There's a lot to be optimistic about this Earth Day.
A new study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research predicts it's not too late to avoid many of the catastrophic effects of global warming _ if the world comes together now to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent.
Granted, that's a big "if," but if anyone can convince China and India to get on board, it's President Obama.
Having a commander in chief who is committed to conserving natural resources and working with world leaders on climate-change issues is further cause for optimism.
In his first 100 days in office, Obama has pledged $80 billion for clean energy development and signed a bill protecting 2 million acres of wilderness land in nine states.
He is working on the details of a cap-and-trade system designed to curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and will take an active role in negotiating a pact to replace the expiring (and largely unsuccessful) Kyoto Protocol.
However, we don't have to sit back and wait for our leaders to hash out a plan to conserve resources and reduce emissions. In the spirit of Earth Day (Wednesday, April 22), we can all do our part in different ways _ and little things do matter.
Not everyone has the time, space or inclination to start a victory garden, the lifestyle to support a tiny, fuel-efficient car or the money to buy a front-loading washer. But we can all seek out local products in our stores, combine errands into one trip whenever possible, and try to remember not to leave the water running when we're brushing our teeth.
Being green has become incredibly trendy. There are entire magazines, newsletters and blogs devoted to "green living." One website I perused had everything from the practical ("Buy Organic on a Budget") to the trivial ("The 7 Greenest Celebrities") to the bizarre ("10 Weird Uses for Vodka").
The silliest item was a feature on eco-resorts that "decrease your carbon footprint as they expand your horizons."
My favorite was the Bermuda getaway, whose "eco-cred" claim was that its cabanas were cooled by the ocean breeze, rather than air conditioning, "so your carbon footprint practically disappears."
Weed through the marketing ploys and the fluff, though, and you can find some useful tips. Maybe you've already switched to compact fluorescent light bulbs and cloth shopping bags, know it's best to eat local and in season, and have heard plenty about the evils of bottled water.
That's great _ but don't stop there. There's always more you can do to reduce, reuse and recycle, and you don't have to install solar panels or buy a hybrid to make an impact.
Here are five examples of small lifestyle changes that could make a difference:
Clean green: Invest in a few high-quality microfiber cleaning cloths. One of my Earth Day resolutions is to kick my paper towel habit. Even with a salad spinner and washable dish towels, I'm burning through at least 200 paper towels a week!
Although they're not made from eco-friendly materials, microfiber cloths can withstand hundreds of washings. They hold six times their weight in water _ making them perfect for all those dinner-time milk spills.
And they can clean kitchen counters, windows, mirrors, floors and bathroom fixtures with just hot water, eliminating the need for cleaning chemicals.
BYOM: Stash a coffee mug in your car or at your desk for those spur-of-the moment lattes. You'll cut down on waste, and you may even save a little cash; some coffee shops offer a small discount when you bring your own mug.
Shut off your computer when not in use, and conserve energy by using your computer's "sleep mode" instead of a screensaver.
Cut down on junk mail: Visit www.ecocycle.org for step-by-step instructions to getting off all those catalog and credit card mailing lists. If you're pressed for time or overwhelmed by the process, check out www.41pounds.org, named for the average amount of junk mail each American adult receives each year.
According to this nonprofit organization, more than 100 million trees are destroyed every year to produce junk mail, and the process of creating and shipping junk mail produces more greenhouse gas emissions than 9 million cars!
Bank online and save even more paper, plus the cost of postage. If you prefer to pay your bills the old-fashioned way, you can still save some paper by signing up for bank e-statements.
Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.