This past summer, a longtime friend and I spent four weeks touring the national parks of the American West. From traversing the Grand Canyon to sharing the trail with black bears in Yellowstone, the expedition not only brought me closer to nature, but reminded me why environmental stewardship and sustainable development are so vitally important.
While it is admittedly easy to dismiss our everyday actions as inconsequential, our collective impact as a society is astounding. As our climate warms due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions and forest fires, droughts in our national parks are becoming more frequent and the damage more devastating.
If we are to preserve the national parks and our environment for posterity, we must take immediate action in our own lives and homes to live more sustainably. While the oft-mentioned compact fluorescent light bulb is a logical place to begin, larger steps are necessary to truly make a difference.
For example, just one year ago, I, along with the Green Team at Phoenix Country Day School in Arizona, wrote a grant request to install solar panels to power the electric golf carts on campus.
If a team of bright and energetic high school students in Phoenix can install solar panels in their spare time, then individual homeowners who could have the pleasure of watching their meters spin backward surely would encounter fewer and fewer remaining obstacles to their own solar power installation.
At Stanford University, where this year I began my studies in environmental engineering, and where the majority of the winter months are overcast and rainy, I am working with the Stanford Wind and Energy Project to install solar panels on as many buildings on campus as possible.
While there are naysayers within both the Stanford and greater communities, I have never felt as optimistic about the future of the environment as I do now.
Even though our elected officials have failed yet again to deliver a comprehensive energy policy for the United States, the free market and individual entrepreneurs have begun to offer solutions to some of our greatest environmental ills. Plug-in hybrids, LED light bulbs and more efficient solar panels are all on their way as Silicon Valley transitions to Cleantech Canyon.
While tikkun olam has long been a foundational construct of Judaism and a principle motivation behind my personal sustainability efforts, repairing the world is a common-sense ideal that society appears to increasingly aspire to each and every day.
But perhaps the single most important action every one of us can take is quite simply to go outside and enjoy nature. As I discovered last summer, only after we have experienced nature can we truly understand its significance.
I encourage you to go hiking in the numerous nature preserves that are at your doorstep. When you stand surrounded by the majestic redwoods and mountains, ask yourself: Is this worth preserving?
Michael Silverman is studying environmental engineering at Stanford University, and is an avid hiker and nature photographer. He wrote this article for Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.
Quick tips for greening your home
Michael Silverman offers the following tips for helping make your home a more environmentally friendly place:
• Turn your thermostat down 1 degree each week for
3 weeks at the beginning of winter and up 1 degree every week as spring weather comes around.
Not only will you save energy, the only thing you will likely notice is the reduction in your energy bill.
• Weatherstrip all your doors.
An enormous amount of energy is simply lost to the outdoors. This will reduce the wear on your air conditioning or heater, while simultaneously saving you money.