What can I do, as just one individual, to help curb global warming?
—Karen Cross, via e-mail
Most of our own direct contributions to global warming pertain to the modes of travel we choose. For starters, air travel burns more fossil fuels per person than any other form of transport. So if you can opt for other forms of long-distance travel, you can reduce your contribution of greenhouse gases significantly—provided, of course, that at least a planeload of others are doing the same.
The other main offender in the transportation arena is the private automobile. Driving less frequently, carpooling, and using public transport such as buses and rail can take a big bite out of the greenhouse gases and pollution you are personally responsible for. Also, think about all those short car trips you take where a brisk walk or bicycle ride might do the trick and provide some needed exercise in the process.
When driving is a necessity, though, always make sure your vehicle is properly tuned and that the tires are properly inflated, so as to conserve fuel. If you are contemplating the purchase of a new car, consider one of the many offerings of gas-sipping hybrids, which often come with tax incentives, now on the market.
At home, you can fight global warming by buying energy-efficient appliances and keeping older ones serviced, as inefficiencies translate into energy waste. And simply minimizing heating and cooling in the home can reduce your individual contribution to climate change while also lowering monthly bills. In cold weather, dress warmly and sleep with warm blankets; in warm weather, dress lightly and open the windows to create drafts; when you go out, turn heat and air conditioning down or off.
Insulating and weather-stripping your house is another great way to reduce energy use. And if your utility offers check-off options for renewable power sources like wind or solar, opt for them, even if it costs a buck or two—a small price to pay for a healthy planet. And plant a few trees in the backyard. Over their lifetimes they”ll remove tons of carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to global warming.
Cutting back or eliminating meat and dairy from one’s diet is another great way to fight climate change, while also keeping healthy. Cows used for meat and milk are continuously fed in order to maximize their productivity, and as a result they continually emit methane as they digest. According to Noam Mohr of the non-profit EarthSave, methane gas is 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide coming out of our tailpipes. Given the massive proliferation of livestock around the globe, these industries are major contributors to global warming. Also, switching from supermarket-based, energy-intensive processed foods that must be shipped long distances to food grown locally can reduce one’s greenhouse gas contribution even more than by switching from a gas-powered mid-size car to a hybrid.
Various climate-related websites, including CarbonFootprint.com and TerraPass.com, offer free online “carbon footprint calculators” so individuals can see and even calculate how their actions contribute to global warming. SafeClimate.net helps businesses of all sizes take action on climate change.