What you can do at home to act against climate change
Climate change can seem overwhelming. The science is complex, and much of the solution will require action on a community, state, national and global scale. But there are meaningful choices you can make in your day-to-day life to reduce your carbon footprint, the amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) generated by your personal actions.
- Step 1. Check out your current carbon footprint to identify your biggest opportunities for reductions and how your household compares to others: https://coolclimate.berkeley.edu/calculator
- Step 2. Focus on the important emission sources. Here are some quick tips on what you can do [provide link to checklist now posted on strategic plan page]
- Step 3. Share your successes on social media. Encourage and challenge your friends and family to take action.
How can I reduce the carbon footprint of how I get around? The US EPA estimates that the whole transportation sector accounted for 28% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. So there is a lot of room for improvement and lots of possible ways to act on your own personal transport. https://www.audubon.org/news/how-be-low-carbon-traveler
These actions help:
- Drive less, use mass transit, bike and walk more
- Fly less: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/27/climate/airplane-pollution-global-warming.html
- Use a car that uses less gasoline: http://carboncounter.com/
- Live car-free: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541/pdf
How can I reduce my home’s carbon footprint? Roughly 20% of US energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions stem from heating, cooling, and powering households. If considered in a global context, these emissions would be considered the world’s sixth largest GHG emitter. https://www.pnas.org/content/117/32/19122 So reducing residential building emissions is important.
- Do a home energy audit to find out what would work for you:
- Consider these actions:
- Use LED light bulbs
- Seal cracks and spaces around your windows/doors
- Improve insulation – ceilings, floors, walls, windows
- Put solar panels on your roof
- Convert gas appliances to electric
- Live in a smaller space https://www.pnas.org/content/117/32/19122
How do my food choices impact my climate footprint? The US EPA estimates that agriculture accounted for 10% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. Different foods have very different carbon impacts. Production of beef, lamb and goat have environmental impacts that are 3–10 times those of other animal-based foods and 20–100 times those of plant-based foods for all indicators examined, which included greenhouse gas emissions. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa6cd5/met
- Consider these actions:
- Reduce or eliminate beef, lamb and goat from your diet. Poultry and pork have less environmental impact. Eggs and dairy generally have even less. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa6cd5/meta
- Eat lower on the food chain. Plant-based foods have the least greenhouse gas emissions compared to all other foods. Substitute plant-based for animal-based foods when you can.
- Eat only a plant-based diet. In 2017, researchers included eating a plant-based diet as one of four recommended widely applicable high-impact actions with the potential to substantially reduce annual personal emissions. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541/pdf
- Reduce your food waste. Huge quantities of food are wasted throughout the production and consumption chain. The USDA estimates that in 2010, 90 billion pounds (21%) of the available food supply were wasted by consumers. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/43833/43680_eib121.pdf?v=0
Food waste increases greenhouse gases in multiple ways:
- Growing, harvesting, processing, transporting and storing food all generate greenhouse gases. If less food was wasted, fewer of those GHGs would be generated.
- Lots of wasted food goes straight into landfills. According to the US EPA ment-food-basics in 2017 almost 41 million tons of food waste were generated, with only 6.3 percent diverted for composting. https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/sustainable-manage
- Lots of good ways to reduce your household’s food waste: http://stopfoodwaste.org/ (This bullet doesn’t really fit here. Maybe move is up and put it after the sentence that ends with “wasted by consumers”?)
How does my outside space impact climate change? If you are fortunate enough to have some land around your home, you can make a difference there as well. Many of us grew up with grass lawns, and even in dry California, grass is often the default choice. But grasses are bad news ecologically.
- Grass takes lots of irrigation here in the Bay Area, water that we need for more critical needs.
- Grass is frequently maintained with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and gas-powered tools. Producing and/or using these generates lots of GHGs.
Native plants need much less water—sometimes no irrigation—and don’t need fertilizer. They also provide valuable food and habitat for birds and other wildlife while pulling carbon out of the atmosphere. Placing trees around your home can keep the inside cooler in summer and warmer in winter, reducing the power needed for heating and cooling and likewise your GHG emissions.
Steps you can take:
- Get rid of your lawn http://lawntogarden.org/
- Plant natives
- in San Francisco: http://cnps-yerbabuena.org/gardening/gardening-with-natives/
- in the East Bay: https://nativeherenursery.org/easy-to-grow-natives-for-the-east-bay
- Check out the National Audubon Native Plant Finder: https://www.audubon.org/native-plants
- Learn more about Native Plants for Birds: (opens in a new tab)
Not all of these will work for you and your home. But some of them should, and any of them is a place to start. Significant personal actions are necessary, though they are not enough— collective action with Golden Gate Bird Alliance, your community, and other environmental organizations is needed.