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GreenSpace: Doing the little things that will save the world

It's easy to mock all the eco how-to books that the publishing industry churns out, never mind the number of trees consumed in their printing.

It's easy to mock all the eco how-to books that the publishing industry churns out, never mind the number of trees consumed in their printing.

50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. 20 Quick and Easy Ways to Save the Planet. Go Green, Live Rich.

Saving the planet is a project for the long haul, and it will be anything but easy. It will require significant technological advances, government action and international cooperation.

But we peons can act immediately. The things we do may be incremental. But we're such a wasteful society that the steps we can take are as easy as turning out the lights. Many will even save money.

So here, ready for incorporating into your New Year's resolutions, are 12 ways to save or make a difference, however tiny, in the fate of the planet.

Shop with reusable bags. Plastic bags - little more than processed petroleum - have been banned in some areas. Stores are opting out, or charging. Yet Americans still go through about $100 billion a year, then trash them. Many become litter. Yeah, you'll forget and leave the reusables in your car at first. Soon, it will become habit.

Drink tap water. While bottled water companies have reduced the plastic in each bottle, critics still point to the resources used and refuse generated. For portability, get a reusable bottle.

Wash clothes in cold water. As much as 90 percent of the energy used goes to heat the water. When the load is finished, if you can possibly manage it, hang the laundry up to dry.

Change toilet paper. Most paper products are made from virgin tree pulp. Look instead for paper that has 80 percent to 100 percent "post-consumer" content (made of paper recycled from homes and offices). Seventh Generation says that if each U.S. household replaced just one four-pack with recycled, it would save nearly a million trees. Eco paper also is whitened without chlorine.

Unplug idle electronics. The typical house harbors more than three dozen devices that never shut down, even if you turn them "off." The EPA says this wastes $3 billion worth of electricity a year. A fancy power strip can do the work for you, or you can simply pull the plugs yourself.

Change a light bulb. A compact fluorescent bulb - CFL - uses 75 percent less energy than an incandescent bulb, which loses most of its energy to heat. CFLs do have mercury, so be careful not to break one. Technology soon will produce a range of safer - and even more efficient - LED bulbs.

Turn down the heat. As much as 50 percent of a household's energy use in winter goes to heating. Environmentalists recommend a setting of 68 degrees daytime, 60 at night. A wool sweater translates to about 3.6 degrees of heat.

Install a low-flow shower head. Water reserves are limited, and energy is consumed in the transport and treatment of water. But as in the laundry, the big energy hog is in heating. (While you're at it, turn down the hot water heater, if it has a thermostat.)

Drive gently on properly inflated tires. Even a Hummer can conserve. Most cars' mileage peaks at 60 miles an hour, then plummets. Overall, aggressive driving uses 5 percent to 30 percent more fuel. In my experience, when my tires got low, my fuel efficiency dropped 10 percent.

Eat more veggies, closer to home. Plant a garden. Join a CSA - a community-supported agriculture farm where members pay a seasonal fee for a weekly pickup of produce. Even in the grocery store, look for local, in-season produce instead of, say, asparagus from Peru. And cut back on beef, which a Carnegie Mellon professor found produces 150 percent more greenhouse gases than chicken or fish.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Buy less of everything, and when you must buy, pick products with less packaging. Reuse packaging and products when you can. Recycle what's left. Most communities have curbside programs, and at most all you have to do is put the glass, cans, plastic and paper in a separate bin.

Write an elected official. Yes, saving the planet requires more than individual action. Make sure those who fund the research and make the policies know how you feel.