What You Can Do About Your Personal Role In Climate Change

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Most of us (you know who I’m talking about) aren’t in the conferences with the big names or in the research labs attacking the problem of climate change.  And with all the media attention it might look like global warming is too big and confusing for ordinary folks to do anything, even though we might want to. But global warming is the result of the actions of all of us, in one way or another, and while we may not be contributing to solving the “big picture” problem, we can each help in our own way.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao Zi (c 604 BC – c 531 BC), Tao Te Ching, chapter 64.

I won’t mention a lot of things in this article that are common knowledge and heavily covered in even the mainstream media; if you are interested, they are easy to find.

John and Mary Ellen Harte, in their book “Cool The Earth, Save The Economy: Solving the Climate Crisis is EASY,” (available for free download at www.cooltheearth.us) have a chapter titled “You Are Part of the Answer.”  They list 3 things individuals can do to combat global warming:

  1. Reduce Wasteful Consumption – And Save Money!
  2. Reuse
  3. Recycle

Now, you’ve all heard this before, the Reduce/Reuse/Recycle mantra. But it really is simple individual actions like this which can have a massive aggregate effect.

One interesting suggestion the Hartes make for Reduce is to forgo purchased gifts, instead giving time and service to friends and family, a social form of barter.

Reduce is also a good idea because a lot of the stuff we buy is made in China, and other countries, where manufacturing is often less efficient and therefore emits more carbon dioxide (the primary cause of global warming). A 2010 estimate is that 22.5% of the CO2 emissions in China were associated with goods and services exported and consumed elsewhere.

Eating less meat is not only healthier, but contributes to reducing carbon dioxide. A 2007 UN report estimated that animal farming accounted for 18% of greenhouse-gas emissions, making it a bigger contributor than transportation. In addition, animal farts (especially from cows) produce methane, a gas which is more than 20 times as bad for global warming as carbon dioxide. The UN report said that animal agriculture is the second or third biggest contributor to “the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”

Reuse has been made much easier by the establishment of Web sites dedicated to the exchange and loan of many things (for example http://www.freecycle.org/), and others which take donated items and provide them to those in need (for example, http://reuseit.org/).

Twenty-one percent of the carbon dioxide responsible for global warming comes from homes. In addition, buildings use 40% of the energy generated in the US, including 70% of the electricity, so they are indirectly responsible for a great deal of the total carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, generating electricity using coal and oil accounts for about 41% of carbon dioxide emissions, while transportation, both air and ground, another way of using oil, accounts for about 33%.

Why have I thrown these depressing statistics at you yet again?  Well, this is about how to do something about global warming at a personal level, right?

Even if you live in an apartment, there are things you can do about electricity consumption, like using solar panels to charge your smart phone, laptop/tablet/whatever, digital cameras, and mp3 players instead of plugging them in (see Amazon for a whole bunch of inexpensive ones), and looking for solar appliances, such as fans, refrigerators, cookers (not just for developing countries), heaters (for the DIYers out there, see this) and more.

If you own a home, besides doing the same things as apartment dwellers, you can insulate, add double panel windows (or simply use window films), and get home electricity from solar panels, wind turbines, or biofuel (you might even make money if your local utility lets you send extra power to it).

Note that solar panels and appliances must be manufactured, which produces carbon dioxide emissions, so using solar isn’t completely free of impact on global warming.

Also, some of the complexities of personal impact on global warming come into play with installing solar or wind, because they may well be best, for now, where there are coal utilities, rather than natural gas.

So, will these personal things you can do solve global warming?  Not overnight, certainly. But get started on your journey of a thousand steps and all those little steps could well add up to a great leap for humankind.