Your Carbon Footprint: 10 Things You Can Do to Decrease It

10 Things You Can Do to Decrease Your Carbon Footprint, and That Doesn’t Even Include Plant Trees.

words Christina De La Rocha

It’s the third week of October — well into autumn here in Los Angeles — and yesterday it hit 90°F (32°C)… at the beach… and today, it’s slated to hit 93°F (34°C). Between that, the fires that have broken out since I got here, and, never mind how much people here drive, how much stuff they buy, it is enough to get a girl wondering about global warming and what we could all start doing right now to trim our personal net carbon emissions a bit.

Because the sooner the better, what with wildfires already getting crazy worse everywhere from California to the Arctic to Tasmania, mainland Australia, and New Zealand, Arctic summer sea ice dwindling ever closer to extinction, extreme weather becoming more frequent and more severe, and high temperature records continuing to fall like flies in a scorching room.

The good news is that, provided civilization doesn’t crash in the meantime, we will make the transition to zero net carbon emitting societies. We’ve got the technology to do so and every year it gets better and cheaper. At some point it will be just stupid and archaic to keep burning fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, every ton of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) makes the climate change problem worse. So here’s a list of (mostly blindingly obvious) things you can do while you wait for the banks, governments, car companies, and power providers to get their acts together or produce the regulations, infrastructure, financial investments, and equipment needed for us all to be living zero net carbon lives.

How to Decrease your Carbon Footprint

1. Start walking and/or riding your bike. Unless you live out in the booniest of boonies, there are errands you run and visits you make that you could do under your own personal power, which is incredibly more efficient in the carbon dioxide per distance department than anything driven by internal combustion engine. ADDED BONUS: Walking and riding your bike burns calories and increases your cardiovascular and metabolic fitness.

2. Stop overeating! Although all calories are equal is no longer a fashionable idea, let’s face it, we’re almost all overeating and whether that’s carbs, fats, or proteins, it doesn’t help the state of our health or waistline. And all that extra food costs carbon dioxide to produce, as well as water, and it increases our fouling of our air and waterways with fertilizers and petrochemical pesticides.

So stick to the guidelines (here’s a handy dandy chart, in Calories per day for Americans and kcal per day for the rest of the world), although I know, I know, believe me I know it’s easier said than done. ADDED BONUS: Maybe not trimmer hips, but at least we’ll all stop gaining weight.

A light meal, helping to decrease your carbon footprint
The happy veggie plate says, “Eat more of me to boost your health, trim your hips, and heal the planet!”

3. And, while you’re at it, eat more fruits, whole grains, and veggies. This will mean you end up eating less meat, fish, and dairy, the overconsumption of which is unsustainable. We could turn so much farmland back over to nature if we didn’t need it to grow grains on it just to feed cows, chickens, and pigs and all the other farmed animals we eat. And then all that manure wouldn’t be rotting, releasing nitrous oxides, a super powerful greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere, and rushing off into lakes, rivers, and streams, producing noxious algal blooms and fish-killing dead zones.

ADDED BONUS: Healthier bodies and glowing complexions because fruits, whole grains, and veggies are nutrient dense and, provided you aren’t breading and deep-frying them, relative low in calories.

4. Buy better clothes. Make sure a good bargain is actually that. When clothes are low quality, low prices are a race to the bottom for you as well as the Earth and the slave wager stuck sewing them in the death-trap factory and does anyone actually like clothes that start falling apart from the first wash?

Here are some tips for what to look for when buying clothes that are built to last: 1-Ttug the seams and fabric — Are they strong? Do they retain their shape? 2- If you hold the fabric up to the light, can you see through it? (Thin fabric gets holey fast.) 3- Are the zippers metal, not plastic? 4- Are the buttons solid looking, sewn on well, and fit through their buttonholes? 5- If the fabric is patterned, does the pattern line up at the seams and pockets?

That takes loving care, work, and time during production and is a sign that the garment has been well made.

ADDED BONUS: You’ll look classier, have to shop less frequently, and will own things long enough to develop a favorite jacket, shirt, or dress (or all of the above).

An old t-shirt, reusing clothing is a great way to lower your carbon footprint
The tragedy of modern clothing: It was love at first sight, but it started sprouting holes (like the one under the arm) from the very first washing.

5. In fact, while you’re at it, stop buying so much crap! The world is full of tchotchkes, throws, wall hangings, decorative pillows, cat and dog beds, squeak toys, the latest in smartphones, smartwatches, fitness trackers, laptops, tablets, headphones, and countless other personal electronic devices, small kitchen appliances, and so on and so on and so on, which you can buy until you can’t park your car in the garage, not even if you have a three car garage, for all of the previous years’ items that you can’t get rid of until you go full Marie Kondo/Swedish Death Cleaning.

So just buy this stuff in the first place. Life lesson I wish I’d been taught before I moved out at eighteen and started acquiring my own excess of possessions: Take your time and choose wisely, because unless you wastefully throw it away or stuff it into your attic, basement, or garage for your children to dispose of after you die, you’re going to live with it for decades if not the entire whole rest of your life.

Also I wish I’d been taught to ask myself  if I really need that, because most things haven’t turned out to change my life or even just make it slightly nicer. ADDED BONUS: You’ll save money and live surrounded by only the things you truly love.

do you really need this
Sadly, the zany pen has not made my life complete.

6. Turn down the thermostat in winter and up in summer. Seriously. Your house does not need to be at 80°F (27°C) in winter or 65°F (18°C) in summer.

ADDED BONUS: You’ll save money and have the opportunity to develop a loving relationship with your favorite sweater/cardigan.

7. Your next car does not need to be an SUV. As I saw on tv at home the other day: there are 15,000 foresters in Germany, so why, on the roads, are there 150,000 SUVs (or 1.5 million or 15 million or whatever number it was that was a whole lot greater than 15,000)??? I mean, honestly, do you really enjoy spending that much money on gasoline/petrol? You don’t even need to go hybrid or electric, just make your next car something that does (much) better than 11 miles to the gallon.

ADDED BONUS: When your car isn’t a behemoth, it’s SO MUCH EASIER TO PARK.

8. Go solar! Even in Northern Germany (where I live), which is not noted for its hours of sunshine, over the roughly 20-year lifetime of the solar panels, it’s cheaper to generate electricity by sticking solar panels on your roof than it is to buy it off the grid.

ADDED BONUS: You’re not causing bird strikes (on wind turbines), ruining salmon runs (with dams), or creating nuclear waste that will long outlive the human race.

9. Opt for renewable electricity. But if you don’t want to become your own power plant, switch to buying ‘green’ energy. It’s probably possible where you live. Where we live, we can pick the exact supplier. (Dealing with utilities is spouse’s household chore, but I think we buy electricity from some woman with a water mill a few hundred miles away from us. Yes, we don’t get that electricity directly, but we are paying her (via an intermediary) and she can only sell as much electricity as she puts into the grid.)

ADDED BONUS: Warm fuzzy feelings.

Wind turbines, wind power has a very low carbon footprint
Support the switch to low-carbon forms of electricity by buying your electricity from renewable sources.

10. Make your next boiler/furnace a heat pump instead. This is a biggie, but once every 10-30 years everyone’s heating system and/or water heater breaks down and needs to be replaced. So this is one place where you can personally make a transition to a low carbon system within the time frame that we have for switching over to living life as zero carbon emitters. Don’t just go for the same old same old. Switch over to a heat pump.

They’re essentially air conditioners that extract heat energy out of the air, which is possible because pretty much no matter where you live on Earth, the air is warmer than absolute zero (aka -273°C or -460°F). During winter months, this heat extraction requires a lot of energy because the heating demand is high and the air outside is cold, so it’s best to couple the heat pump up to your own solar panels and/or some other renewable electricity source.

During summer months, if you need to, you could run the thing backwards to cool your house. At the moment, setting up such a system and using it costs, over the course of the lifetime of the system, about what it would cost to keep buying fossil fuel produced heat and electricity, so if you can get the loan (or have the money on hand), there is no financial reason not to go this route. And replacing a fossil fuel guzzling oil or gas burner is also expensive.

ADDED BONUS: A bit of freedom from oil pipelines, oil spills, fighting wars for oil, no more kowtowing to oil-rich autocracies, no more worrying about evil empires shutting off natural gas pipeline supplies in the depths of winter.