Carbon dioxide accumulates in the Earth's atmosphere, trapping solar heat energy and contributing to global warming. Many everyday activities, from driving to turning on a light, increase carbon dioxide emissions, which means you could be contributing to global warming without even knowing it. Fortunately, taking simple steps to cut your energy use can help to reduce your carbon footprint and protect the planet from the effects of greenhouse gases and climate change.
In the Home
Virtually any steps you take to reduce energy consumption in your home help to reduce your carbon footprint. Unplug appliances and turn off lights when you're not using them to save electricity. Conserve energy with a programmable thermostat, and swap old appliances for modern, energy-efficient units. Add insulation and seal openings in your home with caulk to reduce demand for heating and cooling. Even something as simple as changing a light bulb can help reduce your impact. If every household in the United States replaced five incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones, it would create a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions produced by 10 million cars, according to the National Forest Foundation.
Leave your car at home whenever possible to reduce your carbon footprint. Walk, bike or take public transportation to work or school, and when you must drive, try to combine trips to conserve fuel. Keep your vehicle properly maintained, and check oil and air filters often. Simply keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure helps you to save 181 to 317 kilograms (400 to 700 pounds) of carbon emissions each year, according to the Carbon Fund.
To further reduce your impact, think locally when it comes to making purchases, travel plans or even planning your garden. A 2.3 kilogram (5 pound) package shipped by plane across the country generates 5.4 kilograms (12 pounds) of carbon emissions, reports the Carbon Fund. Choosing locally made products or reusing items you already have can help shrink your carbon footprint.
While exotic vacations in faraway locales may sound enticing, a round-trip, coast-to-coast flight across the United States generates a whopping 907 to 2,721 kilograms (2 to 3 tons) of carbon emissions, according to the New York Times. Take shorter flights or spend more time exploring your local region to reduce your impact.
When choosing plants for your garden, think local rather than exotic. Native plants are those that grow naturally in your area. Not only do they come from your neighborhood rather than from many miles away, but they also require less watering and care than exotic plants because they are built to thrive in the natural conditions in your region.
Offset Your Impact
No matter how hard you try to reduce your impact, you'll find that you can't eliminate your carbon footprint completely. Those trying to take fewer plane trips may still have to fly for work or to attend a family member's funeral. When you can't help but contribute to carbon emissions, offset your impact with programs designed to shrink your carbon footprint. For example, the National Forest Foundation offers programs to support reforestation, which helps to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For a fee, you can also purchase carbon credits to support renewable energy investment or other programs aimed at reducing the impact of global warming.