Greenhouse gases, of which carbon dioxide and methane are the most important, result from the burning of fossil fuels such as petroleum, natural gas and coal. Because fossil fuels are the primary source of energy for the modern global economy, eliminating the emission of greenhouse gases altogether is impossible. But reduction is possible; commitment to personal change is required.
Most electricity in the U.S. comes from burning coal and natural gas, both of which emit greenhouse gases and other pollutants (see References 1). Reduce your footprint by using electricity from renewable sources or by using less electricity. The U.S. Department of Energy provides resources for consumers who want to employ green energy, reduce their energy consumption, or produce their own energy using solar, wind or hydropower. Among the department's resources are a database of grants and tax breaks for using green energy. The biggest uses of electricity in U.S. homes, in descending order, are air conditioning, lighting, water heating, space heating, refrigeration and television. Among the methods for reducing your home electricity use are as follows: raise the thermostat during the summer and lower it during the winter; purchase energy-efficient lightbulbs; lower the temperature on your water heater and take shorter showers; and raise the temperature in your refrigerator or open the door less often. When purchasing new appliances, choose more efficient models by taking Energy Star ratings into account.
Transportation accounts for around 28 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (see References 3). To reduce your personal impact, drive less, buy a more efficient vehicle, carpool, use public transportation, walk or bike. Avoid air travel, or purchase carbon offsets for your flights. Drive slower and more cautiously. Fuel economy becomes significantly worse above 60 mph. Excessive accelerating and braking also reduces efficiency. Aggressive driving can reduce highway gas mileage by a third. Avoid carrying excessive weight in your trunk, keep your tires inflated and make sure your car is regularly inspected and tuned up. (See References 4.)
A significant portion of the average person's carbon footprint results from eating habits. Commercial fertilizers are made using fossil fuels, and most farm machinery burns diesel fuel. Meat, dairy and seafood all have a much greater carbon footprint and also require more land than fruit and vegetable crops; shifting your food consumption away from red meat and dairy toward fruits, vegetables, fish and poultry -- even a day's worth of calories -- has a greater positive environmental impact than buying local produce. Processed foods emit more carbon, because the factories that produce them use energy. Finally, transporting food, sometimes thousands of miles, uses a great deal of fuel. (See References 5.)
The easiest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from your lifestyle is simply to buy less. Failing that, avoid products with excessive plastic packaging, recycle or reuse whenever possible, and make fewer shopping trips in order to use less fuel.
- U.S. Energy Information Administration; Electricity in the United States; October 2010
- U.S. Energy Information Administration; How Is Electricity Used in U.S. Homes?; February 2011
- Pew Center on Global Climate Change: Greenhouse Gases by Sector; 2004
- U.S. Department of Energy; Gas Mileage Tips --- Driving More Efficiently; April 2011
- "Environmental Science and Technology": Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States; Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews; 2008
Eric Moll began writing professionally in 2006. He wrote an opinion column for the "Arizona Daily Wildcat" and worked as an editor for "Persona Literary Magazine." He has a Bachelor of Science in environmental science and creative writing from the University of Arizona.
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