Each American contributes about 22 tons of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere each year, well above the world average of about 6 tons per capita. Here are some of the things you can do to reduce your share:
In and Around the House
Pick an electricity provider that generates at least half of its power from the sun, wind, water and other renewable sources.
Plug leaks and make sure you have adequate insulation so that you can use less heat or air-conditioning. Caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows can slash CO2 emissions by 1,700 lbs. per year. If your water heater is more than five years old, wrapping it in an insulating jacket will save 1,000 lbs. of CO2 emissions annually. (Keeping its thermostat at 120°F or less will save another 550 lbs. of CO2.)
Use a programmable thermostat. It will save you about 1,800 lbs. of CO2 annually. Invest in energy-efficient appliances. (Ones with the EPA's EnergyStar label are a good bet.) Replacing a 20-year-old refrigerator with a high-efficiency model can lower CO2 emissions by 1 ton per year. A new washing machine that uses less water and less energy can cut emissions by 440 lbs.
Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents. They're more expensive, but they last up to 13 times as long and each one saves about half a ton of CO2 over its lifetime. If you exchanged the five most frequently used bulbs in your house for compact fluorescents, you would save about 700 lbs. of CO2 (and $90 in energy costs) a year. If every U.S. household swapped three 75-watt regular bulbs that stay on about six hours a day for three 20-watt compact fluorescents, that would save more than 60 trillion lbs. of CO2 per year equivalent to the annual emissions of 3.5 million cars.
If you live somewhere sunny, install a solar-heating system to help provide hot water. The CO2 savings: up to 720 lbs. a year.
Recycle! Returning aluminum cans, glass bottles, plastic, newspaper and cardboard can reduce your CO2 output by 850 lbs. annually. Buying food and other items in recyclable or reusable containers saves an additional 230 lbs. of CO2.
Plant trees and shrubs around your house. They not only provide shade, which lowers energy consumption, but also store carbon. One deciduous tree can remove 50 lbs. of carbon from the atmosphere annually.
Cut the grass with an old-fashioned push mower instead of a motorized one. Savings: 80 lbs. of CO2 a year.
On the Road
Replace your gas guzzler with a fuel-smart car. A car that gets 20 miles per gallon emits about 50 tons of CO2 over its lifetime; one with double that mileage emits about half as much. Buying a new car that gets just 3 m.p.g. more than your old one can reduce CO2 emissions by 3,000 lbs. a year. The best solution: Purchase a hybrid instead. (A hybrid vehicle that averages 45 m.p.g. contributes at least 5 tons less CO2 to the atmosphere than a vehicle that gets under 20 m.p.g.)
Carpool, bike, walk or take public transportation as often as you can. Leaving your car at home just two days a week saves 1,590 lbs. of CO2 emissions per year.
To calculate how much CO2 your lifestyle generates, go to: fightglobalwarming.com
Sources: Natural Resources Defense Council; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; fightglobalwarming.com; Rocky Mountain Institute