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Updated: Apr 8, 2022

The scale and range of human activities that harm the environment and human health are vast, and many of the most damaging require political, economic, and structural changes at levels ranging from local to global, so how can any individual make a meaningful contribution?

One positive action concerned individuals can take is to make their voices heard by local, regional, and national political and business leaders and demand they support practices that contribute to the environmental well-being of the planet and all its inhabitants, which may even enhance (or at least not compromise) their own interests overall. Well-informed, credible, authoritative individuals and organizations, especially those such as health professionals and PSR PA, with their focus on human health, can have an outsize influence on societal leaders.

At the level of daily living, individual choices and actions can substantially alter the carbon footprint of households and workplaces. This column will illustrate how personal life style choices and actions individuals can adopt in their daily lives, however minor, can in aggregate create meaningful reductions in energy consumption and waste generation.

Topic I: Energy conservation

Energy conservation begins at home!!

Although public attention has been mainly on replacing fossil fuel derived energy with renewable, inexhaustible sources, such as wind and solar, that emit zero greenhouse gases (GHG), what is too often overlooked is that focusing only on the supply side isn't enough, when actually the greatest “bang for the buck” in reducing GHG is decreasing the overall amount of energy we consume, too much of which is wasted or unnecessary.

THE CHEAPEST, CLEANEST ENERGY IS THE ENERGY WE DON'T USE, as the graphic illustrates. Maximizing the efficiency of energy use is one of the most cost-effective ways to conserve energy, and usually provides monetary savings in addition. Unfortunately, this is rarely considered in our consumption-driven linear economy that takes no account of the actual costs (sometimes called “externalities”) in environmental damage and public health, which are borne by society as a whole.

So, what do energy efficiency measures look like, and how much of them can we do as individuals?

In this installment, we will consider what can be done in the home, where most individuals have the greatest ability to act, starting with climate control. Future installments will cover other topics, including lifestyle factors such as dietary choices, goods consumption, transportation, and waste minimization.

In the United States, buildings use one third of all energy consumed and two thirds of all electricity.

Maintaining a comfortable indoor environment uses by far the greatest amount of energy, especially those functions that require heat generation and/or transfer.

First, it is obvious that trying to heat or cool a space that isn't well sealed is going to use more energy to compensate for the ongoing loss – like trying to fill a bathtub while the drain is leaking, or to cool a refrigerator when the door is partly open

  • The lowest-hanging fruit here is weatherization, especially effective insulation in areas of greatest heat loss or gain, such as the roof and windows of a house. Weather stripping doors and sealing drafts are the simplest and cheapest ways to conserve energy, with the added advantages of reducing energy costs while making the space FEEL more comfortable at any given temperature setting

Next, temperature settings

  • Dress appropriately for the season; with the right clothing, most people will be comfortable in a well-sealed space at temperatures of 65-70℉ in winter and 72-75℉ in summer

  • Install programmable thermostats to avoid unnecessary heating or cooling, e.g. if no-one is home during the day. If possible, having multiple independently controlled zones can enhance comfort and efficiency even more

Maintain the HVAC system properly for maximum reliability and efficiency, e.g. filter replacement for forced air systems

Hot water

  • The higher the temperature, the greater the rate of heat loss, even from a well-insulated hot water tank. For safety, to avoid scalding the temperature should be no more than 120℉


  • Replace incandescent with LED bulbs. They will pay for themselves quickly in energy saved and essentially never require replacement


  • Whenever an appliance (e.g. refrigerator/freezer, dishwasher, clothes washer/dryer, etc.) needs replacing, buy an EnergyStar rated device which will save energy and running costs

“Zombie” devices

  • Many electronic gadgets draw small amounts of power continuously, even when not being used. Any device that can be turned on remotely is using power, so where feasible, control them with a switchable power strip. Remember, every little bit helps!!

To learn more more watch Achieving 100% Renewable Energy – the role of energy conservation - Sidney N Kahn, MD, PhD.

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