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earth day 2002

Will Waldron

Make Your Own Gas

A Capital Region couple doesn’t just talk the talk about reducing their reliance on fossil fuels—they walk the walk by making their own biodiesel fuel

When Kate Abbott and Stephen LeBlanc went to local restaurants asking if they could have the leftover oil that the eateries were planning to discard, most places looked at them like they each had two heads.

“The first question would usually be, ‘Well, what do you want it for?’ ” says LeBlanc. “When we told them that we were planning to make biodiesel fuel to run in our car, that’s when they really thought we were strange.”

After a couple of rejections—some places, like Dunkin’ Donuts, told them that they don’t actually throw out the oil but reuse it—Abbott and Leblanc finally found a few places that were willing to donate to the cause.

“We have tried a couple of restaurants’ oil, but the Grass Roots Restaurant on Ontario Street actually has the best oil around because it is not animal-based, it’s soy oil,” says Abbott.

Abbott and LeBlanc started making biodiesel fuel last fall at their home in Guilderland, which they rent. The project first started in a barn just adjacent to the house. But as the weather started to get cold they moved their equipment into the basement of their home.

“The landlord was really wary because he saw all of these tanks,” says Abbott. “I am pretty sure he thought we were making drugs or something, but later he was more concerned that something would blow up.”

LeBlanc interjects: “The chances of that happening are slim. If you drop a match in biodiesel fuel, it would go out.”

LeBlanc says that biodiesel fuel, or fatty acid alkyl esters, is a fuel substitute produced from renewable sources like vegetable oils, animal fats and recycled cooking oils.

“You could actually buy a jar of cooking oil at the store and use it,” says Abbott. “But we like to get ours from restaurants. For one, it’s a lot cheaper, but also, this way, we are recycling the oil.”

Biodiesel is typically produced through a process called transesterification, where organically derived oils are combined with alcohol (ethanol or methanol). Then a catalyst is used to yield glycerin and biodeisel fuel.

“The only bio-product when making the fuel is glycerin,” says Abbott as she holds up a baggie full of brown soap that she made from leftover glycerin.

The biomass-derived ethyl or methyl esters can be blended with conventional diesel fuel or used on its own as 100- percent biodiesel fuel.

“The fuel that we make can be run on any diesel engine made today,” says Abbott. “Plus it is 75 percent cleaner than regular diesel.”

The couple came up with the idea to make the fuel when Leblanc’s friend gave him the book From the Fryer Into the Fuel Tank, by Joshua Tickell.

“I was looking it over and said to myself, I can do that,” said LeBlanc.

But the final decision came when Leblanc moved to Albany from Deer Isle, Maine, where he mostly relied on his bike for transportation.

“It was sort of a condition to me moving to the city,” he says. “A lot of our wars and political problems are driven by gas. We don’t have enough natural gas here, so we rely on foreign oil. But if we made our own, things could change. So I’m making it as kind of a protest vote. Plus it is helping the environment.”

Abbott agreed that making the fuel is one proactive way to combat the consumption of gas needed to live in a city like Albany.

“Steve is the real environmentalist,” says Abbott, who works as an early- childhood intervention teacher. “But I drive close to 500 miles a week with my job. I was feeling like we were consuming so much. So this is a way to deal with that and be more environmentally friendly and conscious.”

She also said if more people relied on biodiesel fuel, it would help support local farmers and create more jobs.

“You make ethanol from plants that are grown on farms,” says Abbott. “This would bring jobs to the country and support our economy by using products that we make here.”

The first thing that the couple had to do to begin their fuel-making project was gather the equipment needed to make the fuel.

“Basically what we needed was a blender, that we found at a garage sale, and a big motorized mixer,” says Abbott. “But the biggest expense was to buy a diesel car, which neither one of us had when we started this.”

LeBlanc and Abbott bought two diesel Volkswagens for $350 apiece. One was for parts, and the other was sort of their guinea-pig vehicle.

“I think in total on equipment, not including the cars, we spent about $500. But most of that was just a one-time expense,” says Abbott. “When we figured out how much we pay per gallon by making the fuel ourselves, it comes out to about 40 cents a gallon.”

