How much CO2 does your lifestyle produce?
The United States has the highest carbon footprint per capita in the world, and is second only to China for country with the highest total emissions. The average carbon footprint for a single person in the United States is 16 tons per year.
Where do my emissions come from?
A carbon footprint is the measure of greenhouse gases produced by the activities one participates in. Generally, they are calculated based on one’s location, transportation, heat and electricity consumption, diet, family size, and waste management practices.
There are many, many carbon footprint calculators out there. This one from conservation.org is helpful because it adjusts in real time as you change values in the tool.
How much do you think you emit, compared to the average household?
It turns out there’s a fairly straightforward litmus test. Household income is the primary determinant of a person’s actual ecological footprint. Meaning, if you’re on the wealthier side of the income spectrum, chances are you are responsible for more carbon emissions than the average American.
How can I lower my emissions?
1. Going Solar and Heating/Cooling with Electricity
About 30% of the average person’s carbon footprint comes from home energy use. Solar can offset that! Every kilowatt of solar installed saves over 1.5 tons of carbon emissions annually. For the average five-kilowatt residential system, that’s a reduction of more than 15,000 pounds of CO2 every year! While you won’t realistically be able to eliminate your home’s greenhouse gas emissions entirely, solar power goes a long way in shrinking household usage. Once you go solar, you can add electric heating appliances, like air-source heat pumps and energy efficient electric water heaters—and power them all with the sun! We’ve even found a few great ways to cool your home without using your air conditioner, which will help further reduce your energy consumption.
“If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.” (Drawdown.org)
2. Eat Less Meat
Seriously! Adopting a plant-rich diet actually has a way bigger impact than you may think. The meat industry has an outsized impact on greenhouse gas emissions because of its sheer scale. Globally, raising livestock produces “7.1 Gigatonnes of Co2-equiv per year, representing 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Cattle alone are responsible for 65% of emissions, mostly because of methane—which has about 84 times more warming potential than CO2. Cattle are responsible for 20% of the United States’ methane emissions.
3. Travel Consciously
Emissions from transportation are actually greater than from electricity generation. That’s because generation is shifting from coal to renewables and natural gas. But cars still primarily run on good old gasoline. The best thing you can do for the climate is reduce the impact of your vehicle. Driving less often is the main thing you should strive for. Taking your car off the road for a year can save as much as 2.6 tons of CO2 emissions.
Realistically, most of us cannot survive without a car. But there are some steps you can take to make your travel more efficient:
- Drive gently. Accelerating and braking slowly conserve energy output for these processes.
- Keep your tires pumped up. Low tire pressure hurts your fuel economy.
- Air condition only when necessary. This is an energy intensive process that increases your emissions.
- Use cruise control. On long drives, this trick can help to save gas.
- Carpool. This way, you’re splitting emissions between the number of people in the car.
- Drive electric. Especially if you’re charging with renewable energy.
4. Family Planning
We found this take from Drawdown interesting! It may be a hard one to swallow, but you can’t argue with the numbers. Having fewer children means fewer people in the world. One less person in the world means an average of 16 tons of energy not consumed by them annually. Adding a person means more flights, car rides, and demand for goods and energy.
Last year’s UN Climate Report has brought the existential threat of climate change front and center, so we wanted to share some dinner-table tactics that may help you feel prepared.
If you are inclined to dive into the thicket of disinformation, which may include “warming is a natural process” and mutterings about “the climate hoax,” here’s what you need to know:
First: no one is more qualified to have this conversation than you.
As a friend or family member, you are what communication experts call a “trusted messenger.” People are more likely to believe those they trust and already have a personal relationship with. Other trusted messengers depend on the audience of course, but mostly they are standard authority figures; teachers, scientists, primary-care physicians and other health-care professionals, faith leaders, TV meteorologists, and staff at zoos, aquariums, museums, or nature centers are some examples.
