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You may be thinking: “What difference can I, one individual among billions, make on this planet? How can I prevent climate change’s imminent threat?” From rapid sea level declines and melting glaciers in the Arctic to the rise in global temperature and increasingly devastating storms in the last year alone, it cannot be ignored that these phenomena are largely due to human activity.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), since the Industrial Revolution began, human activities have contributed substantially to climate change by adding CO2 and other heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere.
Humans are directly impacting the rate of climate change through consumption of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas — all of which emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The greenhouse gases, predominantly carbon dioxide, are capturing infrared energy from the Earth, thereby warming the planet.
The good news is that you can help slow down the toll carbon pollution is having on the planet by altering your lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint.
Change Your Lightbulbs – This quick fix will not only help the environment, but your wallet, as well. Switch all of the lights in your home to compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. One bulb can reduce up to 1,300 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution during its lifetime. CFLs also use about 70 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, which will help your electric bill.
While we’re at it, flip the switch and turn off your lights when you leave the room. A little mindfulness of your light usage at home or at the office can go a long way.
Unplug Your Gadgets – It is important to power off your devices for both their longevity and the longevity of our planet. Take it a step further and unplug your devices, including your chargers, when they are not in use. While it is minimal, chargers do continue to consume power when plugged in and inactive. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, adopting this practice can save you $100 each year on your energy bill.
Upgrade Your Home – Insulating and sealing your home can help in more ways than one. Reducing drafts and air leaks with caulk, insulation and weather stripping will keep you warm while also reducing your heat bill.
Additionally, if you are in the market to replace your appliances, make energy efficiency a primary consideration when searching for potential furnaces, air conditioners, dishwashers or refrigerators. Any product with an ENERGY STAR label is recognized for having superior efficiency.
Dispose of Your Waste Properly – We have all heard the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” slogan and it continues to be a main component of carbon reduction. The EPA estimates that recycling glass, aluminum, plastic and paper could save 582 pounds of CO2 per year, equivalent to more than 600 miles of driving (National Geographic, 2016).
If you are willing to take it a step further, consider composting your food waste. It is estimated that American families produce an average of 20 pounds of food waste per month (NRDC, 2012). Composting allows fungi and bacteria to decompose food waste aerobically, which means that oxygen breaks down the materials, creating nutrient-rich fertilizer.
Reduce Your Consumption of Bottled Water and Other Packaged Drinks – Producing the plastic bottles for bottled-water consumption worldwide uses 50 million barrels of oil every year, and that does not even include the fossil fuel and emissions costs of greenhouse gases made as a result of transporting the product (Reset, 2016). Plastic bottles continue to pile up in landfills and they are not breaking down anytime soon; it is estimated that some could take 450 years to completely degrade.
If that’s not reason enough to ditch the plastic bottle, consider those that do not even have tap water in their homes. The United Nations estimates that $100 billion a year is spent towards creating plastic bottles; if just one-sixth of that money was directed to humanitarian efforts, the number of people without access to clean water would be cut in half.
Eat Locally Produced and Organic Foods – Next time you visit the grocery store, make an effort to be mindful of the produce you purchase. Purchasing food that is grown locally drastically minimizes the carbon emissions from the vehicles used for transport. The Worldwatch Institute calculated that semitrailer trucks travel an average of 1,500 miles to haul food to grocery stores. Why not take the time to walk to your local farmers’ market to buy fresh, organic produce? It could be the perfect addition to that new recipe you’ve been meaning to try.
Cut Back On Beef and Dairy – When dining out, resist the urge to order a hamburger. Every pound of beef served is equivalent to releasing about 19 pounds of greenhouse gases (National Geographic, 2016). Beef requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water, and results in five times more climate-warming emissions (The Guardian, 2014). If everyone opted to cut back on their beef intake they could reduce their carbon footprint more than if they gave up their own car.
Take Public Transit or Carpool – Instead of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the beltway during rush hour, consider public transportation. Living in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia metropolitan area gives us access to the Metro, Capital Bikeshare, Metrobus and Ridesharing, all great alternatives to driving.
Each gallon of gasoline burned in an average car blows 19.2 pounds of CO2 out of the exhaust and directly into Earth’s atmosphere (Carbon Rally, 2010). Opting to carpool or take public transit would reduce the number of cars on the road that are contributing to 30 percent of the greenhouse gases released in the U.S.
Drive a Low-Carbon Vehicle – If you can’t shake the desire to be behind the wheel, opt to drive a low-carbon vehicle like a hybrid or electric car. The more miles per gallon your car gets, the less carbon dioxide it emits, not to mention how much less time you’ll be spending filling your tank and draining your wallet.
If you are not in the market for a new car, maximize your fuel efficiency by keeping tires properly inflated. Also, avoid speeding and reduce your load by clearing out your trunk.
Adjust Your Thermostat – Try to moderate the temperature in your house. A small adjustment to your thermostat can make a big difference. Keep your house two degrees cooler in the winter and two degrees warmer in the summer. Also, there’s no need to heat an empty home, so program your thermostat to adjust automatically, giving you peace of mind when you go away for the holidays.
Consider Solar Power — Once the initial investment to install the rooftop panels has been done, you can sit back and let the sun do all the work, producing heat or electricity at a much cheaper price than utility pricing. Additionally, installing solar panels increases the value of your home.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reports solar energy has offset 37 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, equivalent to planting 956 million trees (Direct Energy Solar, 2017). Essentially, the sun is not only free but always available, making solar power one of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
Be Mindful of your Yard — While tending to your lawn, consider eliminating the use of fertilizers and pesticides, instead opting to use compost and mulch to enrich your soil. Those herbicides and pesticides get into our water supply, and of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 16 pose serious hazards to birds, 24 are toxic to fish and aquatic organisms and 11 have adverse effects on bees (Rodale’s Organic Life, 2010).
Yet, if you must use fertilizer, there are eco-friendly options in stores, or purchase biochar, charcoal produced from plant matter that helps remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. You can substantially lower your carbon footprint by growing healthy, beautiful grass organically.
Even if you implement only one of these actions in your everyday life, you will make a difference in the amount of carbon produced daily. It is imperative that we are conscious of our actions in order to protect our planet for generations to come.
One last request: spread the word. If as individuals we are more mindful of our carbon footprint, think of the collective impact on the health of our environment.
Lexie de los Santos is a writer and former resident of Ashton.
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