The Paris Climate Action agreement signed last week has given new hope to those of us who are concerned about climate change and want world leaders to join together to find ways to help. At home, President Obama has announced that by 2025 he wants the United States to reduce its total carbon footprint by up to 28% of 2005 levels.
While we applaud the global agreement and think that government goals and promises are a good start, we know that change must also take place from the bottom up, starting in our own homes and backyards. These changes give new meaning to the old adage, “Think global, act local.”
Most experts in climate change science agree that increasing efficiency is the low-hanging fruit for reducing our carbon emissions. In fact, many sources including the Natural Resources Defense Council, continue to put efficiency at the top of the list for consideration by both individuals and businesses.
Energy Efficiency 101
Being energy efficient doesn’t mean going without a comfortable and well-lit home or making painful sacrifices. Many energy efficiency measures are low cost and easy to implement. With the many attractive financing options now available, some upgrades can even save you money from day one. Consider these five options:
- Upgrade your home energy systems. Consider a new energy-efficient furnace, cold-climate heat pump, or roof top solar panels.
- Weatherproof your home. Install storm windows and close curtains at night to reduce heat loss and energy use. Upgrade insulation in walls, basements and attics to save up to 30% of your energy bill. Not sure where to start? Get an energy audit to provide guidance and to set priorities.
- Install low-flow showerheads and wash your clothes in cold or warm water.
- Change your lights. Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs to eliminate 150 pounds or more of CO2 per year for each bulb you replace.
- Plant trees and shrubs. Trees absorb CO2 and give off oxygen. One tree will absorb over a ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime.
What About Conservation?
If you aren’t willing or able to spend money on efficiency improvements, consider conservation. Often confused with efficiency, energy conservation involves behavior changes that don’t cost anything extra but can have a big impact on your home energy use.
- Drive less. You save one pound of carbon dioxide for each mile of driving you eliminate.
- Stop idling. Turn off your engine when you are picking up your children at school or waiting in a drive-through line.
- Cut hot water use. Turn your hot water heater thermostat down to 120 degrees. Run your dishwasher and washing machine with full loads only.
- Adjust your thermostat. Moving your thermostat down just two degrees in winter and up two degrees in summer could eliminate about 2,000 pounds of CO2 a year for an average household.
- Turn off “ghost “power. Plug televisions, computers and other appliances into a surge protector and switch off the surge protector after you turn off the appliances – or use an advance power strip.
- Recycle and reuse. Recycle your old newspapers and magazines, cardboard, glass, metal, and recyclable plastic containers. Find creative ways to reuse items instead of discarding them.
- Be green in your yard. Composting your food and yard waste reduces the amount of garbage that you send to landfills and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
- Shop smart. Buy products with less packaging and reusable or recyclable packaging in the first place.
Calculate your household’s carbon footprint
Before you upgrade or conserve, you can check the EPA’s Household Carbon Footprint Calculator to estimate household greenhouse gas emissions arising from your home energy use, transportation and waste disposal. This tool helps you understand where your emissions come from and identify ways to reduce them. It can also give you a way to measure your progress.
Spread the word
Don’t be afraid to tell family and friends that energy efficiency is good for their homes and good for the environment. The small steps each of us take today to lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce air pollution will add up to a livable planet for our children and grandchildren.