The 1989 red Jetta, which currently has 317,000 miles on it, started right up when the couple poured their first homemade batch of biodiesel fuel into it last fall.

As a result of their success, the couple just bought a brand new Volkswagen, which they plan on running on their biodiesel fuel as well.

To the best of their knowledge, Abbott and LeBlanc said, they are the only people in the area at this time making their own biodiesel fuel. As a result, they want to teach others how easily it can be done. They have started a biodiesel-educational business, which consists of going to schools or communities to teach people how to make the fuel and explain what benefits it has for the environment and communities.

“We are here to break down the barriers, and let people know that you don’t have to use petrochemicals to run their cars. There is a safe easy alternative,” says Abbott. “Biodiesel is a completely reusable energy source.”

—N.G.

Corporate Welfare Mothers On Steroids

A highly subjective critique of the environmental policies of the Bush administration

It’s been 32 years since the first Earth Day was held back in 1970, and it’s been about 15 months since the Bush administration took office. Things have not been looking good for the environment since Bush moved into the White House. While much positive environmental learning and action has taken place since that first Earth Day, the actions of this administration have seriously threatened many of these gains.

Bush environmental policies appear to have been designed to reward his deep-pocketed corporate sponsors while ignoring the needs of this country’s people for clean air, safe water, wilderness areas and unpolluted land. The president, who ran a campaign in which he relished being considered intellectually dull, is now applying his campaign obligations and ignorance to pursue an approach that will only further deteriorate and desecrate our environment.

Upon taking office, Bush went right to work meeting obligations established during his record harvest of corporate campaign contributions. Despite losing the popular vote, and the strong concerns expressed by the American public for the environment in poll after poll, Bush decided to do things his way. He immediately rescinded or put on hold a number of environment-friendly regulations, including ones regarding arsenic exposure and the protection of wilderness areas. He also unabashedly broke his campaign promise to restrict U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

Soon after being sworn into office, Bush informed the world that he would no longer have this country participate in the international effort to reduce the impact of human activities on the planet’s climate, as embodied in the Kyoto Protocol. Thumbing his nose at the efforts of 180 countries working in unison to reduce global warming, Bush told them that this country would go its own way. Considering that the United States is the world’s No. 1 greenhouse-gas emitter, refusing to participate in this gathering of the global community reflects dangerous levels of both ignorance and arrogance.

Instead of agreeing to targets for reducing this country’s release of greenhouse gasses, Bush has expressed his preference for “voluntary” compliance—which means “do nothing.” Instead of providing leadership on this critical global issue, Bush has championed the interests of his corporate sponsors who don’t want any regulatory burden that might cut into profit margins.

This administration does not just refuse to use its authority to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, it actively promotes an energy policy that will increase such emissions. Bush’s energy strategy is production oriented. It focuses on pumping more oil, building an additional 1,300 electric plants fueled with fossil or nuclear fuels, constructing more refineries, laying more pipeline, erecting more transmission lines and shaking further subsidies for the energy industry from taxpayer pockets. During his first year in office, Bush set a record by issuing more than 3,800 oil and gas permits. Instead of building a strategy based on efficiency, conservation and the development of renewable-energy resources, he’d rather maintain this country’s petrochemical addiction and keep looking for quick fixes.

Major campaign contributors from the energy industry, including Enron, Exxon/Mobil and the Chevron Corp., advised Vice President Dick Cheney (who made millions himself in the oil industry) in the formulation of Bush’s energy plan. Bush has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent the American public from finding out what transpired at these meetings. The Natural Resources Defense Fund had to get an order from a federal district court judge to force the release of information. The papers surrendered were heavily censored and some requested documents still have not been turned over. It seems that Bush is not only willing to sacrifice the environment, but also the foundation of a democratic society: the right of the people to know what their government is doing.

