The debate about global warming is over. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a landmark report in 2007 that, with a very high degree of confidence, attributed most of the global temperature rise observed since the mid—20th century to humanity's emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other greenhouse gases. The panel received the Nobel Peace Prize this year for its efforts.
Even if these emissions are immediately reduced to zero, the rest of the current century will be marked by more extreme temperatures, including heat waves, new wind patterns, worsening drought in some regions, heavier precipitation in others, melting glaciers and Arctic ice, and rising global average sea levels. In other words, even under the best of scenarios, we'll be living for a long time with the consequences of the greenhouse gases that we have already pumped into the atmosphere. But if we fail to act, the effect of climate change on the world we leave our children and grandchildren will be even more dramatic—and dangerous.
The amount of greenhouse gases we add to the atmosphere is often referred to as our carbon footprint, because the most common greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide. It's a large footprint. Each year, the average American generates 22 tons of carbon dioxide. Governments and large corporations can lead the way in cutting emissions, but it's individuals, acting collectively, who will make the most difference.
Here are simple methods you can use to cut your carbon footprint:
- Use appliances and electronics carefully. Turn them off when they are not in use. Fill your dishwasher and washing machine with a full load before turning them on. And turn off all electronics, including your computer, when not using them.
- Lighten up. Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, which use 75 percent less energy than standard bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. This one change can make a major difference.
- Drive less. As much as eight tons of your carbon footprint is produced by your car. Try completing your weekly shopping in a single trip. Carpool as much as possible, whether it's to work or to attend worship services. Take the train or bus when you can. And by all means, think about getting a more fuel-efficient car.
- Rethink heating and cooling. Lower your thermostat just a few degrees in winter and raise it in summer. Install a programmable thermostat to lower fuel costs at night and when no one is home. Seal your heating and cooling ducts.
The great thing about reducing your carbon footprint is that many of the changes you can make won't cost you a cent. In fact, with fuel costs on the rise, you can actually save money while helping to safeguard our planet.
The Department of Energy's Energy Star program is designed to help people make wise choices about household products. It features a quick Home Energy Yardstick that will help you determine how your home's energy efficiency stacks up to similar homes across the country.