Without these naturally occurring gases, our planet would be uninhabitable. But we’re emitting so much of them that we’ve already raised Earth’s temperature by 1 degree F in the last 30 years, and we’ll boost it another degree by 2020 if we don’t cut back.
Global warming has already intensified storms, forest fires, floods, heat waves and droughts. At the rate we’re going, we’ll double preindustrial levels of CO2 in the next 25 to 40 years, and by the end of this century, climate change could leave hundreds of millions of people facing water shortages and famine.
Here’s What You Can Do
Vote for candidates who care about environmental issues.
Some signs of an environmentally responsible politico:
• S/he believes the U.S. must take an international leadership role in cutting greenhouse-gas output and cut its own emissions by 60 to 80% by 2050.
• S/he supports legislation to limit CO2 emissions, tax incentives for green homes and buildings, and subsidies for crops that can be used to make biofuel.
Cut Your Carbon Emissions
Your “carbon footprint” is the sum of greenhouse gases you individually emit, measured in tons or kilograms of CO2. We burn fossil fuels when we drive our cars, fly in planes, take trains, heat or air-condition our homes, and use electric lighting, computers and other appliances. The manufacture and eventual breakdown of every product we use also produces greenhouse gases. In other words, the more we buy, the more CO2 we produce.
Go to http://www.carbonfootprint.com to calculate and learn how to reduce and offset your carbon footprint.
Use public transit, carpool, ride a bike, or walk.
If you drive a motor vehicle, about one-fourth of your carbon output is spewing out your tailpipe.
• Turn off your car when you’re not driving. Idling for 10 seconds uses more gas than turning your auto off then on again.
• Get a tune-up to increase your car’s fuel-efficiency.
• Drive at 55 instead of 65 mph to use 15% less fuel.
• Go easy on the brakes and gas pedal. Driving like a cabdriver can produce five times more carbon emissions and use 33% more fuel.
• Check your tire pressure, and only drive on properly inflated tires.
Don’t eat meat.
Livestock accounts for 18% of all greenhouse-gas emissions.
Flick the switch. Pull the plug.
Turn off lights and appliances when you’re not using them. Don’t keep them in sleep mode.
Use Energy Star-approved light bulbs.
Turn your heat down (or air conditioning up) by 2 degrees.
When you no longer love something, give it away, sell it, or swap it.
To give away your old lawn flamingo, vintage bubble gum collection or anything else that’s legal and appropriate for all ages, find your local Freecycle group and get on the list: http://www.freecycle.org.
Look up your city, state or country on Craig’s List. Click on “post to classifieds” or go to the “for sale” column to buy or barter.
Swap, buy or sell used clothing at http://www.whatsmineisyours.com or http://clothingswap.org.
Recycle your computer.
Manufacturing a laptop requires about five times more fuel than making a car or refrigerator. When you buy a new computer, many manufacturers will recycle your old one for you. You can also find your local electronic recycler at http://www.eiae.org.
Be a mindful consumer
Buy products with eco-labels. Some of the most reliable are Energy Star, Fair Trade Certified, Green Seal and LEED (for green buildings). USDA Organic is also fairly reliable.
Buy from companies that care about climate change. Climate Counts rates companies on how they’ve measured and reduced their emissions, how clearly and thoroughly they disclose their efforts, and whether they support (or block) environmentally responsible legislation.
Lisa Montanarelli is a freelance writer based in New York City. Visit her at www.LisaNY.com. She recently revised and updated The First Year–Hepatitis C (Marlowe 2007) with co-author Cara Bruce.