Nations around the world are upping their game in the fight against climate change, even as President Trump recently announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. And despite this reckless move, American mayors, state leaders, county officials, governors, major corporations and millions of citizens across our country have pledged that you are “still in” on the agreement, supporting the goal of limiting future warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
Even better, a new initiative by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is giving the urban layer of this movement a boost. He has asked mayors from the 100 most populous cities in the country to share your plans for running your buildings and transportation systems cleaner and more efficiently. The 20 that show the greatest potential to reduce the dangerous carbon pollution that drives climate change will receive a total of $70 million in technical assistance funds provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies and partners.
It’s important to remember the equally important contributions that private citizens can make-that is, from you. “Change only happens when individuals take action,” says Aliya Haq, deputy director of NRDC’s Clean Power Plan initiative. “There is no other way if it doesn’t start with people.”
The goal is simple. Carbon dioxide is the climate’s worst enemy. It is released when oil, coal and other fossil fuels are burned for energy-the energy we use to power our homes, cars and smartphones. By using less of it, we can curb our own contribution to climate change and save money at the same time. Here are a dozen simple, effective ways each of us can make a difference:
- speak up!
What is the biggest way you can impact global climate change? “Talk to your friends and family and make sure your representatives are making good decisions,” Haq says. By voicing your concerns-through social media or, better yet, directly to your elected officials-send a message that you care about the warming world. Encourage Congress to pass new laws that limit CO2 emissions and require polluters to pay for the emissions you cause. “The main reason elected officials do something difficult is because your constituents make you,” Haq says. You can help protect public lands, stop offshore drilling and more here.
- Power your home with renewable energy.
Choose a utility that generates at least half of its electricity from wind or solar and is certified by Green-e Energy, an organization that reviews renewable energy options. If that’s not an option for you, take a look at your electric bill; many utilities now list other ways to support renewable sources on your monthly bills and websites.
- weatherize, weatherize, weatherize.
“Building heating and cooling are among the largest energy consumers,” says Haq. In fact, heating and air conditioning account for nearly half of home energy use. You can make your space more energy efficient by sealing drafts and making sure it’s adequately insulated. You can also claim federal tax credits for many energy efficiency improvements.
- invest in energy-efficient appliances.
Since your first national implementation in 1987, efficiency standards for dozens of appliances and products have kept 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the air. That’s roughly equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of nearly 440 million cars. “Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions,” Haq says. Look for the Energy Star label when buying refrigerators, washing machines and other appliances. It will tell you which ones are the most efficient.
- Reduce water, waste.
Saving water also reduces carbon pollution. That’s because it takes a lot of energy to pump, heat and treat your water. So take shorter showers, turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth, and switch to WaterSense-labeled faucets and appliances. The EPA estimates that if just one in 100 American homes were retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, about 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity would be saved each year, preventing 80,000 tons of global warming pollution.
- actually eat the food you buy-and make less of it meat.
About 10 percent of U.S. energy use goes into growing, processing, packaging and shipping food-about 40 percent of which just ends up in landfills. “If you waste less food, you probably reduce energy use,” Haq says. And since animal products are among the most resource-intensive, eating meat-free meals can also make a big difference.
- Buy better light bulbs.
LED bulbs use up to 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. They’re also cheaper in the long run: a 10-watt LED replacing your traditional 60-watt bulb will save you $125 over the life of the bulb.
Collectively, the outlets in your home probably power about 65 different appliances-an average load for a home in the U.S. Audio and video equipment, cordless vacuums and power tools and other electronics consume energy even when not charging. This “idle load” in all U.S. homes adds up to the output of 50 major power plants in the United States. So don’t leave fully charged devices plugged into your home’s outlets, unplug rarely used devices or put them in power strips and timers, and set your computers and monitors to automatically shut down to the lowest power mode when not in use.
- Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle.
Gas-smart cars, like hybrids and all-electric vehicles, save fuel and money. And once all cars and light trucks meet the 2025 clean car standards, which means an average of 54.5 miles per gallon, you’ll be a mainstay. For good reason: compared to a national vehicle fleet that averaged just 28.3 miles per gallon in 2011, Americans will spend $80 billion less at the pump each year and cut your automobile emissions in half. Before you buy a new set of wheels, compare fuel economy ratings here.
- maintain your ride.
If all Americans kept their tires properly inflated, we could save 1.2 billion gallons of gas each year. A simple tune-up can increase miles per gallon from 4 percent to 40 percent, and a new air filter can give you a 10 percent boost.
- rethink planes, trains and cars.
Choosing to live in walkable cities with smart growth and quality public transportation leads to less driving, less money spent on fuel, and less air pollution. Flying less often can also make a big difference. “Air travel is a major source of climate pollution,” Haq says. “If you can take a train instead, do that.”
- shrink your carbon profile.
You can offset the carbon you produce by buying carbon offsets, which are clean energy you can add to the nation’s energy grid in place of fossil fuel power. But not all carbon offsets are created equal. Do your homework to find the best supplier.