You should feel empowered to cite these authority figures in defense of the facts. You’ve got the consensus of 97% of climate scientists on your side. But what if that isn’t enough?
Remember that oil giant ExxonMobil discovered the noxious effects of burning fossil fuels more than 40 years ago in 1977. Thirty years later, in Massachusetts vs. EPA (2007), the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must classify CO2 as a pollutant, given that “greenhouse gas emissions present a risk of harm to Massachusetts that is both ‘actual’ and ‘imminent.’” The government’s own research had already determined that “global warming threatens… a precipitate rise in sea levels, severe and irreversible changes to natural ecosystems, a significant reduction in winter snowpack with direct and important economic consequences, and increases in the spread of disease and the ferocity of weather events.”
Arrive prepared with strong narratives.
Psychology tells us that our minds are hardwired for storytelling, not logic and number processing. Charts and climate data are helpful to deepen one’s understanding of the effects of global warming, but not necessarily for those who are skeptical of the premise to begin with. To communicate complex topics such as how greenhouse gases work or how global warming brings about more intense weather conditions, the UN recommends leaning on analogies.
Examples of useful climate analogies:
1. The Heat Trapping Blanket
Think of greenhouse gases as a heat trapping blanket. Carbon dioxide, methane, and (to get real nerdy) chlorofluorocarbons are heat trapping gases. They’ve always existed in the atmosphere, but since the industrial revolution, we’ve drastically changed the proportions. The more of these gases we put into the atmosphere, the thicker the heat trapping blanket gets, raising the temperature of the planet.
This was first proven by ExxonMobil in 1977 and subsequently buried in their archives for decades while they pretended ignorance.
2. Loading the Weather Dice
Increased emissions are “loading the dice” for extreme weather events. Sure, climate and weather are different, but weather is determined by climate. While we can’t say an extreme weather event is caused by climate change, we know that climate change is “loading the weather dice” so to speak, making certain extreme weather events more likely—such as flooding, hurricanes, and polar vortexes.
3. The Boiling Pot
A link between global warming and extreme weather events is the warming ocean surface temperature. One reason climate change has been a slow and gradual process is that the ocean actually absorbs a huge amount of heat and carbon dioxide. In the last 100 years, the ocean’s surface temperature has risen more than 0.5º C. In the same way that boiling water releases steam, a warmer ocean evaporates more quickly. More evaporated water is essentially fuel for tropical storms, intensifying them. Models project a 45-87 percent increase in the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes.
Ground the conversation in local experience.
Bring the issue close to home. Climate change is ubiquitous — its effects can be felt in every region. If you’re traveling, try bringing up a climate issue local to where you’re staying. If you’re with family in Boston for example, bring up the threat and consequences of rising sea levels on Cape Cod. Folks in the Midwest may respond better to reminders of the record-breaking flooding and devastating hurricanes like Sandy and Harvey. And, of course, if you’re out west, the fires are hard not to think about.
Forget about “climate change” and work together towards solutions.
Maybe they won’t buy your compassionately delivered climate change explanation, that doesn’t mean you can’t convince them to join you in embracing climate solutions! It turns out that even “climate truthers” can get on board with saving money on their electricity bills. Whatever your views are, supporting renewable energy just makes sense:
- Solar installation costs have dropped 70% since 2010 in the United States
- Solar is likely to become the world’s cheapest energy source in the next decade. In the southeast, solar and wind are beating new gas plants in efficient energy production. “By 2025, almost every existing coal plant in the United States will cost more to operate than building replacement wind and solar within 35 miles of each plant.”
- The renewable energy sector is good for the economy, creating jobs faster than almost any other sector. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that America’s two fastest-growing jobs through 2026 will be solar installer (105% growth) and wind technician (96% growth).
Composting at home is a cheap and easy way to create high-quality, nutrient rich soil for your garden! All you need to do is find a good place to keep your food scraps and keep an eye on the consistency. The average person produces 220 pounds of food waste a year—imagine if you turned all that into useful soil!
