According to a Yale University study, 68 percent of Americans are worried about climate change and the harm to future generations, plants and animals from global warming. Some 82 percent of us want to see policy support for renewable energy sources and 74 percent want to see the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide regulated as a pollutant.
Until that support and regulation come from the government, we can turn our concern into positive steps that reduce our personal carbon footprint, save money, shift cultural norms and perhaps inspire others. Humanity urgently needs to stop burning fossil fuels. Small steps done consistently add up to big changes. Remember, attitude is everything. You can enjoy living well in the process! There is much satisfaction in aligning your actions to your values.
Beyond the typical recycling and changing lightbulbs, here are some of my favorites:
• Stop your junk mail and catalogues. Over 100 billion pieces of unsolicited mail are stuffed into our mailboxes each year. It’s annoying and wasteful. By reducing your waste, your city’s waste management and the U.S. Post Office save labor and fuel costs from delivery and disposal. Make a pile of your junk mail. Every few weeks, contact the senders by phone, web or mail marked with “return to sender” and “remove this address from mailings.” Bonus: Save trees.
• Check if your electricity supplier has a “green power” choice. In my home town this option adds up to less than a dollar a month. Businesses can sign up as well. What a deal for supporting clean renewable energy sources.
• Reduce your meat consumption. The United Nations calls the livestock sector a “major player” in affecting climate change through methane emissions. Listed in order of most to least emissions: lamb, beef, cheese, pork and chicken, eggs, nuts, yogurt and beans. If eating meatless is new to you, start one day a week, with meatless Mondays. Bonus: Less meat equals better health.
• Replace your disposables with reusable alternatives. Small steps add up to a big impact. The average American generates over 4 pounds of waste a day. Replace paper towels with rags or washcloths, plastic water bottles with reusable bottles and paper coffee filters with permanent ones. Use cloth shopping bags, handkerchiefs, diapers and menstrual pads. Wash and reuse zip lock bags. Bonus: Saves money.
• Buy less clothing. Americans buy five times as many clothes as they did in 1980. We throw out an average of 65 pounds of clothing per year per person. Make do with less, shop at thrift shops, have a clothing exchange party, clean out your closets to find out what you really do have. Bonus: Saves money.
• Schedule a home or business energy audit. Buildings account for about 38 percent of the U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Some municipalities and electric companies offer help with weatherization assistance. A little caulk here, a door weather guard there can help hold in heat and lower your utility bills. Search “energy tips” for more savings.
• Hang your laundry on the line outside or clothes racks inside to dry. Bonus: The smell of freshly dried sheets and more dollars in your wallet.
• Consider taking advantage of renewable tax credits and rebates. For solar panels, your federal tax credit is 30 percent of cost. Electric and hybrid vehicle credits are up to $7,500 federal and some states have additional credits as well.
• Drive less, walk and bicycle more. Bonus: Saves money, better health.
• Reduce air travel. Air travel may be your biggest carbon footprint sin. One roundtrip flight from New York to Europe creates 2 to 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates 19 tons of total carbon emissions per year; the average European, 10 tons per year.
• Get your hands dirty. Grow a food garden, join a community garden. Start a backyard compost. In 1900, 41 percent of people in the U.S. were growing food. By 2000 the number was less than 2 percent.
• Use energy-efficient appliances. Check labels on your heater, refrigerator, washer, dryer and water heater. Invest in high-efficiency when possible.
Susan Atkinson, Durango, Colo., is a member of the Citizens Climate Lobby.