14 December 2007

You And Your Family Can Cut Carbon Emissions at Home

How you can cut your greenhouse gas output

There are many sites with lists of wonderful things you can do to reduce your personal carbon footprint. (Save and reuse shopping bags, for example.) Unfortunately many of those suggestions will make next to no difference at all in the quantity of greenhouse gases you and your family produce in and around your home. Recycling, for example, is fine--but it will make hardly any difference in your carbon footprint. You have got to do things that really matter.

The three steps toward a reduced-CO2 home

  1. Contact your representatives in national, regional and local government and make clear to them that you feel global climate disruption is a serious problem. Keep contacting them. Vote to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It's the only way. Do not neglect this vital step.
  2. Do an energy audit of your home. Your utility can recommend an auditor or you can do it yourself with online tools like The Home Energy Saver. This will provide a baseline and suggest actions you can take.
  3. Start making improvements. This is especially important when planning renovations or buying new appliances. The average home generates about four tonnes of CO2 per person living there, but a lot depends on where it is and what kind of home it is (size, age, construction, multifamily or singlefamily etc.) You will probably be able to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions from your home by 10-30%.

Other things to consider

  • Buy "green tags" to help fund the development of renewable power sources. This will not reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. It is more like a donation, a voluntary tax.
  • Purchase "carbon offsets" to fund new power sources and mitigation projects. But these won't cut your CO2 output.
  • Check with your utility and see if you can pay a higher rate to encourage the development of additional renewable sources. Again, your carbon footprint remains the same. Here is a state-by-state list of such programs.
  • Don't complain when utilities raise rates when "cap and trade" systems or carbon taxes are implemented. You will finally be paying closer to what the power you use costs the planet. You probably pay for garbage collection and sewer systems--why should you continue to use the atmosphere as a sewer for the CO2 your power consumption entails? Making these costs explicit is what is going to help us avoid climate catastrophe.
  • Think about eating less meat, especially beef and pork. I haven't done the math on this but the energy costs of raising and processing meat animals and transporting the meat to you is substantial. (One study suggested that the meat portion of the average American diet adds 1.5 tonnes of CO2e compared to a vegetarian diet. I am looking into this more.)
  • Realize that where you live and how big your home is has profound effects on your carbon footprint. A typical home in Cambridge, Mass., Des Moines, Iowa, or Phoenix, Arizona generates almost three times as much CO2 as an average home in San Francisco.

Visualize a world in 2050 producing less than half the greenhouse gases we do today. Visualize developed countries producing 15% of what they emit today.

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