Composting is an art and a science
You have control over how your compost turns out. In the video below, Adam Deen shows us how to keep your compost at the perfect consistency to produce high-nutrient soil just in time for planting this summer’s garden.
Composting is an action all of us can take at home to reduce our carbon footprint.
By diverting food waste from our trash cans, we can avoid filling up landfills with products that leak potent greenhouse gases, like methane, when they decompose. You won’t be sending as much stuff to the landfill anyway, as compostables comprise about 30% of the average person’s waste.
For a complete guide to composting at home, click here.
Saving the planet can start with you saving money. We can help.
Composting is one of many solutions to address the climate crisis, but don’t stop there!
We know that achievable and affordable solutions to climate change exist. Of Drawdown’s top 100 solutions, #8 is solar farms (what we call Community Solar Arrays), and #10 is residential rooftop solar. Both of these solutions save the planet and save you money at the same time. It might not feel like one person going solar makes a difference, but Drawdown reminds us that individual actions really do add up to collective change.
#10 Rooftop Solar
Rooftop solar is spreading as its cost falls, driven by incentives to accelerate growth, economies of scale in manufacturing, and advances in photovoltaic technology.
$3.46 TRILLION NET SAVINGS – Drawdown.org
#8 Community Solar (available in NY only)
Solar farms tap the sun’s virtually unlimited, clean, and free fuel, using large-scale arrays of hundreds (like the ones here in the Northeast), thousands, or in some cases millions of photovoltaic panels.
$5.02 TRILLION NET SAVINGS – Drawdown.org
#42 Solar Heating & Cooling (available in VT only)
Heat pumps transfer heat from a cold space to a hot one. Highly efficient, they can dramatically lower building energy use for heating and cooling.
$1.55 TRILLION NET OPERATIONAL SAVINGS – Drawdown.org
#77 Energy Storage
Standalone batteries and electric vehicles make it possible to store energy at home or work. They ensure supply event when variable renewables are not producing.
SAVINGS EMBEDDED IN RENEWABLE ENERGY – Drawdown.org
How do I go solar?
The process for going solar is simple. It starts with filling out our get started form. You can do so by clicking the get started button. If you want to know more details about the process and the steps involved between signing up and turning on the power, click the button below to find out more.
Trying to make sense of your electric bill with Community Solar? Check out our guides below.
It’s 2020, here’s what we need to do in 10 years to make massive change
2020 means we’re only 10 years away from 2030, by which time we’re supposed to have accomplished a lot climate wise! Have you thought about all the reasons for changing the status quo besides climate change?
We’re currently on track for 3 °C warming by 2100. Just a 1.5 °C increase will destroy 70-90% of coral reefs, dramatically change regional climates, and accelerate water shortages in vulnerable regions and sea level rise.
At a certain point, global warming will set off irreversible positive feedback loops. For example, the more the ice sheets melt, the less heat they can reflect away from the planet. In contrast, the ocean absorbs heat, meaning as Arctic sea ice disappears, there is more ocean available to warm the planet.
But it’s not just about the climate.
Our current agricultural, waste management, and energy production practices are not sustainable.
We should stop burning fossil fuels because they contribute to the climate crisis. They are also responsible for almost all air pollution, causing health problems in communities around the world.
Fracking for natural gas is proven to be harmful to the environment, people, and freshwater resources, so shutting down natural gas pipelines is a critical part of addressing the climate crisis.
Everyone has the right to a healthy environment and a brighter future. By installing solar with a local company, you are creating jobs and generating clean energy right here in your community.
Do your part to fight climate change.
Visit ClimateActionFilmFestival.com to learn more!
This film festival is ready to make change
I recently attended an event that was truly the first of its kind: The world premiere of SunCommon’s Climate Action Film Festival. My friends and colleagues working the event buzzed with excitement. They had spent the better part of 2019 working towards this moment. And I’d never seen a movie theatre lobby so charged with activist energy. I felt and observed in people’s eyes a seeking look. The films inspired in many of us a desire to go out and do more—for our communities and the world.
