Working towards peace and sustainability

Shrink That Footprint!

April is Earth Day Month. What better time to share important information regarding personal actions we can all take to minimize our own contribution to the Climate Crisis. Please read and share if you would. We have put this same information together in print form and are happy to share these handouts. Contact us if you have a class, an organization, a house of worship, etc. where you’d like to share these.  

What is a Carbon Footprint?

Hopefully, we’ve all learned by now that the climate is changing due to humanity’s release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. Each of us contributes to climate change. Our carbon footprint is a measure of that contribution.

The United States has a uniquely large carbon footprint. Per capital our GHG emissions are roughly twice that of other affluent countries (Germany, Japan, France, UK, etc.) and in the ballpark of 10-30 times that of developing nations (most of Africa, India, Indonesia, etc.). This means that we are not only most responsible for the Climate Crisis, but also best positioned to make a difference through changing our consumption patterns.

As you can see from the pie chart, we use a great deal of energy in our homes, for food production, in transporting ourselves about and embedded in the goods we consume. We offer herein some suggestions for shrinking one’s footprint. We recognize that each of us is in our own unique situation. Some of these tips might work well for you; others may not. While none of us can do everything, everybody can do something. Make positive changes where you can.

Reducing Home Energy Use:

We use energy in our homes to heat, cool, cook, heat water, run appliances, etc. It adds up to about 25 percent of our carbon footprint. Here are some ways to save some of that energy:
A great way to start is a home energy audit. Columbia Water & Light customers can get one for free.
Making sure your home is properly insulated and weatherized will save energy heating and cooling. Utilities have programs that can help homeowners with rebates and/or low interest loans.
Consider installing solar for electricity and water heating. Rebates are available.
Renters can also have audits done; can benefit in one season from weatherizing; and can encourage their landlords to insulate.
In general, turning things off when not in use is the cheapest and easiest thing one can do to save energy. Likewise, backing off heating and cooling when away or when sleeping can yield considerable savings.
When buying appliances, seek out Energy Star-certified units. More efficient appliances generally have quick pay-backs and end up saving both energy and money.
Newer refrigeration and AC units are much more efficient. If your current units are older, you might save money by retiring them sooner, rather than later.
Low-flow shower heads not only save water, they also save the energy used to heat water.
Line drying clothes reduces energy use significantly.
While this might not be an immediate option, downsizing to a smaller house, condo or apartment will, all else equal, save energy.

Transportation & Travel

Local transportation and travel combine to account for more than a quarter of our carbon footprint, on average. There are ways to reduce both.
Locating your residence close enough to work or school so you can walk or bike at least some of the time is a big help.
Choosing a fuel-efficient car can yield big savings. Hybrids or e-cars are worth checking out, if you can afford it.
Scooters or e-bikes work well for some.
Carpooling or using mass transit reduces footprints significantly.
When running errands make a plan that gets as much done as possible driving the fewest miles. Consider pairing up with a friend who also needs to go shopping, etc.
When it comes to longer distance travel, try, when possible, to avoid unnecessary trips. Some work-related tasks can be done by video conference, saving money and energy.
If possible, take a train rather than a plane.
Consider vacation destinations closer to home. The Ozarks are beautiful and close. Try a staycation, at least now and then.
If going longer distances, stay longer to make the most of the fuel burned to get you there. Fewer vacations of longer duration yield energy and monetary savings.

Greening-Up Our Diets

The food we eat (or waste) amounts to roughly 15 percent of our footprint. While dietary choices are often sensitive issues, and we are not aiming to tell you what to eat, or what not to, here are some suggestions to consider:
Consider eating lower on the food chain. That means less animal products, as these are the most energy/resource intensive of all foods. Try a vegetarian meal now and then. Alternatively try dishes in which meat is an ingredient, rather than the centerpiece of the meal.
Consider pasture-raised meat options, as growing grains and beans to feed to animals leads to a much larger carbon footprint.
Consider poultry, pork or fish, rather than beef or lamb, as ruminants produce large quantities of methane, a potent GHG.
Grow your own. Most of us won’t grow the bulk of our food, but growing what we can helps, and it is really satisfying, connecting us to the Earth.
Whenever you can, buy local and organic. Local has less embedded transportation energy. Organic methods lead to more carbon sequestration in the soil. Small scale production is also less mechanized, thus requires less fuel.
Fresh fruits in winter are often shipped by air from Chile. The transportation footprint for air freight is huge.
Through good planning do what you can to cut down on food waste. Roughly 33-40 percent of all food taken to market and roughly 20 percent of all food purchased by consumers goes to waste. Reducing waste means reducing GHG emissions.