Debunking the Myth That It Costs Money to Reduce Emissions
As we face the dual challenges of a faltering economy and a changing climate, the time is ripe to reexamine our common presumptions about the economics of reducing carbon emissions. How many times have you heard people say that you can't really do much about climate change? Or that reducing emissions means spending more money? Wrong on both counts -- the numbers tell an altogether different story. With minimum effort, the typical American can shrink his or her carbon footprint by a third and simultaneously save $2500 over the course of a year.
The average American's footprint today is 28.2 tons and growing. Roughly a sixth comes from shelter, another quarter comes from transportation, and the rest comes from producing, distributing, and disposing of all the stuff we buy. Some comes from government services too, but it is canceled out by carbon absorbed by shared forests.
Unlike other energy conservation programs, these 10 "Shrink & Save" tips are doable by most anyone and place a realistic number on each action's financial and environmental benefits. Complex calculations using data from the Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Information Administration, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and other authoritative sources yield dollars and pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent saved. The tips are not ground-breaking in and of themselves, but what is eye-opening is the cumulative effect on emissions and personal savings. In order of impact:
1. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without: Save $564 & 2902 lbs
This depression-era slogan is just as apropos now as it was then. Ask yourself if you really need to buy that new stuff. Visit Craigslist, Freecycle, the library, or local consignment shops to buy needed items at little to no cost or to trade in items you no longer need. Donate household goods, toys, sporting or garden equipment, and clothing to thrift shops, community centers, or other charities.
2. Drive the car -- don't let the car drive you: Save $385 & 2822 lbs
EPA vehicle fuel economy statistics belie the reality that cars are remarkably flexible machines. You'll surprise yourself with gas mileage improvements and savings at the pump if you:
- Drive smoothly. Use cruise control even on short treks and avoid rapid acceleration and braking.
- Keep tires inflated to improve fuel economy and lengthen tire life.
- Avoid idling. Restarting your car uses less gas than idling.
- Watch your speed. Above 55 mph, aerodynamic drag starts reducing your mileage.
3. Not all flights are created equal: Save $347 & 2492 lbs
Keeping your feet on the ground reduces emissions the most. Which plane you board matters too:
- Choose direct, non-stop flights. Extra liftoffs burn extra fuel.
- Fly economy class. The bigger your seat, the bigger your share of the airplane's emissions.
- Book daytime flights. Jet contrails trap more heat at night than during the day.
- Pick newer planes with better fuel efficiency.
- Replace one flight a year with an internet, phone or video conference.
4. The dirt on clean laundry: Save $287 & 3211 lbs
Washing and drying the weekly eight loads of laundry of the average American household comes with a hefty financial and environmental price tag. If you wash just half of those eight loads with cold water and hang them to dry, your clothes will last longer and you'll cut your energy use and utility bill.
5. Eating meat should be a treat: Save $285 & 1107 lbs
Meat is the least climate-friendly of the food groups. Producing one calorie of meat takes many calories of animal feed, and cows' burping and farting produces methane gas. But you don't have to become a Tofurkey-eating vegetarian to make an environment impact -- just limiting meat to 3 times a week will make a big impact.
6. Working isn't always fun, but getting there should be: Save $276 & 1177 lbs
It's easy -- almost too easy -- to fall into a solitary commuting routine and become complacent about commuting impact. Just two days a week, commit to telecommuting, taking public transportation, or carpooling with a co-worker or neighbor.
7. Go with the flow: Save $194 & 2123 lbs
Heated shower water ends up down the drain. Short of installing a drain heat recovery system, your best bet is to reduce water use is shorter showers. Next best is installing inexpensive low-flow shower heads that use half the water of their profligate counterparts.
8. A Bright Idea: Save $188 & 1429 lbs
The compact fluorescent bulb is an often-touted energy-saving tip. And for good reason: CFLs (and uber-modern LEDs) use much less electricity and last longer than incandescents. Outfit your home with efficient bulbs and remember to turn off the lights when you're not around.
9. Intelligent heating and cooling: Save $131 & 1413 lbs
Install a programmable thermostat to avoid heating or cooling your empty house while you're at work or asleep. Punch in those numbers, sit back, and watch the money roll in.
10. Power down: Save $64 & 743 lb
Electronic gadgets and appliances may look innocuous, but the combined force of their electric draw, even when they're "off," is not. With a bit of conscious power management, you can prolong the life of electronics and slash emissions impact:
- Use power strips. Flipping a single switch to shut off entertainment and office equipment stops phantom draw.
- Use power management settings. Set your computer to sleep after a few minutes and turn it off for longer periods.
- Unplug vampire chargers. Power cords for cell phones, computers, and cameras quietly suck power even when they're not charging.
Add it up. Roundly debunking the myths that one person can't make a difference or that it costs money to reduce emissions, these 10 tips increase personal savings by $2501 a year and trim the average American's footprint by 19,419 pounds of CO2 (34% reduction). The annual emissions reductions of one person are equivalent to powering 1.2 homes with clean electricity for a year or replacing three cars with Priuses.
If just one person can have that impact with a minimum amount of effort, just imagine what the power of the community can do.
Patti Prairie added Treehugger to her distinguished 30-year career-spanning resume when she became Chief Executive Officer of Brighter Planet. This innovative company has a socially responsibly mission: to help people manage their environmental footprint. With its practical, carbon emission reducing solutions, Brighter Planet is committed to making it easier for anyone to get involved in the fight against climate change.