Going Green Is About More Than Just Saving Money

workman servicing wind turbine
Someone has to install all those wind turbines and solar panels.
(cc) USACE

Going “green,” whether it’s switching to energy-saving LED bulbs or installing a rooftop solar photovoltaic system, can save you money. But there are other reasons to adopt a green lifestyle. Climate change is one of the most hotly debated subjects of our time so it’s unlikely we’re going to alter any opinions here. One thing is certain, however: What we do has in impact on our environment, for good or for bad.

When you turn on a lamp, is the light bulb using more energy than it should? Was the electricity produced in a coal-burning power plant that’s spewing toxic pollutants into the atmosphere? Did it come from a nuclear power plant that produces radioactive waste so dangerous it has to be buried deep underground for millennia? Or did it come from a clean, quiet solar power array, perhaps on your own rooftop?

Avoiding The Negative

Think about the consequences to our health from the power we use. While many governments are shutting down their coal-burning power plants — albeit painfully slowly — in the meantime these plants continue to represent one of the world’s largest sources of air pollution. The Union of Concerned Scientists states that coal-burning power plants are the primary source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and the primary cause of global warming. In 2011, U.S. utility coal-burning plants belched 1.7 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

You don’t believe the hype about climate change and global warming? That doesn’t mean pollution doesn’t hurt us. Even if it’s not changing our climate, it’s clogging our lungs. In Canada — known for its vast old-growth forests, blue lakes, and fresh air — 21,000 people died of short and long term exposure to air pollution in 2008, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Much of that air pollution came from power generation and transportation.

But avoiding negative consequences is rarely enough to move people to change their behavior, not in the long run. People speeding along the highway will slow down to a legal speed if they encounter a police car, and then speed up again once they’re passed it. They may even slow down, for a while, when they come upon a bloody car accident. But that cold dose of common sense seems to only last a short while, and they quickly hit the accelerator again.

Embracing The Positive

What’s needed are positive inducements to affect permanent change, and going green offers those inducements. What motivates most? While some may find environmentalism sexy, here we’re talking about the second great motivator, money.

Solar panels. Wind turbines. Geothermal plants. Biomass plants. Hydro power dams. Someone has to design, build, and maintain all of this. Then there’s energy-saving products like LED lighting, electric vehicles, sustainable buildings, and battery systems. All of this means more jobs. More jobs mean a stronger economy and a higher standard of living.

U.S. President Barack Obama made the statement, “The nation that leads the world in 21st century clean energy will be the nation that leads in the 21st century global economy.” He’d like to see America be that nation. But the principle applies on a global scale too. There’s no reason everyone can’t benefit from a green economy.

So what can you do to contribute to a green future for all of us? Start small, with a change from power-hungry incandescent and CFL lighting to energy-efficient LED lighting. Then consider tapping into the free and abundant power of the sun with a rooftop solar water heater or solar photovoltaic panels. Catch the wind with a wind turbine. Switch to Energy Star certified products and appliances. Drive a more fuel-efficient car, or even an electric vehicle. Or, better still, try walking more or riding a bike.

The environment will thank you. The economy will thank you. And you’ll probably save money too.

Read Energy Finance: Analysis and Valuation, Risk Management, and the Future of Energy from Amazon.

Jules Smith is the principal of LightningStrike Studios, a professional communications firm specializing in renewable energy and information technology.

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