We can’t all afford a heat pump, EV, or solar panels, but we can still cut our carbon footprints and save money at the same time, through changing a few habits.
Nega-watts (the electricity we don’t use) are the cleanest and greenest, and there are many affordable ways to cut electricity use. Change lightbulbs to LEDs. Turn them off when leaving a room. Don’t let the computer go into ‘sleep’ mode; turn it off instead. Use a “smart strip” that can be turned off to prevent appliance vampires from sucking up energy while not in use.
Using a clothes dryer uses ten times the energy that washing does, and is very hard on clothing. Hang clothes to dry; spot-clean instead of washing a whole garment; spritz stale-smelling items with a vodka-water mix to freshen them; use a steamer to get out wrinkles. It all saves energy and money, and keeps clothes looking new longer.
For the electricity you do use, use the renewable energy checkoff available from your utility on your power bill. The cost increase is slight, and supports local farmers (in the case of GMP’s Cow Power). It also helps drive the Northeast’s Renewable Energy Credit (REC) program, which has steadily increased the availability of renewable electricity on the grid.
Eliminating waste in home heating is equally important. Retrofitting an old house can be costly, but don’t assume you can’t afford it. My neighbor got a new refrigerator, a pellet stove, and free weatherization this summer through Southeast Vermont Community Action (SEVCA), one of the excellent agencies performing weatherization among other services in our greater region. For ideas, look through the incentives section of Green Energy Times. And don’t feel uncomfortable asking for help. This isn’t just for you; it’s important help for the planet.
People should be comfortable in their homes, but not t-shirt and shorts comfortable. This is the Northeast! Put on a sweater! We don’t all have to look like Jimmy Carter (though he is one of the cooler ex-presidents). There are terrific sweaters available from many thrift stores; rock that look. Once you’ve got a great sweater, nudge the thermostat down – not a lot, just a degree or two. Gradually training ourselves to enjoy 65 rather than 70 degrees can save a significant amount of fuel and money.
The IEC has identified SUVs as the second largest factor in the recent rise of CO2 emissions. Don’t buy one. A fuel-efficient vehicle will save money and prevent “carbon guilt” on every trip. A rear-mounted luggage rack, more aerodynamic than top-mounted racks, can make up for the reduced carrying space.
Ride-sharing cuts one’s carbon footprint significantly. It’s not always possible, but even once a week, or for special trips, it’s worth making that bit of effort to have one vehicle on the road rather than two.
Don’t idle. Turn your engine off before you check your phone. A car gets zero miles per gallon while idling. ZERO. Everyone around gets a double-lungful of dirty emissions, the engine gets damaged, and CO2 pumps straight into the atmosphere, without even getting the benefit of moving. Let’s make idling the new smoking, something dirty and vaguely shameful that a lot of us used to do but don’t anymore. Check your phone before you start your car. Phone off, car on. Car off, phone on.
Driving smarter can save a lot of energy. Go the speed limit or less. Brake and accelerate gently, as if there’s an egg under the pedals. Make sure tires are properly inflated. Take your snow tires off when they are not needed (which will happen!).
Flying is the biggest CO₂ contribution most people make. We can try to attend meetings by teleconferencing, and vacation close to home. (Again, we live in the Northeast. It’s amazing here!) Many people who can’t cut out air travel buy carbon offsets. It’s relatively easy to go on-line, find a site with a calculator, and off-set a trip, or a year’s worth of home-heating or driving. Make sure the off-set incorporates renewable energy and that it actually makes a difference – in other words, it is not something that is already happening without help from offsets.
Most experts agree that we will not solve global warming without a worldwide movement. All around us are people who care deeply about this issue. We might not know them yet, but that’s easily solved by joining a group, or starting one. Extinction Rebellion grew from a dozen people in a small English village, to a global movement.
Finally, vote if you can. We must vote our climate principles, and tell candidates why they got, or didn’t get, our support. We need change at a systems level. Advances in technology, and our understanding of soil as a carbon sink, put the solution to climate change tantalizingly within reach. It’s really up to us whether we preserve the climate we evolved to live in, or not.
Money in gas tank: