of the day, however, we don’t really fix this problem without the legislative relief.”
The Earth will keep spinning after all, even if we are not on it.
Easy Steps to Reducing Your Energy Use
Taking a bite out of your overall energy consumption is as easy as ever. “It’s not hard to reduce your electricity use by 30-40 percent if you haven’t done anything yet,” says Diana Christopulos. “That’s not just low hanging fruit; it’s lying around on the ground.” But she also says to be patient with yourself; nobody is perfect. Here are some easy steps to take.
Keep it in or Keep it out
If you live in an older home, you should have an energy audit performed on your house to make sure it is operating near peak efficiency. To keep the heat in, the cold out, or visa versa, there are a few easy tricks you can do yourself. Make sure your attic spaces are insulated, and all holes are plugged. Caulk and weatherstrip around doors and windows to keep drafts out. Wrap ducts with insulation and get a insulating wrap for your hot water heater.
While lighting only accounts for around 11 percent of a household's energy use, it is one of the easiest costs to reduce - it only takes a twist of the wrist. Replacing conventional light bulbs with a more energy-efficient variety such as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or LEDs can reduce your energy use by 50-70 percent. They may cost a little more upfront - the prices are coming down rapidly - but you will save on your power bill in the long run.
Heating and Cooling
Dropping your thermostat a couple degrees in the winter and raising it a couple degrees in the summer can have a drastic effect on your consumption, anywhere from 10-40 percent depending on your system. Help nature cool and heat your house by closing blinds on south facing windows in the summer and opening them in the winter.
If you are in the market for any new appliances, make sure they are Energy Star certified, meaning they are at least 30 percent more efficient than older models. Refrigerators are the biggest energy consumers in the house, so unplug that extra fridge cooling drinks in the garage. Another major, albeit under-the-radar, energy hog is the DVR box. Cable and satellite companies want them on all the time so they can be updated, so even when you think it’s off, the box is still drawing a large amount of power. Unplug the box when not in use, like during the night or when you’re at work.
DITCH THE DRYER
It takes an enormous amount of heat and energy to dry sopping wet clothes. Put up clothes lines outside and hang-dry your clothes, even in winter, the way grandma did and maybe still does. Line and hangers can be easy and fun DIY projects to do with the kids, and will leave your clothes with a natural scent you can’t purchase at the grocery store.