“We recognize that the crisis that we’re facing with the climate right now is sort of beyond our individual voice, and so the goal was to bring together a lot of other voices to inspire others to get involved with the movement.”
— Patrick McCormack, CAFF Creative Director
The curation team did a phenomenal job of selecting a diverse group of films showing many different ways of taking action. Each one is important, because there isn’t a single silver bullet for solving climate change. We need each kind of activism displayed in the nine films, and more! We need people researching how to keep carbon in the soil, and farmers willing to adopt new practices. We need people in communities across the world rallying together to say “No” to new fossil fuel infrastructure.
Today, visual storytelling—be it on TV or social media—is key to communicating one’s message across the far reaches of the media landscape. In a crowded infinite scrolling feed and endless streaming, all this content can feel ephemeral. The potency and urgency of issues we ought to care about gets lost in the shuffle.
When you’re sitting in a theater with two hundred other people, however, something is different. There is an energy that instills in one a feeling that you want to start doing. Even as someone already working for a local solar company, I had to ask myself, am I actually doing enough?
I was humbled by the quiet intensity of older climate activistsmore than anything, throughout these nine films, single-handedly halting the flow of Alberta tar sands into the United States. Even though they knew it meant a prison sentence, the “climate emergency” felt more important to them.
The pure solidarity demonstrated in Water Warriors by New Brunswick activists and native tribes fighting a natural gas company pricked tears and roused cheers from the audience.
But more than anything, throughout these nine films, I was struck by the willingness of people to dedicate their bodies, time, and resources to the greater good.
So when we gathered in the lobby after the lights came up, the question on everybody’s lips was, “Now what?”
Set in the Snohomish estuary, this film, co-directed by Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele, helps to build awareness of “blue carbon” as a climate mitigation tool and to encourage more investment in wetland restoration at local, state and federal levels.
Blue carbon is carbon that’s captured and stored by coastal wetlands, helping to mitigate climate change. “You never go into a wetland and just restore one benefit,” says wetlands ecologist John Rybczyk. They improve water quality, provide salmon habitat, protect our shorelines, and benefit our climate.
How long have you been making films? And what inspired you to get into environmental storytelling?
We’ve been telling stories about people, nature and climate change since 2006. We started down this path with a personal project called Facing Climate Change that profiled frontline communities in Iceland, Greenland and Norway to make the findings in an IPCC impact report more accessible. Since then we’ve collaborated with nonprofits, academic institutions, publications and others to create change through filmmaking, photography and interactive design. We particularly love to make science personal and to build teams to amplify the impact of purpose-driven work.
Where did the inspiration to make Blue Carbon come from?
We were approached by the folks at EarthCorps and Restore America’s Estuaries to help introduce the concept of blue carbon and to highlight the research and restoration work taking place in the Snohomish estuary.
Can you talk about the technical challenges and risks of creating this story?
When we first heard about the blue carbon concept we thought it sounded wonky and perhaps not the most engaging subject for a film. But as we learned more about how effective these habitats are at storing carbon, and the scale of restoration work going on in the Snohomish our interest grew. Then we met John Rybczyk from Western Washington University. John describes his fieldwork as a “reverse werewolf kind of thing,” because he can only go out during the full and new moon for the lowest daytime tides. His enthusiasm for mud is infectious and we quickly realized we had characters who could bring this science to life.
Since releasing Blue Carbon, what has the reception been like? Any unexpected outcomes?
The interest in the film has far exceeded our expectations. Blue Carbon continues to tour festivals almost two years after its release and we’ve heard the film has influenced some proposed federal legislation.
Climate solutions stories are difficult to do well. It’s rare to find compelling personal films that offer solutions at the scale of the challenge. We are thrilled to see CAFF highlight and celebrate these important success stories.
