Written by: Union of Concerned Scientists
Many of our daily activities affect the environment, but few people have stopped to consider the most important: their personal contribution to global warming. The fossil fuels we burn to satisfy our transportation and energy needs generate carbon dioxide (CO2), the heat-trapping gas primarily responsible for climate change. In fact, the average American generates 20 tons of CO2 every year—about the same amount as three new cars!
Several online calculators are available to help you determine your own annual production of CO2, or carbon “footprint” (see Related Links). These calculations take into account specific lifestyle choices that add CO2 to the atmosphere or, in some cases, reduce CO2 because of climate-friendly actions you may already be taking. As the following strategies suggest, it’s not difficult to shrink your carbon footprint.
Each gallon of gasoline burned by a car or truck releases 20 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Choose the most fuel-efficient vehicle for your needs. If you own more than one vehicle, use the one that gets the worst mileage only when you can fill it with passengers or cargo. And when the time comes to buy a new car or truck, look for the cleanest, most fuel-efficient gasoline, gasoline-electric hybrid, or alternative-fuel model in its class. Drive less. Carpooling two days a week can reduce your annual CO2 emissions by 1,590 pounds. Combining errands into one trip can lower emissions even further.
In general, every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity used in your home generates 2.3 pounds of CO2.
Change a bulb. If every American family replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an energy-saving compact fluorescent bulb, CO2 emissions would drop by more than 90 billion pounds—the same as taking 7.5 million cars off the road.
Go digital. Replacing a mechanical thermostat with a digital model allows you to save energy by programming your heat to turn on and off at preset times. Look for the Energy Star label. Appliances bearing this label use significantly less electricity than their counterparts. Buy green power. Many utilities give you the option of purchasing electricity generated from renewable resources such as solar and wind energy.
Recycle. Reducing waste in landfills reduces emissions of CO2 and methane (another heat-trapping gas). Recycling also uses less energy than manufacturing new materials. Buy local. Food grown on local farms does not have far to travel, minimizing transportation-related emissions. By combining energy efficiency and conservation with investments in carbon “offsets” (projects such as reforestation that pull carbon out of the atmosphere), it is possible to eliminate your heat-trapping emissions and achieve a “climate-neutral” lifestyle.
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