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Dixie Somers posted a blog entry in The Green Machine BlogWhile it may come as a shock, winter is one of the worst months for negative human impact on the environment. From neglecting good recycling habits to irresponsibly using energy, many people fail to consider their environmental impact during the colder months. If you’re worried about your carbon footprint, there are plenty of ways to go green this coming holiday season. Stick with Seasonal Produce While grocery stores carry strawberries, kiwis, lemons, and other seasonal fruits and vegetables year-round, it’s often at the expense of our environment. Shipping in out-of-season produce via ships results in massive carbon dioxide emissions, contributing significantly to global warming. Thankfully, apples, clementines, and plenty of other winter seasonal foods are readily available and can be enjoyed guilt-free. If you don’t have the patience to learn which products are in season, stick to stores that carry locally sourced produce rather than imports, as their selection will reflect the most sustainable options. Optimize Your Home Heating With temperatures dropping, most homeowners are dusting off their heaters to keep warm. Before winter fully sets in, schedule an appointment with an HVAC company like Derek Sawyers Smart Energy Heating & Air to have your climate control system evaluated to make sure it’s running as efficiently as possible. An optimized system will save you money on your energy bill and also protect against dangerous malfunctions, especially with gas heaters that can emit harmful levels of carbon dioxide if they aren’t serviced regularly. To help support your heater, make sure windows, door frames, and other areas are properly insulated to maximize how well your home retains heat. Salting and Shoveling Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s easy to pack on pounds during the holidays. Rather than paying for a gym membership, get an outdoor workout by shoveling your front steps and driveway instead of using a snowblower or plow. These methods require the use of gasoline or electricity, emitting harmful environmental gases or upping your energy bill respectively. By shoveling walkways yourself, you can lower your carbon emissions and indulge in a few extra desserts guilt-free thanks to the intense workout. If you have some time to spare, consider shoveling your neighbors’ properties to add a little more money to your gift-buying budget. Recycle Your Christmas Tree There’s nothing wrong with opting for a natural Christmas tree, provided you put it to good use after the holiday season is over. Pine needles make excellent mulch, so if you have a garden patch in your yard, carefully remove the branches and shake the needles over your designated spot. If there’s too much snow coverage, simple store a healthy supply of the needles in a sealed plastic tote or other container for later use during planting season. Christmas tree needles decompose slowly and do not mold, so long term storage is perfectly safe. If you’re the DIY type, you can get some use out of the trunk as well. Its round shape makes it the perfect base for building some natural drink coasters, and a good sized tree should give you plenty of material to make a few extra to hand out as gifts next year. Use Water Responsibly While there’s nothing quite like a hot bath or shower during the winter months, you may literally be pouring money down the drain. Simply lowering your home’s water temperature a modest few degrees not only helps the environment by lowering your energy consumption, but can also save you some money on your next bill. Dropping your hot water temperature from 140 degrees to 120 will still give you plenty of warm water for baths and dishes, but can also cut your annual bill by as much as $60, giving you a few extra dollars for buying presents while also lowering your carbon footprint. Year-Round Sustainability Every season offers its own unique ways to reduce your negative impact on the environment. During the winter months, focus on responsible energy usage, eat in-season foods, and find creative recycling methods for your Christmas tree, wreathes, and even wrapping paper. With a few simple steps, you can fully enjoy the holiday season while making your life more environmentally conscious.
Believe it or not, winters have been warming rapidly in the majority of the continental 48 states since 1970. And, take note Chicago and other Midwest readers: The coldest states are warming the fastest. So says a 2013 report by Climate Central. In fact, says science writer Andrew Zimmerman, if the climate had not warmed so much during the past few decades, it's possible that the current freezer-like weather would be even colder in those areas. Yikes! Meanwhile, there have been above-average temperatures across parts of the Arctic, Scandinavia, Europe and Asia this past week, Zimmerman reports. Last month, the northern Alaska coastline, above the Arctic Circle, had the warmest temperatures on record in at least 70 years. It's part of an overall trend of warming in the Arctic area. But yes, brrrrr, every state in the continental U.S. has had sub-freezing temperatures this week. It's attributed to the behavior of the "polar vortex." The polar vortex (also known as a polar cyclone) is a large swirl of very cold air that sits over the polar regions year round. It intensifies in the winter and weakens in the summer. The jet stream from the Arctic polar vortex sometimes brings extremely cold weather southward into Europe, Asia and the U.S. According AccuWeather.com, cold outbreaks like the one this week occur "on average once every 10 years. The last far-reaching, bitterly cold blasts occurred in the mid-1990s, during February of 1996 and January of 1994." AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said, "We were overdue for a large Arctic outbreak of this intensity." This time the polar vortex has spread unusually far south into the U.S., giving us the record frigid conditions we've been experiencing. Is global climate change a factor in this unusual intrusion of the polar vortex? Some scientists say yes; others say the jury is still out. Scientific studies have tied abnormally cold temperatures in the U.S. and Europe to warmer than usual conditions in the Arctic - they dub this the "Warm Arctic/Cold Continents Pattern." This could be driven by the loss of polar sea ice which has been documented over the past few decades. That in turn is spurred by human-caused global warming. Research is ongoing. "The research linking climate change impacts in the Arctic to more extreme jet stream patterns is still very new, and we need several more years of data and additional research before we can be confident that this is occurring," writes Weather Underground scientist Jeff Masters. "But if the new research is correct, the crazy winter weather we've been seeing since 2009 may be the new normal in a world with rapid warming occurring in the Arctic." But one thing is sure, scientist agree: cold weather does not contradict the well-established fact that the Earth has been warming overall due to human activity, in particular the massive use of oil, coal and other fossil fuels. The consequences of this, scientists say, include more extreme weather of all kinds. For a break from the cold, you might want to consider a trip Down Under. Australia has experienced record-breaking scorching hot weather this past year. It's been so hot that mapmakers have had to add a new color to temperature maps to signify the blistering heat there. Australia's winter, which is during our summer months, was "only" the third hottest on record. But its spring temperatures, starting in September, were the hottest ever. January 2014 is starting off with similar heat extremes. Walgett, in New South Wales, recorded 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the second hottest temperature ever measured in the state. One of the reasons for Australia's record heat in 2013 was very high ocean surface temperatures, the third warmest on record according to preliminary data. If you are not up for a trip to Australia, not to worry. The record cold in the U.S. will be ending this week, weather forecasters say. Temperatures are predicted to be up to 50 in places like New York and St. Louis. This article was first published in People's World by Susan Webb.