You might have heard that going green requires you to reduce your carbon footprint. Despite its strange name, a carbon footprint is relatively easy to understand: It's just a measurement of how your daily life affects the environment. You can use online tools to calculate your footprint, and reduce it by making reasonable changes that fit your lifestyle.
Determining Carbon Footprint
Your carbon footprint is a measurement of the greenhouse gases your lifestyle produces. Greenhouse gases are types of pollution that contribute to the greenhouse effect, which is widely believed to be heating up the Earth's atmosphere and creating potentially dangerous conditions for future generations. Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas, and environmental impact is often discussed in terms of "carbon emissions" or the amount of carbon and other substances your activities add to the atmosphere (see References 1). An online calculator can help you estimate your personal carbon emissions. Be prepared for a shock: Carbon emissions are measured in tons.
Reducing Energy Use
In the United States, burning coal or fossil fuel is the most common source of electricity. Reducing your electricity use is an easy way to reduce your footprint, and it'll save you money, too. Contact your power company for information on reducing your energy use, or start by weatherizing your house, changing to efficient lightbulbs, turning off appliances you aren't using and turning off the heat or air conditioner when you aren't home. If you can afford it, invest in solar energy: You can install solar panels at your home, or ask your power company to sell you renewable energy instead of the standard.
Cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats and airplanes all burn fuel, and every mile you travel increases your carbon emissions. If you commute to work every day, try carpooling or switching to a low-emission vehicle such as a hybrid. If you have a short commute, ride your bike in the warm months. Try to avoid business travel, opt for remote meetings and teleconferences instead. When you do travel, try taking the train. It's slower than a plane, but much more environmentally friendly.
Surprisingly, modern buildings aren't very energy efficient. This is especially true of houses: The U.S. Green Building Council reports that buildings use 39 percent of the energy and 74 percent of the electricity that the United States produces each year (see References 2). The Green Building Council has come up with environmental standards that help builders create more sustainable homes that use less energy without sacrificing comfort. If you're thinking of buying a house, make sure you choose one that's been built with an eye to environmental impact.
If you can't change your lifestyle and still want to reduce your footprint, consider buying carbon offsets. Pay an individual or a company to plant trees or do environmental work that equalizes some or all of your carbon emissions (see References 3). You can also work to green your daily activities in other ways, such as gardening and composting, buying organic foods and supporting local producers. There are countless ways to make small changes in your lifestyle, so take the time to research your options and find carbon-reducing strategies that work for you.
An award-winning blogger, Jessica Blue has been promoting sustainability, natural health and a do-it-yourself attitude since graduating University of California, Berkeley in 2000. Her work, seen in a wide variety of publications, advocates an environmentally-responsible and healthy lifestyle.
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