SHIFT: How you can save the planet with your iPod

Antarctica is getting slushy, polar bears need a Coke to cool down, and everyone in Miami is keeping an eye on the sea level. Maybe Al Gore is right, and maybe he isn't. But no one can deny that reducing our "carbon footprint" is a good thing. I lower my thermostat in the winter and raise it in the summer, I run ceiling fans instead of AC, and everything gets turned off when Elvis leaves the building. I'm trying to conserve electricity wherever I can. However, these days, the amount of gear that needs to be plugged in or charged up makes it tough to have an energy conscience. The question after the jump is: How can a gadget-guru go green?

Plugging In
Ahhh, the good old days. When there were four AC outlets in a room, and three of them were empty. When our few electrical devices had simple on/off switches, and when "off" meant "off." Today, the amount of power-sucking gear is out of control. Cordless phones and cells, desktops and laptops, BlackBerries, video game systems, MP3 players, DVD players, receivers, TVs… the list goes on.

When devices with rechargeable batteries were introduced, environmentalists rejoiced — fewer spent batteries heading for landfills. However, much of that green-looking rechargeable gear is deceptively power-hungry. For example, a lot of portable gear doesn't use replaceable batteries, instead recharging built-in ones through USB ports. Brilliant, right? Wrong! Instead of just plugging the player into the wall, now we have to boot up a computer, plug in the device, let it charge, then shut off the whole shebang. I don't think we've saved any polar bears by doing that little maneuver.

Pulling the Plug
I've tried to come up with ways to deal with my personal energy crisis. All those power converters, disparagingly called wall-warts, burn electricity even when their device isn't connected. That means my computer monitor, computer speakers, printer, cell-phone charger, iPod charger and laptop charger now get unplugged when not in use. In fact, most of my electronics are plugged into power-surge protectors. That makes them easy to turn off by turning off the entire strip when I'm not charging.

My entertainment system is a bit trickier. Virtually every piece of gear (DVD players, receivers and TVs) has a 'standby' mode that is sucking down some power — at least enough to know when the remote control 'on' switch has been activated. I'd like to unplug the entire stack of gear, but some components are difficult to keep unplugged. Hopefully you'll realize sooner than I did that TiVo can't plug itself in to record Eureka. And, if you ever do unplug your TiVo, you'll also discover that it takes its sweet time to reinitialize. Over 5 minutes, in fact. Okay, the TiVo gets special dispensation to be left on, and doesn't get plugged into the switchable power strip.

Green as I Wanna Be
Saving the earth is a noble cause — and even if we can't save it, maybe we'll buy enough time to build a rocket ship to take us all to Mars. Some people will be content to change one incandescent light bulb to a compact fluorescent, others will go off the grid and convert their house to solar. For me, I do what I can. I unplug all my chargers when I'm done charging, and I try to conserve the use of all my gear, even the rechargeable stuff. I wait until my laptop is already on to recharge my USB-charged devices, and I'm looking at a USB charger. I turn off the power strip for my computer and home theater. I've given up my hairdryer. Well, on weekends. But, even I have my limits. I am not giving up my Kermit nightlight. Deal with it, Al.

An audio engineer based in Atlanta, Leslie Shapiro has been covering consumer electronics for almost a decade. Her work has appeared in many publications, including Sound & Vision, Crutchfield Advisor, and How Stuff Works as well as AOL. A longtime consultant and legal advisor for the electronics industry, she has a penchant for Bianchi and Colnago Italian bikes, and her favorite word is "synchronicity."