A centerpiece of the Bush energy plan is drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This proposal epitomizes Bush’s distorted view of the environment. ANWR is often referred to as the “American Serengeti” because of its amazing environment, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls “among the most complete, pristine and undisturbed ecosystems on earth.” It is a land of massive migrations of caribou and the homeland of the Gwich’in (“People of the Caribou”) Nation, a Native American people whose lives are intertwined with those of the caribou. The U.S. Geologic Survey has estimated that the refuge holds about six months worth of oil, at U.S. consumption rates. It could be 10 years before oil drilled in the refuge would show up at local gas pumps.

Bush’s fixation with petrochemicals is so myopic that he fails to see the vast pool of oil in Detroit that would be much easier to exploit. Increased efficiency in the U.S. auto and truck fleet could result in far more energy than sinking wells in ANWR or other wilderness areas. “Drilling” in Detroit could also significantly reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. Increasing fuel efficiency standards to 40 miles a gallon would lead to reductions in U.S. oil consumption by 2.5 million gallons a day, according to The New York Times. The Union of Concerned Scientists has calculated that such an increase in efficiency would also reduce greenhouse gas releases by 273 million tons a year. Recently the U.S. Senate, with the active support of the Bush administration, voted not to increase fuel-efficiency standards.

Through his authorization of the opening of the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository in Nevada, Bush has made clear his intent to revive nuclear power in this country. If Bush gets his way, nearby interstates and rail lines will become transportation routes for some of the most toxic substances known to our species. Bush’s push for nuclear energy is particularly ironic, considering his administration’s expressed concerns that such facilities are vulnerable terrorist targets. But why provide more targets when you can extract more energy from efficiency measures and conservation?

Seven months after putting arsenic regulations on hold, Bush changed his mind and adopted the standards developed under the Clinton administration. During that hold time, the National Academy of Sciences reported that the new 10-parts-per-billion standard would still result in 30 times the cancer-death rate the EPA considers acceptable. In order to get cancer deaths down to the EPA’s acceptable level, the standard would have to be further reduced to three parts per billion. Bush jumped at the higher standard while he had the chance.

Recently Bush unveiled his “Clear Skies” air-pollution initiative. This program would allow old, polluting power plants to continue operation without installing needed pollution-control equipment through an exchange system of pollution credits. The air in the Northeast would be subjected to growing amounts of pollution under Bush’s plan. Again, it’s clear whose interests are being served. These interests may also explain Bush’s opposition to Superfund legislation that would reinstate an expired requirement that corporations pay for the cleanup of the toxic trails they leave behind.

On Earth Day, we can expect Bush to be expounding on his “Earth-loving” environmental record. Hopefully, few people will be fooled by these theatrics. And, who knows, maybe by the next election a new phrase will rise from the public’s lips—“It’s the environment, stupid.”

—Tom Nattell


Teri Currie

The Peace Movement Sketch

A burgeoning social and political movement springs up in Columbia County

‘Welcome to the executive office of the Hudson Peace Coalition,” Christina Malisoff laughs.

“This is the executive desk that I work from,” she says, as she points to a four-burner stove in her third-floor apartment on Warren Street in Hudson.

Malisoff, along with Joanne Lepore, started the coalition back in November after the United States stepped up its bombing in Afghanistan.

“I was one very angry person and didn’t know what to do,” says Malisoff. “So I put a sign in my car that read ‘U.S. out of Afghanistan.’ But I felt so helpless.”

At a peace forum in Saugerties, Malisoff got the idea to organize a peace walk in Hudson. Nearly 60 people turned out to march over the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. It was from that event that Malisoff hooked up with Lepore to form the Hudson Peace Coalition

“I realized that one person really can make a difference,” says Malisoff.

Obviously, the coalition is a small grassroots organization; in fact, at this time it’s just two people strong. But it appears to be part of a brewing social-justice movement in the unlikely city of Hudson.

This past year alone, a number of groups have sprouted up to voice dissent with United States politics, as well as local issues in the city of Hudson and Columbia County.

“This is unusual because Columbia County is an extremely conservative, Republican-controlled county; but at the same time, this could be why this is happening,” says Linda Mussmann, co-founder of Time & Space Limited, a performance and art space that occupies an old factory on Columbia Street in Hudson. Mussmann has been a key player in a number of activist movements in the city, and she ran for mayor last year.

Mussmann says that Columbia County is riddled with issues such as drugs, poverty and gentrification, and the city of Hudson has had to work hard to maintain a thriving downtown as large big-box retail stores close in on each side.

“Generally, there is a history of political confusion and corruption here,” says Mussmann. “The frustration of people watching the government turn on them has forced people to take matters into their own hands.”

Organizations such as the Center for Progressive Communities, Society of Friends, the Human Concerns Group, Columbia County Greens and Time & Space Limited are collaborating to change the political landscape in Columbia County. These groups, in combination with the tireless work of Friends of Hudson, a local organization that has been fighting to stop St. Lawrence Cement from constructing a $300 million cement-manufacturing facility in Greenport, are proving that the region’s social justice movement is alive and kicking and using Hudson as its home base.

“We are representing a new way of organizing,” says Malisoff, “where a number of small organizations are coming together to support each other and to do our part to change the world. We want action versus big organizations.”

Every Saturday since Sept. 11, a number of people have gathered in the 7th Street Park in downtown Hudson for a peace vigil from 2 to 3:30 PM. On any given week, says Martin Baumgold, spokesman for the Columbia County Green Party, anywhere from five to 65 people will show up. The group often carries signs expressing political messages. Those messages change depending on what may be happening in the world at any given time. For example, at first, the message was to protest the war in Afghanistan, but later the group expressed outrage at the Enron scandal. Then came the possibility of the United States invading Iraq. Most recently, concerns about Palestine and Israel are being discussed.

“We are not just one group, like the Columbia County Greens, holding this vigil,” says Baumgold, “But rather, it’s people coming from all different groups sharing their message.”

Baumgold says that at first, people used to walk by and heckle the group, but now many people stop and ask questions about why they are there.

“I think in this way we are really spreading a message to the public,” says Baumgold.

While some organizations attend vigils and organize peace rallies and forums, others, like Time & Space Limited, show support for the movement in other ways.

“Everyone does their own thing to express their concerns,” says Mussmann. “We express our political position through the exhibits and shows that appear at TSL. Art is our medium.”

Just last weekend, the political Bread and Puppet Theatre performed at TSL. The show debuted in 1967 to protest the Vietnam War. Last weekend’s performance was to express dissent against the war in Afghanistan.

“The first time Bread and Puppet came to town, I was not sure who would turn out for the event,” says Mussmann. “I was shocked when 200 people walked through the door.”

While Mussmann partly attributes the high turnout for the event to the fact that Columbia County is a rural area with not much to do, she says that more people are showing up for progressive events that promote peace as an alternative to war.

Daniel Goodwin, cofounder of the Center for Progressive Communities, located on Warren Street, is enthusiastic about the changes that have been happening in Columbia County

“It feels like this movement is growing by the day, it’s surprising,” says Goodwin. “For a long time it felt like you were banging your head against the wall, trying to get anyone to listen, and now people are actually organizing.”

Goodwin says that one of his biggest gripes is that the media rarely question the status quo. “People are given the typical side of the story, and not everyone has Internet access to explore other information,” he says. “We get fed patriotism, and people don’t question it.”

Mussmann and Malisoff agree and say that often, the local media take the perspective opposite to what the people are calling for.

“The local papers are a joke,” says Mussmann. “They support anything that is not us.”

As a result, CPC will be opening an independent media center on May 4 at 454 Warren St., where anybody can come in to conduct research or obtain information. The center will have four computers on which people can find thousands of independent media sources; it will also have work from local journalists who are taking alternative perspectives to events that are happening in the community.

“If someone has a need for information that pertains to social, cultural or political information, we can help them find that,” says Goodwin. “This can either be information specific to our area or global issues.”

Goodwin says that CPC takes more of a direct community-action approach to creating change in the area. For example, the center organizes groups of people to work on neighborhood-revitalization projects, including painting houses. This summer they will start a program called “Free Truck Drive,” where a truck will drive around Hudson handing out free clothing, toys and books to those in need.

“We are trying to create a reality, not a theory,” says Goodwin. “Rather then filling people’s heads with some type of political dogma, we go out in the communities and help plan and create projects that better people’s lives.”

