Ever since Al Gore sought out a new political stage and declared himself the champion of “global warming,” now more accurately defined as “climate change,” there has been an ongoing debate about setting national and international standards and goals for reducing emissions to alter the effects of changing weather, shrinking ice caps and unhealthy air.

In all this contentious war of words and data, there has been one outstanding party totally ignored—you and me, the individual.

Now we have a practical guide compiled (and excerpted) by N.Y. Times writer Livia Albeck-Ripka on how you individually can reduce your input to the global climate change problem.

Climate change can be an overwhelming challenge.  The science is complex and when it comes to measuring impacts, there are still a lot of unknowns.  While real solutions will require actions on a global scale, there are choices you can make in your day-to-day life to lessen your personal contribution to the environment.

Let’s start with understanding our carbon footprint.

A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, use and end of life of a product or service.  It includes carbon dioxide, the gas most commonly emitted by humans, as well as methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases which trap in the atmosphere causing global warming and climate change.  Usually the bulk of an individual’s carbon footprint will come from transportation, housing and food.

You can start the process by calculating your footprint by approximating:

  • How many miles you travel by car, bus, train and plane
  • The energy you use in your home
  • How much you spend shopping
  • The composition of your diet

No matter how you scored, this guide will provide some suggestions that will help you lessen your personal environmental impact.

On The Road and In The Sky

One of the most effective ways to begin thinking about how to reduce your carbon footprint is to reconsider how much and how often you travel.

Drive Less

In 2017, carbon dioxide emissions from transportation were more than emissions from electric generation even as generation has begun to shift away from the use of coal to more alternative sources and natural gas.

Going carless for a year could save about 2-1/2 tons of carbon dioxide according to a study by two universities—that’s a little more than a round trip transatlantic flight.  How can you stop using a car?  Try taking a train, a bus, walking or ride a bike.

To be realistic, you probably can’t give up your car completely.  So when you do, here are some tips to make your trips more climate-friendly:

  • Go easy on the gas and the brakes—driving efficiently can help reduce emissions. Drive like you have an egg under your foot, recommends the Oak Ridge National Laboratory which researches energy use.
  • Regularly service your car to keep it running more efficiently.
  • Check your tires, keeping tires pumped correctly can reduce emissions. Low tire pressure will hurt your fuel economy.
  • Air conditioning and intensive city driving can make emissions creep up. Cut down on these as often as possible.
  • Use cruise control on long drives—in most cases it will save gas.
  • Don’t weigh your car down with extra things to carry you don’t really need on your trip.
  • Carpool—anytime you can so that you’re splitting emissions among all the passengers in the car.

Buying a New Car

Shopping for a new car is a great opportunity to consider how you can reduce your carbon footprint.  When choosing between gasoline and electric, there are a number of factors to take into account, which will determine how “clean” your purchase is.  The following can help:

  • Weigh both production and use emissions.
  • Remember cars with lower emissions can often end up costing less to operate.

Fly Less

Taking one less long round-trip flight could shrink your personal carbon footprint significantly.

If you can’t avoid flying, one way of making up for emissions caused is to offset them by donating money to sustainable projects, such as supplying efficient stoves to rural homes, or projects which help farmers in India sell crop waste as a biomass.  You can check for suggestions from Atmosfair or Terrapair.

On Your Plate – Eat Less Meat

While food systems are complicated and research is still evolving on what the best environment diet is, experts agree that cutting down on meat—red meat in particular—is a better choice for the environment.  The production of red meat uses a lot of feed, water and land.  Cows also give off methane emissions, a harmful greenhouse gas.

Eating a vegan diet is likely to be best for the environment, according to experts.  A 2017 study told us red meat can have up to 100 times the environmental impact of plant-based food.  According to some estimates, beef gives off more than six pounds of carbon dioxide per serving.  The amount created per serving by rice, beans, carrots or potatoes is less than half a pound.

Which diet to follow depends on exactly what you are eating and how much of it.  If you replace the meat with dairy, for example, your emissions could rise again.  Deep-net fishing can emit as much as beef.  Further deductions in meat, fish and dairy (similar to a Mediterranean diet) is a good option, according to the University of Oxford.  These diets can also have health benefits.

Eating low down on the food chain means filling your plate with vegetables, fruits, grains and beans.  Swapping carbon intensive meats like beef and lamb with chicken can make a difference.  Better still, swap a few meats per week for vegan or vegetarian.

In Part II next week we’ll finish up on the eating part of your carbon footprint and explore the cost of waste, as well as the components in your home.


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  1. You are finally coming around to the left brain side. Welcome 🙂 We always knew deep down inside you were one of us. I’m running in my yard to hug a tree – the one I named after you!

  2. Art Schwartz

    Not really coming anywhere – I accept climate change.I just can’t embrace the unattainable worldwide goals to deal with it and I’m not sure the data supports what you left brainer think is necessary

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