If you didn't keep last year's resolutions, maybe they didn't satisfy a deeper connection with yourself, your friends, your planet or your car.

With that in mind, following are some tips for lightening your calorie, carbon and pollution loads in the new year.
1) For your next getaway, take a hike instead of a drive. It's better for your health, of course: a brisk walk (at 3.5 mph) burns from 250-400 calories an hour, depending on your weight. Hike all day and you'll easily burn more calories than you ingest. Driving a car burns about 125 calories. It's a no-brainer that driving releases far more greenhouse gases (GHG), too, with one exception: if you offset the calories you burn walking by eating only red meat, the GHG will exceed that of a drive of the same duration, thanks to all that methane the animals excreted. If you eat the normal American omnivore diet, however, walking releases fewer GHG than driving.

Where to walk? For inspiration, we recommend The High Sierra of California, a book that focuses on the back country above 9,000 feet, accessible only by walking. Artist Tom Killion's block prints (you can order originals here) and Gary Snyder's nature diaries (the poet lives in the Sierra foothills) combine to bring you one of the few places left where you can experience a truly dark and quiet night. Only $24.95 from Heyday Books. We resolve to backpack Yosemite next year.

2) If you smoke, quit. First, it'll be easier to hike. And there are more than 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, some of which are also in the insect poison DDT, arsenic, nail polish remover and rat poisoning. And don't let your car smoke, either. Just like your lungs, a car's engine needs clean air. But if the air filter is jammed with dust and debris, it cannot filter effectively and gasoline burns much less efficiently. Replace your air filter every 15,000 miles to increase fuel efficiency by 30 to 40 percent.
3) Lose weight. According to the Center for Disease Control, Colorado is the only state in the U.S. with an obesity rate less than 20 percent. Maybe we could all learn from a state that loves its outdoor sports. Eating less meat will keep you healthier and less likely to develop diabetes or heart disease, not to mention help the planet, too. And it's not only our bodies that need to lose weight. Removing excess weight from your vehicle (you know, that crap you keep in the trunk or pile on the roof rack) can increase MPG efficiency by two percent and save you two to three cents per gallon. The reduction is based on the percentage of extra weight relative to the vehicle's weight and affects smaller vehicles more than larger ones. Get more fuel (and GHG)-conserving driving tips from the Alliance to Save Energy and Union of Concerned Scientists.

4) Give it a rest. On the seventh day, even the Lord had to rest. This year, I have taken a weekly technology holiday from sundown to sundown Friday to Saturday to honor the Sabbath, and to make time with my friends and family. That means no iPhone, computer, TV and so forth. The break allows my internal engine to appreciate the details of life I normally can't observe, careening madly through the week. According to the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, studies show that constant noise can hurt children's cognitive development and that we should all listen regularly to the sounds of silence.

Plus, global light pollution from our street lamps, factories, offices and homes has led to disturbed human sleep (and worse health), bird migration, and now, scientists report, it's even harming coral reefs. For what you can do, see the International Dark Sky Organization website. Whenever you're burning the midnight oil, close shades, curtains or blinds.

Give your car a rest, too. "If all Americans drove just 12 miles less per week, fuel demand would fall by five percent, the equivalent of almost half a million barrels per day, or all the ethanol produced last year," says energy consultant Geoffrey Styles.

5) Learn something new. Did you know that you can actually change the shape and ability of your brain? Learning new information and mastering new skills can increase neural plasticity, which is the capacity of the brain to change with learning.

Your car's engine can also get smarter and more efficient, with your help. Build your own electric vehicle with the help of author Seth Leitman and increase your brain's plasticity in one fell swoop.

6) Get yourself tuned up. Make sure you are getting your age-appropriate health exams (breast, colon, prostate, etc.) as well as overall body/teeth/skin check-ups this year because prevention is way easier than correction.

For your car, a preventative check up/tune up every 5,000 mile can improve overall gas effiency by as much as 40 percent. Don't have a favorite mechanic? Check Car Talk's directory of great mechanics across the country.

7) Slow down and enjoy the ride. Take time for yourself. Eat slower, listen to the sounds around you, and make time for friends.

And like the Kanye West says in his song Drive Slow, you should, "Drive slow, homey." Driving 65 in a 55 zone lowers your car's gas mileage by 15 percent. For each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph, you essentially pay an additional $0.24 per gallon of gas.

8) Make a year-end, tax-deductible gift to an environmental non-profit. As the new year arrives, invest in the infrastructure of natural resource protection, which has preserved pristine places like the Olympic Peninsula (see the beautiful article on saving silence, and these places, by Kathleen Dean Moore in the December issue of Orion). Subscribe to non-profit Orion, E., or Earth Island magazines; or contribute to the organizations named above, or to green groups such as the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Glynwood Center, which provides grants to sustainable food networks and community gardens and small farms nationwide, and the Rainforest Action Network, all of whom need our help in this economy as never before.  

Story by Margaret Teich. This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2008. The story was added to MNN.com in December 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2007