For Malisoff, the events of the past year are just the tip of the iceberg. She is striving to create a whole community based on living in peace. In fact, next Saturday (April 27), the Hudson Peace Coalition will hold its second social forum. The focus is to discuss what a peaceful society would look like and to debate whether or not it is possible, in light of current events.

“We are not creating a left-alternative view,” says Malisoff. “We are creating a whole culture that responds to people’s needs and answers to the machine.”

—Nancy Guerin

News for Butterflies

The Karner Blue butterfly’s specialized traits make its species’ struggle for survival in a changing landscape a difficult one

The friendly critter is roughly the size of a quarter, and tales are spun of how the butterfly we know familiarly as the Karner Blue would cozy up to humans, landing on a hand or a shoulder for a spell. But the days of a gracious visit from the notorious insect are numbered, many fear. As their populations dwindle, the butterfly is teetering dangerously close to extinction.

“Their numbers have declined in New York state, and throughout their range, by well over 90 percent in just over the last 20 or 30 years,” says Neil Gifford, preserve ecologist for the Albany Pine Bush Commission. According to Gifford, the butterfly’s problems stem from a long-term, chronic problem of habitat destruction, which would hurt any species, but the Karner Blue is especially vulnerable since it is very specialized. They feed only on wild blue lupine, a member of the pea family found solely in certain, generally sandy, areas, such as the pitch-pine, scrub-oak barrens of Albany’s Pine Bush Preserve—itself a globally rare occurrence. Barrens of this sort are found in varying sizes throughout the state, but it’s a habitat that faces massive disturbances due to sprawl. The sandy soil is desirable for development, and many large luxury homes and businesses, such as the mammoth Crossgates Mall, share the at-risk ecosystem.

In addition, the habitat will not survive as it is without being burned. Fire is necessary to rid the land of invasive plants, such as aspen and other hardwoods that shade out the native scrub oak and pitch pine. And where there’s fire there’s smoke, which is a nuisance to those living and working near the preserve, not to mention the potential danger of a spreading fire. So prescribed controlled burns are few and natural fires are quickly put out, and the Karner Blue habitat suffers as a result.

The Karner Blue has many friends, from citizen-action groups such as Save the Pine Bush to the commission in charge of protecting the Pine Bush Preserve, the Pine Bush Commission, which was formed in 1988 by the state Legislature. Made up of interested private and public parties, the commission is a partnership of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Nature Conservancy, the city of Albany, the town of Colonie, the town of Guilderland, Albany County and four citizens appointed by the governor.

Serving as a board of directors, the commission oversees the preserve’s staff, acquires new lands and manages the interests of all involved—not an easy task. “They’re trying to balance open-space protection and recreational opportunities for their citizens,” Gifford says of the commission’s efforts, “At the same time, they need economic development to support their local economies.”

The Pine Bush Preserve was created to protect the rare ecosystem, home to rare species including the Karner Blue, while providing recreational and educational opportunities for the public. “We are trying to balance a number of user groups in the preserve,” says Gifford, “Which isn’t easy.” Mountain bikers, horseback riders, hikers, hunters and researchers all share the space with the many plants and animals, endangered, threatened and otherwise.

Aiding in the attempt to keep the Pine Bush stable is Save the Pine Bush, active since 1978. The group fought against Crossgates Mall and its later expansion, and it has recently battled with SEFCU and a proposed expansion for a senior housing development behind the already existing Teresian House that abuts the preserve.

Located between two colonies of Karner Blue, the Avila House—as the proposed senior housing development is called—may block a potential migration route for the butterfly. “We sued in Supreme Court, and we lost,” says Lynne Jackson of Save the Pine Bush.

“It’s really the only undeveloped track left between the Crossgates Hill population of butterflies and the nearest adjacent preserve land—where there are populations of lupine but no butterflies currently,” says Gifford of the disputed land. The Crossgates Hill butterflies, he says, suffered a tough winter in 1998, so numbers of butterflies dropped. “It’s even more important, more critical, now to be able to connect that site with preserve land.”

