Hello everyone, welcome back to the ABCs of fighting climate change! I was really heartened to see so many comments…it seems that more people are worried about this than I originally thought. One of the only things I love about the internet is that it helps bring like-minded people together. So, welcome to the Green Army! We’re going to do our part to fight climate change.
The first thing to do (and these are in alphabetical order, not order of importance! You don’t get more brownie points for doing things higher up in the alphabet. ANYTHING you do is important and a good start!) is Always Consider your Carbon Footprint.
So…what exactly is a carbon footprint? I have to admit, I wasn’t 100% sure on this when I started out. Here’s a little primer on climate change basics–feel free to send them to your Congresspeople!
“Global warming” refers to the average temperature of the globe. (That’s why we can have a harsh, snowy winter and global warming can still be real. Weather =/= climate!) Since the Industrial Revolution, the average global temperature has been increasing. In the past 50 years, it’s been increasing at a steadily faster pace…and it’s only getting faster. 15 of the 16 hottest years in the past 134 have been since 2000, according to the NRDC.
Why is the temperature rising? For that, we have to go back to 8th grade science. Between the earth and the sun, there’s the atmosphere, aka the layer of gases that makes our planet habitable for humans. (Remember the ball-shaped shield from “Spaceballs”? It’s like that. But without the combination lock 🙂 Normally, the sun’s rays go from the sun –> through the atmosphere–>to earth, where they either become heat for the planet (which we need) or they reflect off of the earth back out into space.
That process: sun–>atmosphere–>earth–>atmosphere–>space, happens even if there are no humans on earth. What we have added to this cycle is the release of gases, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2), into the atmosphere. These gases collect in the atmosphere and act as giant mirrors, re-reflecting the heat that’s trying to escape out to space back to earth. This is known as the “greenhouse effect” (because sun comes into a greenhouse through the glass exterior but remains trapped inside the structure, which makes the inside of a greenhouse much warmer than the outside temperature.)
In short, humans are responsible for releasing gases into the atmosphere that are interfering with the planet’s process to release excess heat…so the planet is getting warmer.
Each person has a “carbon footprint,” which is the total number of emissions that person produces. Using electricity, taking a flight, driving a car, and even eating a hamburger increases a person’s carbon footprint. Each nation on the globe must reduce their carbon footprint in the next ten years to avoid a catastrophic rise in global temperature, and each person on the globe can do their part to reduce their own footprint. (And to those who say, “it’s all the fossil fuel industry anyway, what can one person do, it’s stupid to pretend we can make a difference,” I hear you–so put your money where your mouth is and lobby the heck out of the government to pass regulations to curb emissions on that scale! But also, you can either do nothing or do something, and I choose to do something. My little footprint might not be the tipping point that saves the planet, but it could be!)
Basically the entire rest of this list (B through J) is about reducing your carbon footprint in different ways, but I wanted to cover two big ways to do it today.
–Shop carbon-smart for cars and big appliances. When you’re choosing a car, put real weight in the MPG/emissions factor. If you have to sell it to yourself as saving money on gas, do that! (You really are–I used to drive a Jeep Liberty and now drive a Honda CRV. They have almost identical cabin sizes but I get a lot more MPG on the CRV, which saves me $$ at the pump!) Consider a hybrid if you can swing it. With many environmentally-related things, you pay a bit more up front but make money in the long run. It takes a bit of planning, but it’s worth it.
Same story with washers/dryers, dishwashers, and refrigerators. Look for the energy Star label at the very least–that means they voluntarily meet a higher efficiency standard than the federally-mandated minimum. You might shell out a bit more at the store, but you’ll save as you go. (We bought a gas-powered dryer, which was maybe $100 more expensive, but our energy bills are markedly lower. This stuff is real!)
Do a little research if you’re unsure–there are some super smart people out there who do this for a living. They can recommend the most environmentally-friendly versions of just about anything you’d like to buy. Your wallet (and our planet) will thank you!!
— Buy carbon offsets when you fly. This one is not without controversy–critics claim it just makes people feel better about flying, when really they need to fly less. I agree with that–flying is a HUGE source of CO2 emissions, probably most people’s biggest offender. Whenever possible, it’s best not to fly. That’s a non-negotiable fact. However, most of us aren’t going to skip Christmas with Grandma in Vermont for the planet’s sake–it’s just not reality (me included! I fly A LOT.) So, if you’re going to fly anyway and you can’t change that, I highly recommend carbon offset programs. Simply put, you pay $$ into programs that are reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere (so you’re effectively neutralizing your own contribution due to your flight.)
There’s a ton of options out there, and all carbon offsets are NOT created equal! Make sure that your dollars are actually going to carbon offset projects and not into somebody’s pocket. I’m a fan of Gold Standard, which is rigorously vetted. You can calculate your carbon footprint (by the year or by the flight, for example) and find out how many tons of carbon your travel will emit. Then you choose which project you’d like to support right there on the website, where price per ton is clearly listed. It does make you feel a little better about flying. I track my flights at My Flight Radar24, which adds up your carbon as you go. At the end of the year, I offset all my flights. This is a near-painless way to make a difference, and it’s pretty cheap to boot!
So those are my two big-ticket ways to lower your carbon footprint. More to come soon! Stay tuned for B–Buy less.