News / USA

Small Changes Help US Families Jumpstart Greener Lifestyle

Small lifestyle changes make big difference for planet

The Stokes from Falls Church, Virginia, say what they are doing is right for the planet and the pocketbook.
The Stokes from Falls Church, Virginia, say what they are doing is right for the planet and the pocketbook.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

A few years ago some residents of the Swedish town of Kalmar on the Baltic Sea made a pledge to address the negative impact their energy use was having on the global environment. Within a year, the 12 participating families had reduced their climate-changing carbon emissions - its carbon footprint - by one-third.

Their jurisdiction had already made a commitment to completely shun fossil fuels and derive all of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.  

Kalmar's green-energy eco-initiative is documented in an exhibition at the Swedish Embassy in Washington. It is also serving as a model for a Swedish-government sponsored program to engage average Americans - among the world's most extravagant energy users - in a similar effort.

Nolan and Kathy Stokes heard about the Climate Pilot program last July and decided to take on the challenge to use energy more efficiently in their Falls Church, Virginia home.

The geothermal heat pump is a major investment, costing over $30,000, but the Stokes say government tax credits and lower heating and cooling bills will pay for the system in the long run.
The geothermal heat pump is a major investment, costing over $30,000, but the Stokes say government tax credits and lower heating and cooling bills will pay for the system in the long run.

Small Changes, Big Impact

On this cold winter day the Stokes have engaged two work crews. One is replacing windows with double pane glass. The other has parked its huge drilling rig on the front lawn to dig a 200-meter hole for a geothermal heat pump.

The ground source heat pump is the most ambitious investment so far, says Kathy Stokes, a lawyer who like her husband, a financial planner, works at home. "We were recycling and changing light bulbs to more efficient ones, but we kept thinking and saying, 'There's got to be more to reducing our carbon footprint.'"

Lars Roth, the Swedish Embassy's First Environment Secretary, says the Climate Pilot program builds on the idea that in tackling the global environment crisis, individual actions can make a positive difference. "You can have laws. You can have economic stimulus packages to green your economy, but in the end it comes down to consumer choices, what each one of us decides to do in our daily lives."

Forty years ago, Sweden - like the United States - was largely dependent on imported fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas. The burning of these fuels releases large amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the earth's atmosphere.

Each person on the Kalmar Climate Pilot team calculated carbon emissions from products and services purchased before and after the eco-experiment and then served as coaches for American families in the Swedish Embassy program.
Each person on the Kalmar Climate Pilot team calculated carbon emissions from products and services purchased before and after the eco-experiment and then served as coaches for American families in the Swedish Embassy program.

Taking Action

But in the 1970s, after oil supply interruptions and fuel-price shocks, Sweden began to make the switch from petroleum imports to renewables and nuclear energy with considerable success. Roth says 43 percent of total energy production is based on renewable sources. "Almost 80 percent of our electricity production is based on either renewable or nuclear. It's almost fossil [fuel] free."

Sweden's per capita carbon emissions fell, too. Today, each person in the country generates 7.4 metric tons of carbon every year. The average American, on the other hand, produces 23.5 metric tons of carbon annually, according to Tim Herzog, a climate policy analyst with the World Resources Institute, a private Washington-based research group. "The major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions at a national level is energy consumption. The primary drivers of that are electricity and where a country gets its electricity. The United States gets about half of its electricity from coal."

The Climate Pilot program identifies four areas where Americans can start reducing their carbon footprint: energy use, food consumption, leisure time and transportation - activities, things that Americans aren't used to questioning, says Nolan Stokes. "We got a little training from the Swedes and some encouragement to actually critically start looking at what we were doing." This led the Stokes to check kilowatt output, plug leaks, install insulation, switch to more energy-efficient appliances, carpool more and cut down on meat consumption.  

Kathy Stokes says the goal, consistent with that of their Swedish climate coaches, is to change simple habits. "I don't feel like we are sacrificing in any way. I think that if people were more aware of the easy things they could do to reduce their carbon footprint, I think they'd do them."  

Nolan Stokes agrees. "You need early adopters, to not just adopt these behaviors, but to be proponents for adoption of these behaviors. Somebody's got to make noise about doing it, and we're willing to do that."

The Stokes are also teaching energy-saving habits to their children, 9-year-old Ryker and 8-year-old Lee.
The Stokes are also teaching energy-saving habits to their children, 9-year-old Ryker and 8-year-old Lee.

A Family Affair

The Stokes are also teaching energy-saving habits to their children, 9-year-old Ryker and 8-year-old Lee. "[The kids] walk around the house and make sure that all the computer monitors are off. They are turning lights off as they leave the room," Kathy says. "They are fine with not eating much beef and changing their eating habits."

Ryker and Lee, Nolan says, are taking showers instead of baths because showers take less time and use less hot water. "[The children] are just totally on board with the whole thing."

Lee says she gets the message out to her friends. "I tell them not to use so much electricity." When asked why, Ryker pipes in that he's helping the family "do stuff that would be better for the Earth."
    
The Stokes support legislation now pending in the U.S. Congress that would curb U.S. carbon emissions. But they also think that with or without new laws, every American can do more to emit less. They say while it took a push from Sweden to jumpstart their greener lifestyle, they hope that as Climate Pilots they can help blaze a trail for other Americans toward a more energy-efficient and Earth-friendly future.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid