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Week of 7.21.06

Cleaning Up the Environment

Remember the slogan "Think Global, Act Local"? Many environmental issues are local in nature and can be affected by changing local behaviors and laws. It takes just takes one person to inspire another and start a grass roots movement that can ultimately make a difference. Here are some tips and ideas to get you started on improving the environment in your neck of the woods.

Get Informed

  • Use ScoreCard.org to generate a pollution report card for your community. By entering a zip code, you'll find out about air, water, waste, and toxic issues in your neighborhood and be able to identify the worst polluters. (NOW's new media editor discovered she lives in the dirtiest of all counties in the U.S. in terms of air releases of recognized carcinogens)

  • The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Window To My Environment website has an interactive tool that allows you to learn more about environmental conditions in your neighborhood. (The tool is a bit cumbersome—the EPA says it's working to make it more user-friendly).

  • Find out the environmental issues that your state's Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) is focusing on. PIRGs are independent, state-based, citizen-funded organizations that advocate for the public interest. PIRGs encourage citizen activism in a number of areas, including the environment. Visit the PIRG website to find out what the top priorities are in your state and what you can do.

  • Research environmental issues on credible websites devoted to the topic, such as Grist.org.

Voice Your Concerns

  • Contact your regional EPA office to voice any concerns that you might have. A list of the EPA's regional offices is available from their website.

  • Urge your elected representatives, senators, or local government officials to write a letter of concern to the relevant authorities. You can call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or find contact information in the following links: House of Representatives, Senators

  • Monitor your leaders. The League of Conservation Voters lets you to examine and follow the environmental voting patterns of your elected officials.

  • Circulate your own petition highlighting your concerns and the action desired. Leave lines underneath for names and addresses. Once you have gathered signatures, send the petition to the targeted authority or political representatives. Search "petition maker" to find free online petition-creating tools.

  • Contact newspapers, magazines, news radio stations, and other media in your area. Tell them what you're doing, and ask them to cover this issue. You can also write a "letter to the editor" or ask them to run a personal essay. Find your local media by searching "media lists."

  • Get advice on how to be a conservation advocate by visiting Conservation International.

Improve Your Environment

  • Calculate your carbon footprint
    The World Resource Institute offers an interactive calculator which you can use to determine the amount of carbon emissions your activities generate.

  • Recycle
    For a list of recycling centers and information about what can be recycled and where, visit cleanup.org. You may be surprised by what you don't need to throw in the trash.

  • Conserve Water
    Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth. Find this and other conservation tips for both homes and businesses at the EPA web site.

  • Conserve Energy
    Did you know that the typical U.S. family spends more than $1,600 a year on home utility bills? You can replace traditional bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs to save money and conserve energy. Other tips are available from the U.S. Department of Energy.

  • Cleanups in your area
    Find out about environmental cleanups in your area by contacting your local department of environmental protection or a local chapter of an environmental organization such as the Sierra Club. www.sierraclub.org. To become involved in a program to maintain the viability of the water your family uses check out the EPA's "Adopt Your Watershed" program.

Sign up for Action Alerts

Many non-governmental organizations that focus on environmental problems issue action alerts. Most of these groups also help you send free faxes and emails to top decision-makers. These include Action Network, , Environmental Defense, and the Sierra Club. Search the Internet for other environmental groups to find out more.