How can people get involved or take action after seeing Blue Carbon?
At SunCommon, we believe in protecting our planet. We drive electric vehicles, generate power with renewable resources, and strive towards reducing our carbon footprint—at work and at home. It’s part of who we are.
Still, we know we can do more. We want to slow down climate change. And we invite you to join us.
Compost all your food waste
220 lbs per person per year. Imagine that. A lot of people probably couldn’t even lift all the compost they produced in a year. If just 100 people read this blog and started composting, more than 11 tons of organic waste could be diverted from landfills.
How does composting work? Microbes, such as bacteria and fungi, in the presence of oxygen and water, use carbon for energy and decompose the organic wastes. Check out the EPA’s Guide to Composting.
Significantly decreasing waste disposed in landfills and incinerators will reduce greenhouse gas emissions the equivalent to closing 21% of U.S. coal-fired power plants. Check out our quick Composting 101 video, or read the Gardening Mentor’s Ultimate Guide to Composting here!
Watch your air and water temperatures
If your water gets hot enough to burn you in the shower, you could benefit in more ways than one from turning down your water boiler temperature a few degrees (Hint: fewer burns, lower bills). And for monitoring air temperature? We suggest you take a look at Heat Pumps for your home!
Slay the Vampire Load
You may be surprised at how much energy some of your appliances are using even when you think they’re “off.” “Phantom energy” used by electronics that stay plugged into an outlet around the clock can account for 10 percent of your electric bill (that’s more than a free month of electricity each year). If you can’t stand plugging and unplugging every gadget around your home all day, try using a power strip or leaving appliances you don’t use on a daily basis, like toasters, desk lamps, etc., unplugged and only power them up when you need them.
Curtains for Temperature Management
Windows are an underrated way of managing indoor temperatures. If you have good sun exposure, not only might you have a free power source (shoutout to solar), but you also have a free heat source! Make sure you’re letting in all the low-angled winter sunlight you can during the day. But as soon as it gets dark, cover your windows with thick shades and curtains. Windows are often the leakiest parts of your home, prone to letting in lots of cold air. Insulating your house overnight will make a bigger difference in your energy bills than you may expect!
Plant One Tree
One of the easiest ways to take care of the planet is also the most fun. Set aside an afternoon to plant a tree in your backyard and the benefits will last its whole life. A young tree absorbs roughly 13 pounds of CO2 per year and a mature tree can absorb 48 pounds. After 40 years, a tree will have sequestered 1 ton of carbon that would have otherwise contributed to global warming. (We even planted 1,200 trees in a single day to help give back to nature and our community!)
Our actions really do add up. Positive climate action starts individually and builds collectively. Get started. Share your progress. Be empowered to make a difference.
Make your New Year’s Resolution bigger than yourself: Put yourself on a carbon diet
The most common New Year’s resolutions are personal. Think: Eat better, exercise more, save money, work on your relationships, or increase your performance at work. But there’s no reason your resolution’s impact has to be limited to your body and lifestyle—many of these most familiar New Year’s Resolutions can have positive impacts on the climate as well!
The Food Resolution
It’s well-known that how and what we eat is of vital importance to the health of our bodies as well as our environment. Everyone knows they should probably be eating better, but — let’s not kid ourselves — it’s hard. It’s also worth noting that not everyone can afford to eat all organic and local vegetables, because of constraints on their time, wallets, or nutritional needs. But you don’t have to go full vegan to make a difference.
Commit to lowering the amount of meat that you consume.
You can still treat yourself every now and then, but try to commit to 1 or 2 plant-based meals a day, participate in Meatless Mondays (and maybe even Tuesdays), or if you’re feeling really committed try going vegan. According to a recent paper in Nature, if every American reduced their meat consumption by just a quarter, we’d see a reduction in our country’s emissions of about 1%.
1% emissions reduction may not sound like a lot, but remember: every little pocket of emissions reduction counts in the fight against climate change. We need to accumulate lots and lots of small-scale solutions to significantly reduce our climate impact.