“We’ve been monitoring the butterfly since 1991,” says Gifford, “at the same time, we’ve been figuring out how to restore habitat, and it’s only over the last couple of years that we’ve gotten a good grasp on how to restore habitat. . . . Now we know how, but the whole idea of how wide or narrow a connecting corridor of habitat between two sites needs, only time will tell.”

The preserve is not the only home to the Karner Blue. “Its range used to go from Maine to Wisconsin,” says Stephanie Gifford, director of ecological management for the Nature Conservancy’s Eastern Chapter. “It only occurs in a few of those states now.” There are many pockets of Karner Blue populations in New York state. “We basically have identified the four occupied sites in New York,” she says, among them the preserve, the Saratoga Sand Plains, and the Saratoga Airport, which is home to the largest Karner Blue population in the state.

“It’s mowed regularly by the airport,” she says. “Its habitat is maintained in its open nature, whereas many of the other sites haven’t been managed until recently, so they’re largely overgrown with shrubs and trees and whatnot.” She says that in the Midwest a number of Karner Blue populations occur on property owned by timber companies, and because they log the property, lupine springs up, “and Karner Blues come in,” she says.

At the Pine Bush it’s not so easy. “I think we pretty much need some pretty aggressive disturbance,” Stephanie Gifford notes of the management needed to bring the butterfly’s population to a secure level.

“There’s a federal draft for strategy for Karner Blue recovery as well as a state plan,” says Neil Gifford, “as well as individual plans for each recovery unit in the state and the Pine Bush.

“There’s a certain protected land base that we need,” he continues. “But once the land is protected, like in the Pine Bush and in Wilton, what do you do then? The basic strategy is first to maintain and expand existing occupied habitat. Link those sites together by restoring habitat between those sites, and create new sites beyond those to get the Karner Blue population base up to a level that’s considered stable.”

But he is hopeful because of recent Karner Blue population increases in the managed areas. “It’s the first real sign of hope and application of a lot of years of theory now being applied,” he says. “Seeing it being fruitful is great. The big question is: Is there time now, given how low the populations are, to recover the butterfly? Nobody knows the answer to that question.”

—Kate Sipher


Making Friends With Mother Nature

Top 10 Earth-friendly things you can do to get ready for spring

1. Break out the bikes

What better way to contribute to the well-being of the Earth than to ditch your car? Fix those flats, polish those reflectors and get yourself back in the saddle. If your bike’s been collecting dust in the basement for the past couple of years, take it to your local bike shop and have an experienced bike mechanic give it the TLC it needs. If your body’s been collecting dust in front of the TV for the past two years, however, you may need to get yourself motivated and ready to ride by joining a bike club. For example, you can try the Hudson Mohawk Cycling Club, which sponsors both road- and mountain-bike rides for beginners through experts (check out www.mohawkhudsoncycling.org for more information).

Or you can check in with your friendly neighborhood bike shop, which may offer informal group rides for friends and customers.

2. Grow your own

Leave factory farming far behind and start your own organic garden. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a huge tract of land to grow fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers. Just a tiny patch of earth with good, rich soil can provide you with tons of produce. If you live in the city, chances are the dirt in your backyard is going to need some prepping before you start burying your seeds and seedlings. So hit your local greenhouse, get yourself some good, organic topsoil, and compost, compost, compost before you start planting.

If you don’t have any outdoor space at all, think about joining your local community gardens (call Capital District Community Gardens, 274-8685, for more information). Or become a member of a community-supported-agriculture farm, in which you buy a “share” of a farmer’s seasonal produce. In return for the investment, the farmers deliver fresh, quality produce to shareholders throughout the growing season. For copies of the Regional Farm and Food Project’s guide to CSAs in the Capital Region, call 462-2553.

3. Happy trails

Get ready to commune with nature, once the trails have dried enough to hike/bike/camp. Order your maps of hiking and bike trails in state parks by calling (800) CALLNYS. Or, better yet, join your local chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club for group hiking, biking, canoeing, you name it, and tips on responsible appreciation of the great outdoors. Call (800) 395-8080 for more information. But don’t forget: Always hike and bike on the trails to prevent disturbance to plants and wildlife, keep your pets leashed, and camp only in marked areas.

