It’s easy for individuals to defer to businesses when discussing ways to reduce carbon emissions. Although businesses, manufacturing and commerce related activities do account for a large percentage of Tennessee’s total carbon footprint, individuals also have the power to impact the bottom line.
“… if you captured all the smoke and smog … each person would have 16 elephant sized hunks of carbon to deal with each year.”
According to EarthLab.com, the average carbon footprint (carbon output) for a person living in Nashville, Tennessee is 16.73 metric tons per year. That means if you captured all the smoke and smog that gets released into the atmosphere from basic activities involved in living – eating, using electricity, transportation choices – each person would have 16 elephant sized hunks of carbon to deal with each year. 16 elephants per person, times two to three people per household, is a lot of elephants. A parade if you will.
“Everyone has a unique carbon footprint,” said Christopher M. Jones, lead author of a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, in an interview by Robert Sanders of Berkeley News. While Jones admits “there is no one-size-fits-all set of actions that people should take,” there are a variety of simple ways in which individuals can make a difference.
EarthLab.com has provided a list of top ways in which people living in Nashville have pledged to go green. Maybe you can’t do them all, but each one offers a start. Beginning is the first step.
#9: Dish Drying
Do you really need to use your dishwasher’s heated dry cycle? Unless you’re hosting a Presidential gala, a few water spots on your china seem like a small price to pay for huge energy savings that add up over a year. Turning off your dishwasher’s dry cycle can not only save you money on your electric bill, doing so is also an important way in which individuals can help Tennessee meet its 38.9 percent carbon emissions reduction goal by 2030.
#8: Newspaper Recycling
Rotting paper in landfills emits methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas. Not to mention, it takes far more energy to produce paper from virgin raw materials than from recycled paper. Instead of accelerating the effects of climate change by increasing methane and cutting down trees, the lungs of our world, simply recycle your newspapers. Or stop subscribing to printed news altogether. There’s this thing now, called the Internet …
#7: Reuse Plastic Bags
You probably know someone with a bag bag. That is, a large bag filled with other, used plastic bags from the grocery store, fast food restaurants and retail stores.
Used plastic bags are great to have around the house or bring with you on your next trip to the grocery. You can use them as garbage bags, recycling bags, pick up after your pet and even wet barriers for car seats (wet dogs) or kids activity areas.
Regardless, reusing plastic bags is a good way to reduce your plastic bag consumption, and thus the amount of plastic bags that must be produced. It is estimated that 14 plastic bags contain enough petroleum to drive a car for a mile. The EPA estimates 380 billion plastic bags are thrown away each year in the U.S. That’s 380 billion non-biodegradable bags releasing toxic materials into our soil and water.
Think paper is better? Think again. Paper grocery bags can generate 50 times more water pollutants during manufacturing, and emit 70 percent more methane gasses while biodegrading in a landfill, than plastic bags. The solution: carry reusable grocery bags when shopping, or keep a bag bag in the trunk of your car so next time you fall prey to the Walmart effect, you’ll have more than enough bags to carry all that stuff home you didn’t know you needed.
#6: Turn Off the Lights
Most people are already conscious of turning off lights in the home due to the added expense. People with kids may feel this pain more than most. As demand for energy in Nashville increases, rates have increased due to Nashville’s thriving business economy and booming population. So turning the lights off when they aren’t needed makes economic sense.
Turning off the lights goes back to saving electricity and, ultimately a reduction in carbon emissions. Unless your home is completely powered by solar. Then it doesn’t really matter how many lights you leave on, unless you care about the total amount of potential power you could be selling back to the grid. But that’s a whole other matter. If you’re too forgetful to turn off the lights, think about investing in motion sensors for each room in your house. This way, lights can automatically turn on and off as you move from one room to the next.
#5: Switch to Green Power
The Tennessee Valley Authority ranked number five in the nation on a list of the 10 Biggest Carbon Dioxide Polluters in 2007. Since then, the energy giant has partnered with Nashville Electric Service (NES) and several other energy providers to offer renewable energy options. Green Power Switch allows consumers to add four dollar blocks of green power to their electric bill, powering about 12 percent of a typical household’s monthly energy use, according to nespower.com. For now, green power costs more because wind, solar and methane gas technology costs more than coal and hydro-electric. However, as Tennessee inches towards a critical mass of consumers choosing green power, the difference in costs of production between sustainable power sources and power polluters will become reconciled.
#4: Reduce Air Travel
While there is controversy around the effectiveness of buying carbon offsets when flying, the concept of carbon offsets is enough to make most people feel okay about it. Otherwise, the airlines would go out of business. Most major airlines offer travelers the option to purchase carbon offsets with airfare, something some critics say is merely “buying complacency.” What you’re really buying is a small part of the funding for corporate sustainability initiatives by the airlines and their partners such as planting trees, funding alternative modes of transportation and funding clean energy programs. So, while flying greatly increases your carbon footprint, purchasing a carbon offset may help in the total equation. Although purchasing carbon offsets when flying may be just as effective as donating to an organization that plants trees, the two are not inextricably linked.
#3: Plant More Trees
Planting trees helps reduce total greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. Trees work just like lungs, inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen. When there are fewer trees, more carbon dioxide builds up. With more trees, there is less buildup over time.
While the Amazon Rainforest is the single most effective thing on Earth that cleans our air, planting trees in Tennessee and elsewhere does contribute to total greenhouse gas reduction. If you own property, you can choose to plant any type of tree, anywhere you want – so long as you’re within city ordinances. If you don’t own any land on which to plant trees, it’s best not to go planting willy nilly along roadsides and the like. Instead, donate to a tree planting organization. This way, you know your trees will be planted where they are needed and can grow to maturity without fear of being mowed down by TDOT.
#2: Upgrade Lightbulbs
Lightbulb technology has really come a long way. As of January 2014, all 40- and 60-watt light bulbs can no longer be manufactured in the U.S. This is due to increased concern around global carbon emissions and energy efficiency standards.
As a consumer, you should care about upgrading for one reason: It saves money. And we’re not talking about a few cents. We’re talking hundreds of dollars each year. By outfitting your entire home in CFL’s (compact fluorescent light bulb), you’ll spend roughly $60 in light bulbs with a break even of seven years or more. LED’s (light emitting diode bulbs) are even more energy efficient and last even longer but are a bit more expensive. Either way, because the new light bulbs last much longer than the old incandescents, the cost of the bulbs themselves makes it worth while. Add to that the tremendous energy savings you’ll see in your pocketbook, and switching out your lights is a no brainer.
#1: Eliminate Red Meat Once Per Week
You’ve probably heard the astounding facts around the meat industry’s negative contribution to global carbon emissions. Agriculture accounts for 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to The Guardian, with over half that attributed to raising beef cattle. In fact, the beef industry uses 28 times more land and 11 times more water than pork or chicken.
If no more burgers sounds daunting, there is a way to let your caveman brain have its beef and eat it too. Replace one beef-based meal per week with all veg, and you’ve done your share. In fact, omitting one beef-based meal is the equivalent of not driving your car for one day.