How to Reduce Greenhouse Gases: A Guide to Understanding Your Carbon Footprint

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Climate change is ever-present and can be impacted positively or negatively by the choices we make. We must pay close attention to how our actions affect our future on this planet. One of the best ways to combat this global menace is by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We know that we can make a difference today with proactive greenhouse gas reduction.

Understandably, solving this issue will need to be made at the national level. However, it’s important we understand, as individuals, which action would most likely increase the greenhouse effect. (Knowing what not to do and avoiding those practices is key.) With that in mind, this guide will help you learn how to reduce greenhouse gases every day and build a more sustainable future.

Understanding Greenhouse Gases: The Basics

Before we begin our journey of how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we first need to know what these gases are and what they are doing to our planet.

Greenhouse Effect

A greenhouse gas traps heat from the sun in the earth’s atmosphere. This build-up of radiant energy has no way to escape. This causes an unsustainable greenhouse effect which is warming our planet. While the process is a natural one, greenhouse gas emissions are rising quickly and are causing the warming of the planet’s surface to accelerate at an alarming rate.

Carbon Footprint

Your carbon footprint is a measurement of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by your actions. The majority of your emissions revolve around fossil fuel and waste. This includes the electricity and gas used by your home, the vehicles you drive, the food you eat, and what you buy, all of which contribute to gases being released into the atmosphere.

Human activities regularly emit a basket of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. In excess, these fuel global warming.

Calculating Your Carbon Footprint

When it comes to how to reduce emissions, the first step is to know your carbon footprint. To calculate your carbon footprint, you first need to record your:

  • Travel miles using cars, buses, trains, boats, and planes
  • Home energy consumption in kilowatt-hours, natural gas usage, and propane use
  • Food choices, as your diet influences your carbon footprint
  • Household purchases and general type on delivery such as online shipping
  • Waste production (this can be measured in the number of trash cans you fill per week)

There are a variety of online calculators that can help you obtain a close approximation of your emissions, but the science will always be a bit inexact. For a rough rule of thumb, the average American footprint is 16.6 tonnes per year. A student’s footprint is closer to 8 tonnes per year because they travel less, share apartments or dorms and most likely do not have 1 or 2 cars. Your own footprint may be higher or lower depending on the number of fights, the size of your home, and the amount of energy you use. It is true that high income generally leads to higher emissions.

For businesses, we’ve created a calculator that will formulate the carbon footprint of your company’s operations.

How to Reduce Greenhouse Gases

Once you’ve calculated your carbon footprint, you can follow these tips on how to emit less greenhouse gases.

Switch to Renewable Energy

One of the most impactful changes you can make is to move to renewable energy. If you haven’t called your provider to request renewable energy, this is your first step. Even if your energy company does not offer renewable energy, it is important to ask because it will increase demand.

Switch to a Hybrid Car

The transportation industry is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases, amounting to over 28 percent of total U.S. emissions. As a result, opting for a hybrid car is a significant step in reducing your overall carbon footprint. Hybrid cars run mainly on electricity, so the carbon dioxide emitted from burning gasoline is significantly reduced. If you are in a position to switch to a hybrid vehicle, do so.

You can also opt for an electric car. If it is charged with solar energy, it has a significantly smaller carbon footprint; ie no carbon footprint for car travel. The only carbon footprint associated with the car is the initial manufacturing including the battery.  As technology develops even the footprint of the battery is declining.

Make Changes to Your Diet

One of the simplest ways to reduce greenhouse gases is to cut back on your meat and dairy consumption. The energy needed to cultivate the meat that reaches your plate is dramatically higher than a plant-based diet. This increase is due to the energy required to raise an animal, process it, preserve it, and transport it to your local grocery store or butcher. As it stands, this industry accounts for over 14.45% of greenhouse gas emissions created by humans.  By cutting back or eliminating meat from your diet, you reduce gas emissions.

Recycle

Recycling another one of the ways to lower greenhouse gases. Whether you’re recycling through a center or recycling by reusing items, you can reduce your carbon footprint by avoiding the landfill. You can make the process easier by purchasing items that are minimally packaged and or products that can be reused. Shopping for recycled items rather than new is also important. Make sure to remember the basics; use your own water bottle, eat everything on your plate or plan for leftovers, bring your own bags and try not to promote single-use plastic.

Avoid Traveling by Plane

Another way to lower greenhouse gas emissions is to take one less airplane flight. The world of aviation accounts for 2% of the global anthropogenic greenhouse gases. If you can avoid taking a flight for shorter trips, you can cut back on one of the larger contributions to global warming. However, there may be times that flying is unavoidable. In this case, you can purchase a carbon offset to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions created by the flight.

Vote

The greatest influence you have over climate change is with your power to vote. Since nations and governments have the ability to regulate causes of climate change, it is important to back candidates that have the planet’s future in mind, regardless of party lines.

Carbon Offsets for Business

If your company wants to know more about how to reduce greenhouse gases or to offset its carbon footprint, Cool Effect can help. Contact us today business@cooleffect.org to learn more.

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