Best Ways To Help The Climate


How best to help the climate by reducing carbon footprints is always a hot topic on GreenAnswers; in this post, I've collected some of the most notable questions about the subject from the last week.  GreenAnswers members are clearly concerned about all aspects of addressing global warming and carbon pollution - from living low-carbon lifestyles to changing our economy so it takes less pollution to run.  The questions below cover the full spectrum, touching on everything from recycling to coal plants.

1. What do carbon footprint labels on foods reveal?

How a society produces and consumes food is a major factor in any country or individual's carbon footprint, making this question a great way to start off.  The idea behind the "carbon labels" some companies and countries are experimenting with is to give consumers an indication of how much carbon pollution was needed to land their food purchase on the supermarket shelf.  Carbon labels have yet to appear on a large scale in the US, but countries including the UK and Sweden have already begun phasing them in.  There are still kinks to work out in the carbon labelling programs; one concern is that shoppers may not necessarily know how to interpret information provided on the labels.  However this is likely to be less of a problem as consumers grow used to the system.  Someday, shoppers all over the world may be able to look at the packaging on their food products and find out not just how much trans fat or cholesterol they contain, but also whether the making of the product took a heavy toll on the climate. 

2. If you have an energy star refrigerator how much money could you save?

Home appliances are another major contributor to most peoples' carbon footprint, and this question from steffen88 is a reminder that low-energy appliances help your wallet as well as reducing pollution.  Next time you replace an appliance like a refrigerator, try to buy the most energy efficient model available by looking for the US Department of Energy's "Energy Star" label.  According to the Department of Energy, an Energy Star refrigerator sold today uses at least 20% less energy than required by federal law, and is 40% more efficient than a typical refrigerator from 2001.  As smirrah points out in an answer to this question, how much energy (and hence how much money in energy costs) you save by buying an Energy Star appliance depends on how efficient your current model is.  However your new, Energy Star refrigerator could save as much as a fifth of the energy consumed by your old model, or possibly more.  In any case, refrigerators are one of the most important appliances to choose an efficient model, as they are among the top three energy consumers of typical household appliances.

3. Is any material that is recycled good?

Almost any product made from recycled materials will have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than an equivalent one made from raw materials.  At the same time, buying recycled materials reduces the burden on landfills and the need to extract resources from the environment.  However, as OmarBarnes hints at in this question, it's still important to think about the impact a product has on the climate before buying it - even if it was made from recycled materials.  At present most paper, plastic, metal, and glass products are made in factories that run by burning fossil fuels.  Recycling helps reduce pollution, but even a recycled product has to be made in a factory.  For this reason it's a good idea to think about whether you really need an item before buying it.  When you do make a purchase, try to look for products made from recycled materials, or that can be recycled when you're done with them.  Though curbside recycling programs are great, other ways to recycle include composting food products, and ensuring an item gets continued use by donating it to a charity or thrift store. 

4. Do we have too many cars in the world at the moment?

Steps like those suggested above are great ways to reduce your contribution to global warming.  However this question reminds us here, there are some activities that simply can't be made truly climate-friendly, at least not on the scale they occur today.  Driving is just such an activity.  As jneust1 points out in an answer to this question, the number of cars in the US today probably needs to be reduced to really address global warming and our dependence on oil.  Currently cars, trucks, and other vehicles account for about a quarter of US carbon dioxide emissions.  Since carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas, this is a major problem.  The Union of Concerned Scientists recommends three ways to reduce pollution from vehicles: increase fuel efficiency so cars travel farther on a gallon of gas, step up investments in renewable fuels that pollute less than gasoline, and reduce the number of miles people drive in cars.  This last goal can be accomplished by investing in public transportation infrastructure, and designing biking and walking-friendly communities where cars are less needed. 

5. Does every state have a coal fired power plant?

Coal Power

Here solomon gets at another of the biggest causes of global warming: coal-fired power and industry plants, which contribute more to global warming than any other source of pollution.  There are over 600 active coal plants in the US, ranging from enormous power-generating plants that to comparatively tiny smoke stacks that power a single factory.  As amber87 points out in an answer to this question, the only two states with no coal plants at all are Rhode Island and Vermont.  All other states have at least one coal plant; however the number of plants within state borders is not necessarily a reliable indication of how much that state depends on coal.  This is partly because coal plants vary so much in size, but also because some states, especially in the west, have few coal plants inside their boundaries but draw energy from power lines that come from plants in other states.  Visit this site to find a list of most US coal plants, plus ways to get involved in local efforts to reduce coal dependence.

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geminiable24 geminiable24
Feb 22, 2010