How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Get a breakdown of climate consequences of the purchasing decisions you make every day.

| August 15, 2012

While routine decisions that shape our days — what to have for dinner, where to shop, how to get to work — may seem small, collectively they have a big effect on global warming. Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living (Island Press, 2012), based on a comprehensive two-year study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, explains how to make the biggest impact and when not to sweat the small stuff. The following excerpt is taken from chapter 8, “The Right Stuff.”  

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS storeCooler Smarter

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint With The Right Stuff

“You can’t have everything. I mean, where would you put it?”

—Steven Wright 

We have four major contributions to global warming. Transportation, heating and cooling, electric appliances, and food make up roughly three-quarters of our heat-trapping emissions. The wide variety of goods and services we buy account for the remaining quarter. It is a broad and diverse category, split fairly evenly between tangible items, such as furniture and clothing, and services, such as healthcare and legal advice.

As we will discuss, there are a number of ways to lower emissions in this category, but frankly, it’s harder to make a significant dent here than in the other categories. As the charts in the Image Gallery illustrate, most of the goods and services we buy have a relatively small impact on the climate, and some specific categories lie mainly outside our individual control.

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