Americans use an inordinate amount of energy to fuel their lifestyles. Just in the month of April, we learned all too clearly the repercussions.

Americans use an inordinate amount of energy to fuel their lifestyles.


Just in the month of April, we learned all too clearly the repercussions. The devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a nightmarish demonstration of the hazards of offshore drilling. The recent West Virginia coal disaster, killing 29 coal miners, is a reminder of the dangers of coal mining, not to mention the mountaintop removal mining that devastates a landscape and ecosystem.


During this same time period, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the Cape Wind Energy Project, praising it as the future of sustainable energy. Others look at wind turbines in the Nantucket Sound off the coast of Massachusetts as a desecration of a scenic natural resource. Whether you are a "drill baby drill" fan or a green energy advocate, there are problems with almost every form of energy production.


The Gulf oil spill seems like a distant problem unrelated to our daily lives, but we need to take ownership and realize our actions using energy each day help to cause such disasters. We could try to live more consciously and make the connection between our energy use and the effects on the planet.


Eat well for you and the environment. Read labels and buy organically and locally grown foods. Visit the farmers' markets. The agriculture and food-processing sectors are one of the highest consumers of fossil fuels through the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and transportation. Eat less meat; it is an extremely inefficient source of calories. According to Michael Pollan, best-selling author of books such as the "Omnivore's Dilemma," feedlot-raised beef takes 55 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce only 1 calorie of meat.


An easy switch is to not use disposable plastic water bottles, bags or flatware and plates. The manufacturing of these throwaway items consumes millions of barrels of oil per year. Use a glass or metal water bottle and fill it up with filtered tap water. Bring your own bags to the store, reducing oil use and litter. Instead of disposables, use dishes and flatware. Wash the dishes with your kids to set a good example, instead of having them think the norm is to use a plastic spoon once and then throw it away without a thought of the consequences.


Carpool and use mass transportation. You can read and do work on a train, but not while driving your car. It is ridiculous the number of parents who each drive their kids in separate cars to the same destination. Save time and money by coordinating the driving with friends. Do not idle your car if you are going to be waiting for more than 30 seconds and turn off the car air conditioner and cool off by opening the car windows. Buy an energy efficient car.


Now is the time to add solar thermal water heating with the rebates and credits available. It is a highly efficient form of solar power and will save you money. 


When you can use muscle power, do so instead of flipping a switch. Save a trip to the gym, but still exercise by raking your leaves instead of blowing them. Bike or walk to do errands. Instead of riding a motorized ATV, jet ski or snowmobile, ride a mountain bike, sail or cross-country ski.


Even with moving toward more sustainable energy sources and technology to improve energy production, it will still take decades to wean off of fossil fuel. Feel empowered and take steps in your life that will help lead us to energy independence and a cleaner planet.


Anne Mazar is an environmental advocate and a member of the Mendon (Mass.) Land Use Committee.