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5 Tips to Reduce U.S. Carbon Emissions

by Halle Miroglotta 4 months ago in Sustainability

through Personal and Political Actions

photograph by Halle Miroglotta

As wild as this may sound, if you plan to be alive at any time during the next 100 years, atmospheric carbon is going to impact your life. While there has always been carbon in the atmosphere, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are higher today than at any other point in the last 800,000 years. [1] Over the past 60 years, annual atmospheric CO2 has risen about 100 times faster than any previous natural increase. [2] Scientific consensus overwhelmingly confirms that these increases are fueled by human activities like heating, transportation, electricity, and manufacturing.


Heightened atmospheric CO2 is responsible for about two-thirds of the energy imbalance causing Earth's temperature to rise. [3] Uncapped carbon emissions contribute to rising global temperatures, diminished air quality, and unstable climatological conditions including rising coastlines, drought, and floods. These impacts are likely to affect agricultural production and food quality over the next century in a cascade of increasingly urgent consequences. In short, human activity has altered the natural system. The longer we resist personal and political climate choices, the harder it will be to re-establish ecological balance and ensure public health.

This graph indicates the correlation between increased CO2 emissions and increased levels of atmospheric CO2. Credit: Lindsey, Rebecca. "Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide." ClimateGov. August 14, 2020.

So what can we do?

In order to limit global warming, we must each participate in rapid and extensive changes in many aspects of individual life and civil society. We can reduce our personal carbon footprint while supporting policies intended to reduce emissions and protect air, earth, and water resources for generations to come.

GET PERSONAL:

1) Understand Your Impact: The U.S. individual’s average carbon footprint is 63,934 lbs of CO2 annually (offsetting this contribution is equivalent to planting 730 trees). Understand your personal carbon footprint in about ten minutes with a carbon calculator like Terrapass. By evaluating annual vehicle emissions, public transportation use, home energy expenditures, and air travel habits, carbon calculators assess the annual carbon output of an individual, business, or event. When you regularly calculate your contributions, you will see that the impacts of personal choices do accumulate. For accountability, ask a few of your friends to calculate their contributions too.

2) Eat Less Meat: One commitment you can make today in order to reduce your personal carbon footprint is to eat less meat. Studies indicate that eliminating meat from the diet results in a 35% reduction in greenhouse gas contributions, while shifting from a more carbon-intensive (lamb and beef) diet to a less-carbon intensive (pork and chicken) diet reduces greenhouse gas contributions by 18%. [4] The decrease in associated emissions is so substantial that you would need to eliminate package waste on all food items for 11 years in order to create the same reduction in carbon as eliminating meat for one year. [5]

Meat has a high carbon “cost” because its production is highly inefficient. For example, it takes 13 lbs of grain to produce one pound of beef, in addition to the other environmental and financial cost of land deforestation, water use, and energy used to run slaughterhouses. [6] Additionally, the digestive systems of animals consumed for meat are a major source of methane, while their manure produces 65% of all nitrous oxide emissions. [7] Both methane and nitrous oxide compound the increasing greenhouse gas effect. If more people ate grain directly and replaced beef with an alternate source of protein many land, water, and air resources would be conserved.

If you substituted meat meals with non-meat meals one to two days per week, you could reduce your overall food-related carbon emissions by 15-30%. High-protein alternatives include chickpeas, kidney beans, mung beans, pinto beans, tofu, edamame, soy milk, and vegetables including green peas, broccoli, spinach, sweet corn, and others. Need inspiration? Check out Jessica in the Kitchen, A Couple Cooks, and Dada Eats for delicious, simple, plant-based recipes anyone will enjoy.

3) Update your Lightbulbs: If doing nothing makes you feel helpless, or the enormity of climate change makes you feel overwhelmed, please update your lightbulbs from incandescent to LED. It is simple, inexpensive, and has an enormous impact. If you have already made this switch, congratulations: incandescent bulbs create 4,500 lbs of CO2 per year while LED bulbs create only 451 lbs of CO2 per year. [8] The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy confirmed that out of common lightbulb options (CFLs, incandescent, and LED bulbs), LED is the best environmental option during use, manufacturing, transport, and disposal. [9] P.S. Turn off the lights when you are not in the room! This easy act will lower your bills and reduce your emissions.

This graph indicates the comparative environmental impact of LED, Incandescent, and CFL bulbs. Credit: "Environmental Benefits of LEDs Greater than CFLs." Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy." December 9, 2013.

GET POLITICAL:



One active bill you can support today in order to reduce the U.S.'s carbon footprint is H.R. 2307 Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. If enacted, this bill would drive America’s carbon pollution to net zero by 2050 by charging a fee on fossil fuels at the source, then returning 100% of the net revenue as a dividend to American households. [10] The bill also imposes a border carbon adjustment on imported goods, ensuring that American companies will not take their business to a country with less stringent standards. By making fossil fuels more expensive, the bill drives business competition toward innovative energy solutions. In contrast to a Carbon Tax, which would raise government revenue, the carbon fee is redistributed to directly to households. A recent study on the financial impact of H.R. 2307 indicated that the carbon dividend would cover energy transition costs for at least 85% of households. Those with higher costs (i.e. higher electricity use) can make consumer choices that would reduce their pollution related costs. This policy provides exemptions for agricultural workers and refunds for the military and has been approved by scientists, economists, and business leaders.