4. Leave the car in the garage

Now that the weather’s getting nicer, you have little to no excuse for driving that gas guzzler everywhere you go. Live within a mile or two to work? Map yourself a nice, scenic route and walk to the office. It should only take you about 15 to 20 minutes, walking at a moderate pace. Make it a point to walk to work at least twice a week—you’ll be doing the Earth and your body a favor. Walkers are said to live longer, have lower rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and are less likely to suffer from depression than nonwalkers.

5. Replace your refrigerator

OK, so it might seem odd that we encourage you to consume to celebrate Earth Day. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t encourage you to upgrade to more energy-efficient versions of your current appliances. When you shop, look for products that carry “Energy Star” labels, which means that they have been produced to meet energy-efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to the EPA, if all homeowners outfitted their homes with Energy Star-approved appliances, the nation’s annual energy bill could be reduced by $200 million.

Buy a new Energy Star-efficient air conditioning unit before September 2002 and turn in your old one between May 1 and Sept. 20 and you may even get $75 from the state. Call (877) NYSMART, or visit www.getenergysmart.org, for details on New York’s “Keep Cool” rebate.

6. Save water

Do your part to help beat the drought in the Northeast this spring and summer. Set your lawn mower to a higher setting so the grass can grow a little bit longer. The longer the grass, the easier it will be for your lawn to retain water.

7. Be kind to animals

Keep your feathered friends happy and healthy by placing safe, clean birdhouses and feeders around your backyard. Spring can be a stressful time for migrating birds and those raising their young, so why not offer them a convenient, easy source of energy and a place to call home? If you’ve got the space and the time to maintain them (you’ve got to clean and disinfect your houses and feeders periodically to prevent the spread of diseases), put out a couple of feeders, some birdhouses, nesting shelves and small piles of nesting materials (sticks, bark, pine needles, yarn, cotton, etc.) to make your yard prime avian real estate. If you’ve got the time and space, you might even consider planting trees and bushes that produce nuts, berries, seeds and fruit to give your birds a natural source of food that reproduces itself.

8. Keep it clean

We encourage you to engage in spring cleaning to your heart’s abandon, but in keeping with our Earth Day theme, why not do it with an Earth-friendly twist? See how much cleaning you can accomplish without the use of harsh chemicals and toxic detergents.

Want to wash your windows? Fill a spray bottle with a quart of water and a tablespoon or so of white vinegar instead of ammonia-based products like Windex. Increase the amount of vinegar for larger jobs, like cleaning floors or tile.

Need to scrub the hell out of your sinks and bathtubs? Try using a paste made with salt, baking soda, water, lemon and vinegar, rather than Comet.

Furniture polish? You’ll be surprised what a mixture of half a cup of lemon juice or vinegar and a cup of olive oil will do for your woodwork.

Carpet deodorizer? Try sprinkling some dry baking soda or cornstarch on your rugs before you vacuum.

Of course, if you don’t want to be bothered mixing your own nontoxic cleaners, you can always purchase environmentally friendly alternatives in your local health-food stores or food co-ops, or online.

9. Reduce, reuse, recycle

Yeah, we know, you’ve heard all about this one. But why not take the three Rs past sorting your plastics and papers on trash night? When it’s time to get rid of your larger household items, like old CD players, worn armchairs or clothes you don’t wear anymore, don’t leave them on the curb for the trash. Instead donate your old stuff to Goodwill. Goodwill sells your “gently used” donations to raise money to train mentally and physically handicapped individuals for real-world jobs. Goodwill has Capital Region stores in Colonie, Troy and Hudson.

10. Pay a visit to your friendly neighborhood mechanic

Get that car tuned up for spring. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, driving a car is the most polluting activity most people take part in, and badly maintained vehicles can release up to 10 times more toxic emissions than cars in good running condition. Get your oil changed, replace your spark plugs, rotate your tires, have your emissions-system checked, fix air-conditioning leaks, etc., and you’ll significantly reduce the amount of toxic emissions your car releases into the environment.

—Erin Sullivan



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