By Christina Nunez

14 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Own Carbon Footprint

We all have a role to play in the changing climate. Here are a few ways to lighten your impact.

Which countries are the world’s biggest polluters? It depends. As a whole, China emits the most carbon dioxide in the world. Switch to the per-person view, and the picture changes: Countries including Australia, Canada, the United States, and Saudi Arabia rise to the top.

In the wake of last year’s Paris Agreement, governments around the world are evaluating how to cut the planet-warming greenhouse gases that stoke climate change. But individuals can—and do—make everyday decisions to shrink their carbon footprints.

The first step is understanding how much carbon your household emits now. A few online tools can help you measure: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for example, has a carbon footprint calculator that tells you how much CO2 you contribute each year based on activities such as home heating, driving, and recycling. In the United States, the average emissions per capita are about 17 metric tons (37,400 pounds) per year. Other groups, including University of California, Berkeley, the Global Footprint Network, and the World Wide Fund for Nature-UK have their own versions of calculators.

Numbers aside, the simple exercise of answering some questions about your lifestyle and energy use can help you think about where to cut back. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.

At Home

Roof tops with solar paneling

  • Replace old appliances, such as refrigerators, washing machines, water heaters, and clothes dryers, with smarter models. In the U.S., the ENERGY STAR program certifies a range of products for energy efficiency.
  • Adjust your thermostat up in warm months and down in cold ones, especially when you’re not home.
  • Use cold water for washing clothes, then line-dry them.
  • Recycle. The EPA estimates that recycling glass, aluminum, plastic, and paper could save 582 pounds of CO2 per year, equivalent to more than 600 miles of driving.
  • Consider getting solar panels for your home or buying renewable energy credits.

On the Road

Electric car charging in EV charging station

  • Save on gas with an electric, hybrid, or super fuel-efficient car. (Check out this electric car calculator from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which helps you take into account the electricity source where you live.)
  • Maximize fuel efficiency, no matter what model you drive: Keep tires inflated, avoid speeding, keep your trunk free of excess weight—and above all, avoid driving when you can walk, bike, carpool, or take public transit.
  • Reduce your flight travel where you can, and remember that, unfortunately for your personal comfort, first- and business-class seats have a higher carbon footprint than economy ones. (You can find the most efficient airlines ranked here.)
  • Purists don’t love the idea, but buying carbon offsets—essentially, paying into projects that help compensate for the carbon you plan to emit—is another option. The environmental group NRDC offers a guide.

At the Store

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Every pound of beef served is equivalent to releasing about nineteen pounds of greenhouse gases, so consuming less beef can reduce your carbon footprint.

View more tip cards to see how else you can reduce your carbon footprint >>.
  • Buy less meat, and opt for sustainable sources when it comes to what you do purchase. By one estimate, consuming a pound of beef gives off more carbon than burning a gallon of gasoline.
  • Bring your own bags and buy in bulk when possible to reduce packaging.
  • Reduce your consumption of bottled water and other packaged drinks. In general, driving up demand for plastic means doing the same for fossil fuels.Consider the global impact of acquiring more stuff. One study found that a big share of China’s pollution was associated with goods manufactured for export to the U.S. and elsewhere.

You can find more ideas for reducing your energy use, and therefore your carbon footprint, here.

On Twitter: Follow Christina Nunez and get more environment and energy coverage at NatGeo.

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