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02/05/07 12:00AM By Ruth Page
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(HOST) The prospects of global climate change can feel pretty discouraging, but commentator Ruth Page says we might take heart from projects like the one in Manchester, where a simple concept turned out to be a very bright idea indeed.

(PAGE) We didn't need to take Statistics in college to be horrified by some of the numbers that have appeared in the press lately, having to do with how we burn energy. Global warming has become the hot topic, no pun intended, some thirty or even forty years after the time we first heard warnings about the danger. Unfortunately most people have trouble accepting information like that until they can see it happening.

Once spring starts coming ten days earlier than usual; and the Arctic Circle finds its permafrost melting (thus adding to massive carbon dioxide emissions that are already a problem); and we learn that we're losing our glaciers with their masses of locked-up fresh water; and the polar bears are a threatened species because ice floes are thinning; we all take notice.

Sometimes numbers make it easier to see whether our efforts to reduce emissions are working. First, our cars. In 1973, Americans had eight/tenths of a car per driver; in 2003, there were 1.2 cars per driver as spouses and offspring sought their own cars. Did we improve our miles per gallon use in the last twenty years? No. We were getting 27.5 miles per gallon on average in the U.S. in 1985; twenty years later, we were still averaging 27.5 miles per gallon.

Did we reduce carbon emissions from burning energy in other ways? Well, quite a lot of us got rid of our old light-bulbs, and that helped somewhat. The town of Manchester set an example for the rest of us with a six-month long challenge to reduce energy consumption. They sold more than forty thousand new energy-efficient light bulbs, with an estimated annual savings in energy worth nearly two hundred and sixty-eight thousand dollars.

The reduction of carbon dioxide emissions over the lifetime of all those low-energy bulbs is the equivalent of taking more than one thousand three hundred cars off the road. Wow!

These numbers come from the Vermont National Resources Commission. In the same report, they reminded us that there were no Wal-Mart stores in Vermont in 1994; by 2010 they expect to have more than seven hundred thousand square feet of Wal-Mart space in the state. Has that anything to do with carbon emissions? Absolutely. Most big stores, and quite a few malls, are well away from town centers, so to shop there people have to drive.

I wonder: as gas prices rise over time, will we end up with huge empty paved areas just outside many of our towns? Will our once handsome flat-land farms and meadows become just a memory?

Ruth Page has been following environmental issues for twenty years. She's a long time Vermont resident and currently lives in Shelburne.

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