But have you considered your own contributions?
Your home may be the source of twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as your car. In fact, you probably have a gas guzzler in the garage. And you may have your own "toxic spill" to clean up - under the counter. Chemicals meant to shine sinks and add foam to shampoos and conditioners could be making you and the planet sick.
That's why it's time to practice environmentalism in the home and body, say creators of a 12-week course being offered in Salt Lake City.
The class, called Pollution Prevention and Environmental Action through Community Education (P2EACE), is part of a move to get residents to take responsibility for the globe's health, instead of leaving it to government or business (see story at right).
"Instead of saying, 'I hope the government cleans up the lake,' we wanted to step back and say, 'Where does it begin?,' " said Wendy Mendenhall, president of The Arts Organization Institute, which is sponsoring P2EACE, along with Salt Lake City and the Environmental Protection Agency. The inaugural program ends this month and another begins in May.
"It really starts in this home," she said, touching her chest. "This is the ultimate environment."
And it needs help, said Linda Chaé, a Colorado-based spokeswoman for the ToxicFree Foundation, who taught one of the courses.
She warns that repeated, daily exposure to chemicals found in everyday products - from cleansers to makeup to deodorant to laundry soap - cause memory loss, migraines and cancer, among other ailments.
While the products are sold in grocery stores across America, Chaé said the government doesn't regulate the industry. "There is no one in Washington with a white lab jacket looking out for us," she said in an interview, adding that the chemicals remain in the air long after they're used, harming babies and pets.
The Environmental Protection Agency says the levels of organic compounds released from household products are higher indoors than outdoors. The EPA agrees there are health effects, but says little is known about them.
California stepped into the regulation void in 2005, passing the nation's first law on chemicals in cosmetics. The "Safe Cosmetics Act" requires manufacturers to tell the state if their products contain ingredients that cause cancer or birth defects.
Chaé's foundation has a list of her own "Deadly Dozen" chemicals to avoid. Her short list includes DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine) and PEG (polyethylene glycol). To read Chaé's full list, go to http://www.sltrib.com/homeandfamily.
Her advice to consumers: Read labels and then demand that your stores carry safe products.
"I'm all for the fish and the mammals and the ocean and the forest, but I'm No. 1 for the human being," Chaé said. "Chemicals we rub on our body have far more impact on our immediate health than how we recycle our trash. Both are important."
BACK TO BASICS
Larissa Jones suggests returning to the basics. The Salt Lake City resident taught a class on using essential oils, or aromatherapy, to improve the air.
"The use of most of the household products is not necessary," the aromatherapist and herbalist said in an interview. "We need to go back to what our great-grandmothers did. Baking soda and vinegar can clean all kinds of things."
Essential oils, or oils distilled from aromatic plants, add disinfectant power and can smell good. However, Jones cautioned, the oils can be 50 to 100 times stronger than the plants and can irritate the skin and lungs.
Another cleaning solution is plants. Cactus and Tropicals' Brandie Balken extolled their power to P2EACE students and offered five low-light plants that are good at humidifying the air and eliminating common toxins: the peace lily, Chinese evergreen, lady palm, mother-in-law's tongue and spider plant.
"If I go to somebody's home and they don't have plants, I wonder what's wrong with them," she said.
P2EACE explores what you might expect - how to save energy and water, and the value of recycling and taking TRAX or a bus. But it also includes lectures on building materials, nutrition and clearing clutter.
The class of 20 took a trip to the landfill. They tried traveling without using a petroleum-dependent car. Students were asked to analyze their habits: Did they eat organic food? Shop at locally owned stores? Recycle and buy recycled products?
Most of the students already were living a green life: Two biked to class. One had recently moved to cut down on her commute. Another refers to herself as an "environmental Nazi." But even the greenest said they found ways to improve.
Scott Cooney, who created an environmentally friendly lawncare business, has made small changes based on the class. He installed cotton-based insulation in his attic and saved $30 a month on his winter gas bill. He changed his toothpaste to one with essential oils, and urged his roommate to use a nontoxic deodorant.
"You have to change the places where you shop. You have to think it through," he said. "It takes awhile getting used to the lifestyle change but it's fun and it's really healthy."
It can also be more expensive. Organic products and green-building materials cost more up front, but some costs can be recouped over time.
After a class trip to the dump, Ashley Patterson, who is already an expert as she owns a green-building center, said she may start buying cereal in bulk or making her own granola because she learned the plastic bags in cereal boxes can't be recycled. She said living green is about taking small steps that lead to big changes. She should know. She started using alternative transportation one day a month and now she uses her bike as transportation and never drives unless she's with someone else.
"The take-home message is, as individuals there's, what, 300 million of us in the United States? If we all make good decisions, we can all have a huge impact."
* 12 million barrels of oil are used each year to manufacture 100 billion plastic shopping bags in the United States. Paper bags aren't much better for the earth. Use canvas or string.
* The average American generates 1,700 pounds of trash a year. And 75 percent of what is dumped could be recycled.
* When a car idles, carbon monoxide emissions are at their highest. Don't idle more than two minutes.
* Reducing your weekly mileage by 20 miles will decrease your annual carbon dioxide emissions by 1,000 pounds.
- Source: Salt Lake City and Elise Lazar
Want to take the class?
The next 12-week course for Pollution Prevention and Environmental Action through Community Education (P2EACE) runs Tuesdays from May 16-Aug. 8, 7-9 p.m. at 150 S. 600 East, Suite 2C, Salt Lake City. The cost is $500. Call 801-468-1212 or e-mail info@thearts