Lowering Carbon Dioxide emissions starts at home
In ‘The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth.’,
Tim Flannery states that “To stay below (that threshold)*, we need to reduce CO2 emissions by 80%.”
I would venture to say that 80% would seem like a high number to any logical thinking person. In the
article ‘Energy Savings: It Starts at Home’, author Peter Miller chronicles a 30 day period in which he
and his wife attempt to get as close to that number as possible.
According to Scientists, the rise in our atmosphere’s average temperature is rising even faster
than predicted in previous years.(p.62) This is due, in part, to an increase in the emission of CO2 and
other ‘greenhouse gasses’ into the atmosphere. The obvious solution to this problem would be to limit
our output of these gasses, referred to as a ‘carbon footprint.’ The question is ‘Where to start?’ The best
place, says Peter Miller, as with most ecological ideas, is with individuals in their own homes.
The first step in the process was to gather some numbers by which to measure their own CO2
emissions in their home. The average output of the American Home is 150lbs. of CO2. With the
reduction recommended by Flannery that would mean the goal would be a much lower 30lbs. of CO2
emission per household per day. The following is a short list compiled by Miller applying emission
values to daily activities.
1.5lbs of CO2 per 1kWh
Natural Gas: 12lbs of CO2 per 100 ft3
19.7 lbs of CO2 per gallon
Using these values, Miller set out to discover ways of reducing their daily emissions, both
obvious and not so obvious. The more obvious ways include using public transportation, turning
electrical devices off when not in use, not using electrical devices for jobs that can be done by
hand(drying clothes, kitchen appliances, etc.) A few of the non obvious ways are lowering the
temperature on the hot water heater, unplugging power cables that aren’t connected to devices, and
having the ‘envelope'(p.68) of your house checked by a professional.
While Americans are driving farther and more often than ever,(p. 72) “Buildings, not cars, produce
the most CO2 in the U.S.”(p.72) This, of course, includes residential dwellings as well as businesses and
factories. Companies as Wal-Mart are creating test facilities in which they are using more efficient
ways of conducting business such as low emission lighting, high efficient heating and cooling and earth
The cost involved in retro-fitting current buildings is still significant without a quick return on
investment. There are a few companies such as DOW, DuPont, and 3M that are demonstrating that it
is a sound investment by making the dollar amount of their savings public. DOW has saved seven
billion dollars and reduced their CO2 output by 20% since 1995.
Heating and cooling a home can account for between 40% and 60% of the household energy
consumption. Making sure that the building is sealed and insulated properly can greatly decrease the
power needed to heat and cool it. There are professionals whose sole purpose is to test a home for
efficiency. The cost involved can be high but the investment will pay off in time.
The pathway to extending the life of our planet is clear. The first step, though, is making the
information available and helping individuals and companies to understand that they should and are
capable of reducing their carbon footprint. In a 2007 survey, only 24% of people stated that, if given
$10,000, they would invest it in efficiency. It is up to us to make the decision that working towards a
carbon neutral future is worth the investment. Miller stated that with little effort and almost no
monetary expenditures, he and his wife were able to cut their monthly emissions almost in half. It
starts with enlightenment and then becomes an easy decision to make those small lifestyle changes.
*-> ‘that threshold’ refers the threshold of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere in which the
temperature will reach a critical point as to melt icecaps and kill natural vegetation.
Miller, Peter. “Saving Energy: It Starts at Home” National Geographic March 2009 pg.60-pg.80
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