Although most of this bill's current sponsors are Democrats, the Climate Leadership Council’s 2017 publication “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends” also recommended a gradually increasing carbon tax, carbon dividends for all Americans, and border carbon adjustments. [12] Therefore, H.R. 2307 is a worthy candidate for bi-partisan support.

4) Call your Representative: 

Have you ever called your elected officials to express your viewpoint on current events? Whether you call your mayor’s office regarding a local issue, or your representatives in Congress to support or or oppose a pending bill in the House or Senate, your voice matters.

Call (or e-mail) your House Representative today and ask them to co-sponsor H.R. 2307 Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act in order to reduce U.S. carbon emissions. If they are already a co-sponsor of this bill, call them to say ‘thanks’ and ask for their continued support.

Are you a U.S. resident, but not sure who your representative is? Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 225-3121 and enter your zip code—you’ll be provided with your district number and get connected to your representative’s office. Not sure what to say? Here’s a simple framework to follow, with an example of a call script below:

-- State your name

-- State the district in which you reside

-- State the issue about which you are calling

-- Thank your representative for something they have done

-- Make your ask

Example One: “Greetings, Representative Quigley. My name is Halle Miroglotta. I am a constituent of IL-District 5, and I’m calling today about Climate Change. Thank you for co-sponsoring H.R. 2307 Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. Please continue to publicly support climate action by engaging in bi-partisan solutions on this urgent issue.”

Example Two: “Greetings, Representative _______. My name is _______. I am a constituent of _______, and I am calling today about climate change. Thank you for your work in the community. Today, I ask for your public support of climate policy by co-sponsoring H.R. 2307 Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which would drive America’s carbon pollution down to net zero by 2050. I welcome your return phone call. My number is _______.

5) Work in Community: 

Tap into a coordinated action network by volunteering with an organization like Citizens’ Climate Lobby. CCL is a “nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy climate change organization focused on national policies to address climate change.” [13] They have over 600+ local chapters and offer free virtual trainings, volunteer support, and climate advocacy clinics.

Injustices are measured by miles while political and societal solutions crawl along in inches. The heaviness of this reality may discourage some individuals from engaging in the legislative process, or from attempting climate solutions for their own life. However, in a participatory democracy (and in any large-scale endeavor) refusing to get involved because you ‘don’t think it will work’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mass participation is a hefty pre-requisite of democratic functionality and broad change. Even though it may feel like you cannot wield influence over a vast political machine, overlapping individual efforts create momentum and build political will. Likewise, the small personal choices you adopt can ripple outwards in influence, changing the behaviors and mindsets of those you know. What change will you make today?

Halle Miroglotta is a Chicago-based writer pursuing a Masters in Food and Agricultural Law and Policy at Vermont Law School. Thank you for your support of her work and your contributions toward reducing carbon emissions.

REFERENCES:

[1] Lindsey, Rebecca. “Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide.” ClimateGov. August 14, 2020. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] C. Hoolohan, M. Berners-Lee, J. McKinstry-West, C.N. Hewitt. “Mitigating the greenhouse gas emissions embodied in food through realistic consumer choices.” Energy Policy, Volume 63, 2013. pages 1065-1074. ISSN 0301-4215.

[5] Penney, Veronica."Think You’re Making Good Climate Choices? Take This Mini-Quiz." The New York Times. August 30, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/08/30/climate/climate-footprint-quiz.html

[6] Rysavy, Tracy Fernandez. "Eat Less Meat, Cool the Planet." Green America. 2021. https://www.greenamerica.org/eat-less-meat-cool-planet

[7] Id.

[8] "Environmental Benefits of LED Lighting: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint." CPS LED Lighting. October 2, 2017.

[9] “Environmental Benefits of LEDs Greater Than CFLs.” Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. December 9, 2013. https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/study-environmental-benefits-leds-greater-cfls

[10] "How it works: Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act." Citizens' Climate Lobby. 2021. https://energyinnovationact.org/how-it-works/

[11] Financial Impact of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act on U.S. Households. Citizens' Climate Lobby and Citizens' Climate Education. 2020. https://citizensclimatelobby.org/household-impact-study/

[12] A. Baker, III, James, et al. "The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends: How a new climate strategy can strengthen our economy, reduce regulation, help working-class Americans, shrink government & promote national security." Climate Leadership Council. February 2017. https://www.clcouncil.org/media/2017/03/The-Conservative-Case-for-Carbon-Dividends.pdf

[13] About Citizens' Climate Lobby. Citizens' Climate Lobby. 2021. https://citizensclimatelobby.org/about-ccl/

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