Green Numbers

The Power of 1
Referred to in song as “the loneliest number,” it can also be the beginning of something extraordinary.

By Jim Hackler

The people of the United States represent less than 5 percent of the world’s population—yet that 5 percent gobbles up more than a quarter of the planet’s resources. If the rest of the world rose to the U.S. level of consumption, four additional planets would be needed to supply the resources and absorb the waste.
The good news is we can change without living “off the grid” in a yurt. Here’s a look at how a single act can help (or hurt) the environment—especially when it’s shared by millions.

It’s Too Darn Hot
If the thermostats in every house in America were lowered 1 degree Fahrenheit during the winter, the nation would save 230 million barrels of crude oil—enough to fill an oil tanker 400 times. (That’s the amount of oil being imported into the United States from Iraq each year.)

Don’t Be Crude
One gallon of used oil—the amount from a small car engine—can pollute 1 million gallons of fresh water and create an 8-acre oil slick. (Each year, nearly 200 million gallons of used oil are illegally dumped on the ground, tossed in the trash or poured down storm sewers and drains.)

Shower Power
If Delta’s 40 million SkyMiles members were to spend 1 minute less each day in the shower over their lifetimes, they would save 4 trillion gallons of water—the total amount of snow and rain that falls over the entire lower 48 United States in a day.

Metal Winner
One old cell phone recycled by each cell phone user in America would reclaim enough precious metals to create 631 solid gold replicas of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen’s funerary mask.

Use a Rake, for Goodness’ Sake!

One hour of using a gas-operated leaf blower produces the same amount of hydrocarbons as a car driving 4,400 miles—that’s a round trip from Salt Lake City to New York City.

Virtual Payment
If every American switched to receiving just one bill as an electronic statement instead of a paper one, the one-time savings would be 217,800,000 sheets—enough to completely blanket the island of Key West in a single layer of paper.

Give a Hoot, Don’t Commute
If metro Atlantans who normally drove to work would telecommute just one day a year instead, they would save more than $50 million in gas—enough to buy an EnergyStar compact fluorescent bulb for the desk lamps of every college student in the United States.

Extra! Extra!
If every newspaper reader in the United States recycled just one typical Sunday paper, he or she could help create 212 million pounds of cellulose insulation—enough to insulate 118,767 Habitat for Humanity houses. That’s nearly twice as many houses as all the Habitat homes built in America so far.

Straight Flush
If homebuilders installed one dual-flush toilet instead of a standard low-flow toilet in every new house built in 2008, they would save 1.65 billion gallons of water a year.

Paint by Numbers
If 1 quart of leftover paint was recycled from every renovation project in America this year (10 percent of all the house paint purchased in the United States is typically thrown out), it would reclaim 2.5 million gallons—enough to paint the outside of the White House every year for the next 43 centuries, or to paint San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge 250 times.

In the Can
One soft drink can recycled by each elementary school student in America would save 24.8 million cans. That would be enough aluminum to create 21 Boeing 737 airplanes.

One out of every 3 pounds of the waste that Americans generate is just for packaging, which each year adds up to 77 million tons—enough to fill the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans 37 times.

Bath Party
If every American collected 1 gallon of water once a week while waiting for the shower or bathwater to get hot (use it to water your houseplants!), the total saved would be 15.8 billion gallons of water a year—enough to fill the Reflecting Pool at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., 2,338 times.

America Switching
If every American household turned off the lights for one hour at 8 p.m. local time on March 29 during the World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour 2008 (, they would prevent more than 16,610 tons of carbon dioxide from being released—enough to fill every hot-air balloon at the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta seven times.

Wear It and Air It
If just one passenger per each flight in the world this year packed 1 pound less of luggage, they would save enough fuel to fly a Boeing 737 around the world 474 times.

The Produce-ers

If Iowans purchased 1 percent more locally grown produce instead of fruits and vegetables shipped in from out of state, they could save enough fuel to drive a Toyota Prius back and forth from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, 211 times (visiting Iowa 422 times).

Two Birds With One Stone
If one 20-mile trip per week was cut out (by combining errands) for every registered vehicle in the United States, 145 million fewer tons of greenhouse gases would be released into the air each year. That’s equal to the annual carbon dioxide emissions from 36 coal-fired power plants.

Honor Roll
Replacing just one 500-sheet roll of virgin toilet paper a year with one 500-sheet roll of 100 percent recycled paper in every American household would leave 424,000 trees standing—16 times as many trees as in New York City’s Central Park.

Mood Lighting
One dimmer switch replacing a regular on/off switch in every U.S. house would save the electricity necessary to light 1.2 million homes—that’s every home in the state of Arkansas.

Jim Hackler telecommutes his stories to Sky in between sorting his recyclables and rinsing his alfalfa sprouts. For his humorous take on what it means to be green, go to

illustrations by Lars Rehnberg

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
The Aluminum Association
Bureau of Transportation Statistics
California EPA
Cellulose Insulation Manufacturer’s Association
The Center for Research on Environment and Water
Center for Transportation and the Environment
Central Park Conservancy
The Clean Air Campaign
Delta SkyMiles Program
Dogwood Alliance
Earth Day Network
Energy Information Administration
Environmental Defense Fund
Habitat for Humanity International
International Air Transport Association
International Carbon Bank & Exchange Kohler Co.
Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
Lutron Electronics Co.
National Association of Home Builders
National Association of the Remodeling Industry
National Resources Defense Council
Newspaper Association of America
NOVA Teacher’s Guide
OPEC Annual Statistical Bulletin
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Purdue University
U.S. Census Bureau
U.S. Department of Energy
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Water Encyclopedia
World Wildlife Fun

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