There’s growing concern over the catastrophic effects of a global increase in carbon dioxide: these include more droughts, stronger hurricanes, melting Arctic ice, and rising sea levels. For any who may not be aware, NASA has led the charge in educating the American people about the science and harmful results of climate change. Certainly there’s a latent desire in mostly everyone to curb this historic warming trend and create a better world for ourselves and future generations. But, unlike other epic historical challenges, fighting climate change doesn’t have the immediate gratification of an American flag on the moon or kicking the Reich out of Paris. Plus, even if you do your part, there’s still a significant segment of the population out there that seems to not care one iota. But the truth is that the seriousness of the situation is too stark to ignore. Maybe you’ve decided you want to make a positive change by taking steps yourself—and, of course, getting some friends on board. But how can you get your best buds to battle this global threat without coming off like some rainwater-sipping hermit with impossible carbon standards? Luckily, there are simple and easy ways to lessen personal carbon usage that you can pass on to all your friends, family, and strangers in a Jiffy Lube waiting room.
The first step: actually getting folks to care.
While it may seem like reminding friends of the horrible effects of climate change and putting them on the spot could successfully “guilt” or “shame” them into making some adjustments, a report from the University of California-San Diego suggests that is not the most effective way. Research from Nick Obradovich, PhD, and Scott M. Guenther, PhD, shows that focusing on “the collective” efforts to reduce climate change can be more effective than focusing on an individual’s efforts. The report suggests that including friends in a discussion about a group, or collective, effort to combat climate change was the most likely method to enact change: “The collective responsibility treatment outperforms the control and personal responsibility treatments across multiple studies in altering both actual behavior and intentions about future behavior.” What does this mean? Essentially, the study suggests that any discussion about climate change should start with “What can we do?” instead of “What can you do?” A good way to kick things off could be by initiating a carpool at work or planning a “Bike/Bus to the office” day once a week. Involving friends and coworkers in a collective effort will not only increase chances for others’ participation, but it will allow you to come off as more social and less snooty.
Simple Carbon Fixes Around the Home
Once you’ve got friends who are amenable to actually taking some action, you can start suggesting other ways for them to reduce their carbon footprint—while taking the same steps to bring your own carbon footprint down a size or two. Brian McFarland, project director from the not-for-profit CarbonFund.org, says that there are a number of ways to enact personal carbon reduction that will be beneficial for yourself and your friends. “It is important to emphasize that by reducing one’s energy usage and fuel consumption—both at home and at the office— … one can reduce their hard-earned money that is spent on energy and gasoline, while also simultaneously having a positive impact on the health of our shared environment,” McFarland says. One very easy way to lower your energy consumption at home is to keep certain electronics off and unplugged when not in use. Honestly, how often are you printing things off your Epson? Or using that window AC unit in January? Keep those appliances unplugged until you need to have them on. This stops electronics from sucking “vampire power” from your outlets. There are also a number of ways you can lessen the amount of energy needed to keep your home cool or warm. McFarland suggests using a programmable thermostat; using quality insulation to help your home retain heat or cold can also go a long way.
Getting Around With Less Carbon
It’s no surprise that cars can dump a significant amount of CO2 into the atmosphere—in fact, getting around in general has a major impact on climate change. CarbonFund reports that the transportation sector is the second largest source of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions. Mitigating how often you or your friends drive can have a major impact on reducing one’s personal carbon footprint. The best way to do reduce usage is to search for and utilize car alternatives whenever possible. Walk or ride a bike to work on a nice day. For regional transportation, try looking into taking a train instead of driving for hours or hopping on a short flight. Not only are trains more fuel efficient than airplanes, they’re also a more enriching way to travel and allow you to avoid the hassle of getting through the ordeal of an airport. Plus, if you’re planning a raucous weekend somewhere, a friendly reminder that many trains have beverage cars that can keep the party going. “If possible and when necessary, purchase more fuel efficient automobiles,” McFarland adds. The EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide provides a thorough look at cars that use less fuel, which is of course better for the environment and anyone’s personal finances.
Eating Better to Save the Earth
Many may not be aware that it’s not just home electric use and car exhaust that adds to global carbon levels: cattle is a massive contributor of carbon into the atmosphere. According to CarbonFund, vegetarians save at least 3,000 pounds of CO2 by not eating meat. If going full meat-abstinent is a bridge too far, simply switching out one or two meat meals for vegetarian or seafood options a week can make a big difference. “Meatless Wednesdays” can be a great office tradition to encourage a collective effort to reduce carbon levels—and finally try that Tibetan place down the block. Additionally, subbing poultry for meals instead of red meat is better for carbon reduction because raising poultry is a lesser contributor to greenhouse gases than cattle. And, for anyone interested in going a step further, McFarland suggests “starting a home vegetable or herb garden.” Growing your own veggies can lessen the amount of food being trucked around from far away farms. Plus, you and your friends will get the freshest food available next time you cook.
Big Picture Steps
All of these actions are great ways for you and others to reduce your carbon footprint without having to turn your life upside down. But what if reducing your carbon footprint, like munching on Cheez-Its, becomes a habit that’s difficult to stop? The monumental nature of the task at hand can be overwhelming—corporations spend millions each year making sure they do as little as possible to reduce their carbon footprint, and whole populations either don’t know or don’t care—but there are a number of ways to fight the good carbon fight without becoming a full-time carbon warrior. Carbon offsets Are there certain things in your life that you simply cannot change to reduce your carbon footprint? Frequent air travel for work or a 45 minute freeway drive every day? Consider a carbon offset, then. Carbon offsets are independently verified ways that individuals can contribute to specific projects that will offset their own personal carbon usage. “If your truck, for instance,” explains McFarland, “produces 3 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year, you could chose to annually offset your truck’s emissions by purchasing 3 carbon offsets (i.e., one offset is equivalent to one metric tonne of CO2) from a reforestation project in Minnesota, a wind project in Oklahoma, and/or a small-scale hydroelectric project in Brazil.” Carbon offsets are a key component to reducing CO2 output. There are two types of carbon offsets: compliance offsets and voluntary offsets. According to McFarland, compliance offsets are “utilized by companies that have a legal requirement to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions” while voluntary offsets are “supported by millions of people around the world” as well as “leading companies such as Amtrak, jetBlue, and Virgin America.” CarbonFund.org makes it easy for individuals to purchase carbon offsets via their website. Donating Finally, if you’ve unplugged, starting biking, gone veggie, and bought some carbon offsets for that girls trip to Cabo, you can continue to make an impact by helping organizations that all have their own approaches to carbon reduction. Each organization will usually have a mission statement and stated plan to try to change the tide on climate change. Greenpeace focuses on pressuring large corporate polluters, while 350.org is attempting to build a global grassroots climate movement. Check out some of these impactful organizations and read through their “About Us” to see if they aligns with you and your friends’ hopes and goals.
- National Resource Defense Council
- Climate Reality Project
- Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
Nearly all these companies make it easy to set up recurring payments, so someone can donate just the cost of a night out each month and make a significant contribution to these organizations that are working tirelessly each day so that you don’t have to. When it comes to reducing your carbon footprint, some steps are simple acts that will take just a few minutes; others are more significant changes that could take more time but will have a larger effect on your carbon footprint—while providing health or lifestyle improvements. And, best of all, none of these steps are so outlandish that anyone can accuse you of being snooty, smug, or overbearing.