Perspective by Gary Beverly
Climate change is the most serious environmental issue on the planet, and unless we immediately cut our greenhouse gas (GHG, which includes methane, refrigerants, and oxides of nitrogen, sulfur, and carbon) footprint, the entire planet will be in deep, deep trouble. Reducing GHG emissions requires political and personal changes.
The necessary, national political changes are wrapped up in the Green New Deal goal to become GHG-neutral by 2050. You can make the Green New Deal an issue in the coming election by asking candidates about their position on it, and then voting for candidates who support it. Local government also needs to act; the Yavapai Climate Change Coalition needs your help with local climate change advocacy.
Adjusting your family’s lifestyle to reduce your GHG contribution (annually, 20 tons per person) will not only save money and help the planet, but you will feel like you're contributing to a better future. Set a goal to reduce family emissions by 20% this year, about four tons per person. Due to limited space, I can only summarize some of the most important steps you can take, but the Sierra Club has links to valuable web resources.
At 28%, transportation is the largest personal contribution to climate change. You should use carbon-free transportation. This means avoiding air travel, participating in carpooling or riding a bike (electric bikes are great!), and switching to an electric vehicle for local travel. EVs rock! They are quiet, smooth, relaxing, fast, and cheap. My Volt costs 1.5 cents/mile (10% the cost of my truck) and emits only 20% of the GHGs.
When you need to fly or drive long distances, you can purchase carbon offsets to compensate for unavoidable travel. When you purchase a carbon offset, your money is pooled with others to fund a project that reduces GHGs; for example, capping a landfill to prevent methane leaks. Many different projects are available. An offset certificate for five tons of GHG costs about $50.
Purchasing consumer goods accounts for 26% of your family’s GHG contribution. Reduce consumption and waste by buying less stuff. For necessary purchases, select durable and repairable goods, ideally made from recycled materials. Avoid buying throwaway products and packaging, especially single-use plastics. Reuse or repair what you can. Compost green waste. Recycling of anything other than aluminum is a low priority because the national recycling system is failing.
Home energy use accounts for about 20% of your family GHG contribution. First, reduce electricity consumption by installing LED lights and EnergyStar-certified appliances. Generate your own electricity by installing a grid-tied, rooftop photovoltaic system. These are available with no money down and will save you money from day one. You can also purchase wind power instead of using grid power. Install a solar hot-water system and add an attached solar greenhouse to heat your home. Improve insulation and windows. All these will reduce your monthly bills, pay for the investment, and help save the planet.
Food accounts for about 14% of your family GHG, but it is far more important than that number suggests. Transitioning to a whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet has enormous benefits for the planet, and for personal health and well-being. A WFPB diet avoids animal agricultural products (meat, dairy, cheese, etc.) and processed foods, instead relying on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. To learn more about a science-based WFPB diet, check out nutritionfacts.org or Chef Molly's article in this issue . For recipes and advice, visit meatlessmonday.com. To learn how to transition to the new diet, attend our Earth Week program. Avoiding animal agricultural products significantly reduces your GHG emissions.
Finally, follow the money! Do not allow your money to support the fossil-fuel industry. Chase Bank, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America are the largest US investors in fossil fuels. Change your banking and credit cards to firms that invest in local business. Reallocate your investments to avoid fossil fuels.
Reducing your personal contribution to climate change is a process requiring consistent effort over time, but it is comforting to know that you are doing your part. To learn more, download What You Can Do from the Sierra Club site, which has links to valuable web resources. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.
Gary Beverly is chair of the Yavapai County Sierra Club.