Earth Day 2016: Take Control of Climate Change Yourself

Amber Plante, ERS,  for Zondits. April 21, 2016. Image credit: Josch13

With the historic signing of the Paris Agreement this April 22, 2016, the role of reducing carbon emissions falls more squarely on the shoulders of everyday citizens than ever before. Taking this responsibility seriously and leaving a better footprint in which our children’s children can walk has never been more important.

Fortunately, we live in a world full of technological advancements and movements that make reducing our carbon footprints easier than ever, if we only take the opportunity to examine the environments in which we live. Here are five refreshing things you can do today that will help tomorrow.

  1. Meatless Mondays really do help – Being a vegetarian can save up to 3,000 lbs of CO2 per year – but that is a difficult and often unrealistic lifestyle switch for those of us who enjoy a good steak. However, taking a day off meat per week is significant: According to the Environmental Working Group, if your typical meat-eating family of four skips meat and cheese for 1 day per week, that’s the carbon footprint equivalent of taking your car off the road for 5 weeks per year. And, because beef is much more carbon heavy than chicken, skipping one steak dinner per week is like taking your car off the road for 3 months. Extrapolate that: If the entire US population went meat-free for 1 day per week, it would be like taking 7.6 million cars off the road. Million. Speaking of cars …
  2. Hybrids are still a green option – Despite critics claiming that the environmental price to produce hybrids offsets their greenhouse gas reduction benefits, scientific groups have reaffirmed that hybrids are still greener than regular gasoline-powered vehicles. Though it is true that hybrids cost more environmentally to produce than a gas-powered vehicle, their lifetime emissions (calculated over 160,000 miles of use) are significantly less, which more than makes up for their high production costs.
  3. Retirement money counts, too – Our 401k accounts require investment in the stock market to grow. However, what is not often clear is in which companies your hard-earned retirement funds are invested – and these could include fossil fuel companies. With maybe 10 minutes of research through your 401k provider (or stock analyst), you can divest from any companies whose environmental agenda you don’t support. Now that’s a clean, responsible way to spend that 3 p.m. slump.
  4. Consider downsizing your home computer – Did you know that laptops use 80% less energy than a tradition tower-based computer? Although the actual energy consumption varies by model, the typical laptop can boot up and use less overall energy – to the tune of 60 watts versus a tower-based computer’s 175 watts. You can even go smaller and replace your laptop with a tablet – just as long as you remember to unplug the charging cable from the wall when it’s not being used.
  5. Planting a tree never goes out of style – There’s a reason that tried-and-true methods last: they actually work. Planting a single tree in your backyard (or one for every member of your family) can not only make your environment more beautiful and green, but help to produce oxygen, reduce runoff, and create shade around your property. Here are the facts:
  • A mature tree can suck up to 1,000 gallons of rainwater into its roots, reducing the water runoff in drainage systems and the amount of energy it would then take to filter and pump all that water.
  • One growing tree can absorb up to 48 lbs of CO2 per year and release enough O2 to keep you breathing for 2 full years. Win-win.
  • The shade of one tall tree over your home can provide as much cooling as ten room-sized air conditioners.