In these times of rising fuel prices and unnatural disasters—such as BP’s oil-hemorrhaging drill “spill,” and extreme weather events caused by increasing climate volatility—more people are seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint: i.e., their consumption of fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, and natural gas). Almost all of us are essentially junkies (or “oiloholics”) who don’t know how to get by without these substances.
Power plants (especially those that burn coal), transportation (particularly emissions from trucks, cars, and jets), and energy use for homes and buildings (e.g., for heating and cooling) are the primary sources of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide and methane. (For detailed information on the percentage of emissions from different sectors, see the U.S. Energy Information Administration: Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Report and Architecture 2030’s data analysis.)
Until government and industry help shift our infrastructure and economy away from dinosaur fuels and into clean, renewable energy sources, we’ll never be able to get really clean—so we should be pushing for government to end the huge subsidies and tax breaks for dirty energy industries and to support cleaner energy sources (e.g., local solar, wind, tidal power, biomass, and some types of biofuels—a topic for a future post). But we can also do a lot right now, in our everyday lives, to start weaning ourselves off the junk.
In addition to the most obvious steps that can be taken to reduce our direct use of fossil fuels and electricity generated by fossil fuels — such as driving as little as possible and conserving energy and water at home/work/school— there are lots of other ways that each of us can lessen our dependence on filthy fuels. You can do so in every area of your life, from choices you make regarding your house and home improvements, to your food (see book shown on right), vehicle/transportation, travel, and other consumer choices. For example, plastics and many household products (such as common cleaning products and personal care products) contain petrochemicals, most of which are toxic to humans (and other animals) in one way or another, so it’s best to choose petro-free alternatives.
Here are several sites that list specific ways that we can tackle our individual and collective carbon addiction and gain a decent measure of independence from dirty energy sources:
- CO2 Smackdown: How to Lose 10 Tons of CO2 in 12 Cash-Saving Steps (NRDC)
- How To Fight Global Warming (NRDC)
- What You Can Do About Global Warming (Union of Concerned Scientists)
- Twelve Steps Toward an Oil Change (Global Green USA)
- Climate Choices: Reduce Your Impact (UCS)