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

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

Report from member of British think tank says Russian extradition requests keep targets from traveling More

US Lawmakers Weigh Turkish Anti-terror Moves

Turkey’s two-pronged campaign against Islamic State militants, Kurdish PKK forces provokes mixed reactions on Capitol Hill More

What Happens When Americans Eat What They Tweet

You are what you tweet, according to new maps that show a correlation between obesity and tweeting about high-fat foods 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.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs