spea magazine

Practical Wisdom


Bringing Kyoto Home: Reducing a Household Carbon Footprint

recycle-symbolGlobal warming makes for a terrific good news/bad news story, though it’s the bad news – and it is indeed very, very bad – that makes the headlines. The good news is that many of the initial solutions are simple, healthy, financially responsible, and produce excellent community benefits.

This is especially true at the household level. On a national scale, achieving a substantial reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, the primary cause of global warming, is a vast undertaking. But for a household, it is simple. Pursue three or four of the following options with a little vigor, and it’s likely your household emissions will drop by ten percent or more, comfortably meeting the U.S.’s seven-percent reduction target under the never-ratified Kyoto Protocol.

  • Weatherize your home by adding insulation, sealing air leaks, and replacing aging windows. Call your local energy utility and ask for a home energy review. Most utilities provide free assistance and cash incentives to improve the efficiency and comfort of a home.
  • Buy green power. Many electric utilities give customers the option of paying a modest surcharge to buy power from wind, solar, geothermal, or other renewable resources.
  • Drive less. Whether it’s transit, carpooling, walking, or bicycling, try to replace a car trip or two each week with another option. For most households only 20 percent of trips are to work and back, and it’s often the non-work trips that are simplest to switch.
  • Drive the most efficient vehicle that meets your needs. The average fuel efficiency of all passenger vehicles on the road in the U.S. is about 20 mpg. Most of us buy vehicles rarely, so make your purchase count.
  • Use efficient appliances. Whenever you buy a clothes washer, dishwasher, water heater, refrigerator, air conditioner, or other major appliance, make sure it has the Energy Star label, which ensures that it is an energy-efficient model. If you have a refrigerator that is more than 10 years old, replace it.
  • Reduce waste and recycle. Keeping waste out of the landfill reduces emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas released as materials decompose without oxygen. Moreover, recycling delivers strong energy-efficiency benefits, since it takes less energy to produce goods using recycled inputs than raw materials. Best of all, acquire nothing that you won’t use well or enjoy thoroughly.
  • Eat less meat. Livestock is second only to landfills as a source of methane in the U.S., and eating less red meat offers great benefits to personal health and household budgets.
Scholars, corporations, and public officials are championing solutions to climate change, but only you can make changes in your household. Take control, make some simple reductions, and rest up: In the long run, stabilizing the climate presents intense challenges, but for a household, the first seven percent is easy.

This month’s “Practical Wisdom”— SPEA alum Michael Armstrong (MPA ’99), now deputy director of the City of Portland, Oregon Office of Sustainable Development.