If every American committed to going full vegetarian (or vegan), we’d see reductions of 5% or more. We’re not expecting to see this happen this decade, but it’s something to strive for.
P.S. What you do with your food waste matters, too! Find a local composter to pick up your food scraps. Not only will you avoid costly methane emissions, but you’ll be recycling those nutrients back into the food system!
The Exercise Resolution
What’s the only drug that research shows can make you happier, keep you fit, help you live longer, and make you less likely to get sick? Cardio. Great news! It also has the potential to cut down on your carbon emissions? Skip the gym, and hop on a bike or go on a run! The physical and mental health benefits are well-documented. Do you live close enough to your work to get there by a means other than your car?
Going to the gym also isn’t the only way to exercise! There are plenty of options for working out inside your own home! For example, YouTube is teeming with options for at-home bodyweight workouts, yoga routines, and ways to maximize the workout equipment you may already have! Save yourself a trip and get your sweat on without having to brave the cold!
Resolve to Make a Difference
One of our resolutions this decade is to be more intentional about using our voice and platform to advocate for meaningful policy changes and movements that will result in a more just and livable world.
You can have an impact, too! The climate movement requires all of us to participate and demonstrate our values at home, at work, and at the ballot box.
We’ll be holding events this year to help people get involved. Get inspired this February at the Climate Action Film Festival!
There are lots of climate friendly ways to save money! Turns out rampant consumerism and fast fashion is really expensive! One quick and easy way to save is to just buy less stuff you don’t need, and be intentional about buying the things you do need. For example, follow this woman’s lead and only choose to buy clothes you’re sure you’ll wear at least 30 times.
One thing we all need is energy. It might not seem like there’s much choice when it comes to turning on the lights, yet there really is! And when you compare conventional energy sources to renewables, you might actually be surprised how good the numbers look.
Ever noticed how every year or so, your electric or gas utility raises their rates? When you go solar, you won’t be paying those ever-increasing bills. Instead, you’ll just be paying a fixed rate for solar that covers your bills and will never go up, even as utility rates do.
What are your 2020 goals?
Share them with us on Facebook for a chance to win free tickets to the Climate Action Film Festival!
Efficient, electric, silent — and versatile.
Conventional furnaces, boilers, and stoves burn fossil fuels or wood to warm your home in cold weather. Heat pumps, on the other hand, use electric refrigeration technology to extract heat from the air outside (yes, even from cold air!) and then efficiently transfer that heat into your home.
You probably already have a heating system that works, but can your furnace keep you cool in the summer? Despite the name “heat pumps,” they also provide cooling and dehumidifying in summer by running that process in reverse. And unlike noisy air conditioners, heat pumps are virtually silent.
Year-Round Comfort, Powered by the Sun
Heat pumps use electricity to move energy (heat) around to make a cool space warm, or a warm space cool. When you pair that with solar, you’ll use clean electricity to heat your home in the winter and to cool off in the summer, which means you can feel good about your energy choices all year long.
By going solar, you stop paying your utility for dirty energy — so why not replace your furnace with a heat pump and lower your carbon footprint even more?
Are heat pumps worth the investment?
According to Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, switching from fuel-based heating to air-source heat pumps saves the average homeowner between $300 and $900 a year. Not only do heat pumps cost far less to operate than conventional furnaces, the expense is more predictable: instead of paying for large fuel deliveries every so often, you’ll just see small increases on your monthly electric bill.
If your home already runs on solar and you have a large enough system, you may be able to add heat pumps to your home without seeing an increase on your electric bill.
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The graphic below compares the cost of different heating sources — heat pumps powered by solar electricity beats them all.
Not only is heating with dirty fuels like kerosene, propane, or fuel oil more expensive than heat pumps, they’re also harder on the environment. And since the installation cost is about the same as any new HVAC system, you might as well invest in clean & efficient heat pumps.