Many initiatives are promoted to help slow the pace of climate change, but personal, economic, social, and political motivations are often at play. In this article, Green Development LLC—a renewable energy developer with a history of helping to increase the supply of renewable energy in Rhode Island — discusses some science-based things that we can do—as individuals and households—to reduce our carbon emissions. Understanding the science and data is integral to taking meaningful action to help mitigate the negative effects of climate change.
How Impactful Are We as Individuals?
While only 100 corporations are responsible for 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, we as individuals are continuously voting with our wallets to keep these companies producing our products and services. Research suggests there are several high-impact actions that most affect our individual contributions to carbon emissions. Below, in descending order, are some actions individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprints.
Live Car-free or Switch to an Electric or Hybrid Vehicle
According to the World Health Organization, transport is the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions and the largest contributing factor to climate change. Utilizing public transportation, cycling, working from home, and walking are all ways that many people can live car-free. For those whose lifestyle requires a car and whose personal finances offer the opportunity to do so, using a plug-in electric vehicle, a hybrid, or a more efficient vehicle can save approximately 1,190 kg CO2 per year.
Living car-free or reducing commute time also has indirect benefits, such as reducing the need to build more roads and parking spaces, supporting a higher-density urban design, and health benefits. Major cities worldwide are moving to become partially car-free, including Hamburg, Oslo, Helsinki, and Madrid. Other major cities, such as Paris, Milan, Dublin, Bogota, Brussels, are beginning to enforce car-free days. These initiatives serve to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they also provide the public with a taste of just how feasible living car-free can be.
Avoid or Reduce Airplane Travel (saves up to 2,800 kg CO2 per year)
While several major airlines are beginning to integrate clean biofuel technologies, air travel continues to be a significant contributor to global warming. The airline industry is reportedly responsible for 5% of global warming. While this may seem trivial, consider that only 3% of the global population regularly flies. Therefore, those of us who do fly are making major contributions to greenhouse gases with every flight. If everyone in the world was capable of taking a single long-haul flight annually, aircraft emissions would be nearly double the carbon emissions for the entire United States.
Buy Green Energy (saves up to 2500 kg CO2 per year) or Produce Your Own
Many people want to buy clean energy, but their local utility provider relies on energy produced from fossil fuels. In fact, 79% of Americans agree that the country’s top priority for its energy supply should be developing renewable energy resources. To address this, a growing number of individuals nationwide have formed community choice aggregators (CCAs)—locally governed nonprofits that take over buying energy for their city or county so that they can purchase renewable power. The increased prevalence of CCAs also provides added motivation to large utility providers. Over the past several years, a number of for-profit renewable energy companies have begun to offer community solar options to individuals and households who do not have options for installing rooftop solar panels.
If you own a single-family home, and you have the financial means to install rooftop solar panels—ideally with battery storage—your own solar array can help you save money, dramatically reduce carbon emissions, and help you ride out the blackouts that occur during severe weather events.
Stop Using Chemical Fertilizers and Gas-Powered Equipment on Your Lawn
When produced, chemical fertilizers release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and leach toxins into our waterways. Once applied to our lawns, the chemicals are washed into rivers, streams, and oceans during heavy rains, contributing to the acidification of bodies of water and the destruction of fish, other creatures, and plants that depend on those ecosystems. When these creatures and plants die, it’s more difficult for those bodies of water to absorb airborne greenhouse gases. More greenhouse gases in the atmosphere contribute to atmospheric warming and climate change. It’s a vicious cycle! And if you over-fertilize, beyond what the lawn can use, “soil microbes will then turn this additional nitrogen into nitrous oxide gas, a greenhouse gas that has 300 times the heat-trapping ability of CO2”, according to this article: https://psci.princeton.edu/tips/2020/5/11/law-maintenance-and-climate-change.
Furthermore, most yard- and lawn-care equipment used in the U.S. is gas-powered—weed whackers, leaf blowers, lawnmowers, chain saws.
What can you do? By switching to battery-operated yard equipment and converting a portion of your lawn to wildflowers, you will reduce the use of fossil fuels and the associated carbon emissions, in addition to attracting butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. You will save time mowing your lawn, too!
Choose Clothing Made from Natural Fibers, Whenever Possible
You’ve probably noticed that clothing wears thin with time, particularly the more you wash it. Clothing, bedding, and other textiles made from synthetic materials shed what are called microplastics, and are major contributors to plastic pollution. These fibers—Spandex, polyester, nylon, etc.—are derived from fossil fuels.
Even though the fibers are not burned as fuel, the extraction of the raw materials contributes to an increased carbon footprint—similar to the production of plastics. In addition, with each wash, friction and turbulence in the washing machine carry off these microplastics in our wastewater, which eventually end up in the environment. Unlike fibers from cotton, wool, linen, and other natural materials, synthetic microfibers are not biodegradable. They live in our rivers and oceans forever.
About 60% of all synthetic fabrics are made from fossil fuels, 85% of which will eventually end up in landfills where, unlike natural fibers, they are unable to decay or decompose. By choosing natural fibers whenever possible, we greatly limit our pollution of microplastics.
Reduce Your Use of Plastics
While recycling is incredibly important, it’s not an even exchange in terms of the negative impact plastics have on the environment. Plastics are made from petroleum and natural gas. We use about 100 million tons of plastic annually worldwide, the production of which is equivalent to between 100 million and 500 million tons of carbon dioxide. The conservative estimate is roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of all the drivers in New York; the liberal estimate is close to the vehicle pollution collectively produced by every state west of the Rockies and Texas.
Unfortunately, while our consumption of plastics has grown by a factor of 30 since the 1960s, our recycling has only grown by a factor of two. These plastics end up dominating landfills, littering our public lands, and forming environmental monstrosities like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean. By limiting our use of plastics, and prioritizing recycling the plastics we do use, we can significantly reduce plastic pollution and carbon emissions.
About Green Development LLC
Green Development LLC is the leading developer of large-scale renewable energy projects in Rhode Island, specializing in wind, solar, and battery storage. The company delivers significant energy savings to municipalities, quasi-public entities, nonprofits, and other qualified entities through the virtual net metering program while providing long-term lease payments to landowners and farmers.
Since 2009, Green Development has been instrumental in transforming the energy mix in Rhode Island to clean, reliable energy. The company has developed more than 70 MW in solar and wind capacity, with plans to add 75 MW in 2021. Green Development is devoted to preserving farmland, reducing water and air pollution, increasing energy security, and creating local jobs. Current wind and solar sites reduce carbon emissions equivalent to using 8,557,790 gallons of gas each year.