It’s all about the source
You don’t need to change your lifestyle to stop climate change. Just choose a different source for the stuff you already buy and love. Three choices will eliminate more than half of your carbon footprint right now. Saving the world is that simple.
Step One: Change the Source of Your Electricity
Switch to solar or wind power with the click of a button. Electric utilities across the country have partnered with alternative energy providers to stay competitive. Sign up with those partners through your local utility and use all the electricity you want without contributing to climate change. You don’t need to own your home, buy a single solar panel or invest a single dollar. The cost of switching to green electricity usually runs around $16 a month.
That’s pretty cheap, but homeowners can even save money by going solar. In many parts of the country, third-party solar companies offer lease-for-use solar programs for homeowners. With one call, the company provides, installs and maintains solar panels on your roof, and your monthly electric bill shrinks.
It seems almost too good to be true: it costs less, you produce your own energy, you decentralize the energy grid, and you don’t have to buy or maintain anything at all. It just takes a call or a click.
In areas where leasing is not available, many solar or wind companies offer competitive purchase programs. Many have financing and maintenance included, and will design and install for free. You can completely unplug from the electric grid and put your electricity in your own hands.
Whichever way you choose, simply changing the source of your electricity immediately eliminates 15% of your carbon footprint. That is a huge improvement.
For comparison, the polarizing and bitterly disputed Obama-era vehicle efficiency standards would cut less than 10% of your carbon footprint after full implementation eight years from now. And, you would have to buy a new car to take part.
Stopping climate change is a matter of making smart decisions about the source of things, not making expensive purchases for incremental efficiency.
Step Two: Change the Source of Your Winter Heat
Cooling your home in the summer uses electricity (handled easily by Step One), but winter heat remains an issue. Cut another 17% of your carbon footprint by matching the source of your winter heat with its climate-friendly fix:
- If you heat your home with a heat pump, baseboard or electric heaters, changing the source of your electricity immediately makes your winter heat climate friendly. Switching to solar or wind will cut a total of 32% from your carbon footprint in a single step.
- Heating oil systems are compatible with biofuel (more on that below), and biofuel does not contribute to climate change when it burns. Most local biofuel or biodiesel companies offer “bioheat” programs in the winter months. If you combine bioheat with green electricity, you will eliminate 32% of your carbon footprint altogether. So, take off that sweater and turn up the heat, you will not contribute to climate change.
- If your home is heated with natural gas, your fuel is supplied by your local utility and there is little you can do to change the source of it. Natural gas produces less potent fossil-fuel emissions than coal or oil, but it still releases fossil carbon. The best option is to insulate your home, try to be efficient and look for other sources of heat: Do you have a wood stove or fireplace? Wood is a green carbon fuel when sustainably sourced. Can you get geothermal? Radiant heating? Space heaters or an electric heat pump and green electricity? The more you can offset natural gas heating, while alternatives like biogas are in development, the better your footprint becomes. So, curl up by the fire and relax, you can still find a way to cut your carbon footprint by 32%—the less natural gas you use, the smaller your footprint.
Step Three: Your Vehicle
Ready for a shock? Your vehicle is already climate friendly. No matter what kind of car you drive, your car can stop climate change. The secret is the fuel you use.
All gasoline and diesel vehicles have engines based on the same physical properties as the first vehicles ever created, and in the competitive days of the first vehicles, the source of fuel was hotly contested. What would power the mechanized world?
Many, including Henry Ford and Rudolf Diesel, believed that the answer lay in green fuels that farmers could grow. At the turn of the century more than 30% of Americans were farmers. Farms were ripe for mechanized solutions to old problems. They needed tractors to replace the slow plodding of plow horses, but a viable replacement would need to run on fuel they could grow themselves—like hay for horses.
“The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumac out by the road, or from apples, weeds, sawdust—almost anything. There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There’s enough [ethanol] in one year’s yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years.”
Ford was not alone. Rudolf Diesel’s engine ran spectacularly on nothing more complicated than vegetable oil. Diesel foresaw his own version of a green future: “The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may become in course of time as important as petroleum and the coal tar products of the present time.”
Why does homegrown fuel matter today? Because all of our polluting, climate-changing, guilt-wracking vehicles can still run on those fuels—and fuels that grow are made of green carbon. Green carbon forms the basis of life on earth and our planet’s carbon cycle. It belongs in our air, soil and oceans. It does not contribute to climate change, even when it burns in an engine. It is carbon-neutral power.
Drive anywhere you want on green-carbon fuel with a clean conscience, you won’t contribute to climate change. Baby crying? Drive around forever if you need to. Don’t worry about buying an expensive hybrid or electric car, just fill up your existing car with a better fuel.
How do you switch?
Fuels that grow are often called “biofuels” because they are made from the green carbon of living, biological things. If your car or truck runs on diesel, you’re ready to go with green-carbon biodiesel today.
Biodiesel mixes with petroleum diesel in any amount, so your vehicle will run perfectly on biodiesel, regular diesel or any mixture of the two. Use as much biodiesel as you can, whenever you can, to reduce your carbon footprint. Feel free to fill up on a whim, grab a coffee and take a drive—your vehicle will do just fine, and may even thank you for it—but if you’re felling less whimsical, take the time to read up on warranties, winter driving, etc.
If your vehicle runs on gasoline, your green-carbon biofuel is ethanol. Ethanol is ethyl alcohol, the same kind of alcohol that people drink to get drunk. It can be fermented from just about anything and then distilled into a fuel strong enough to power an engine. You could drive around on beer if you distilled enough of it.
Ethanol is more oxygenated than gasoline, so you need a cheap adapter convert your vehicle into a flex fuel vehicle like the Model-T. Mix as much ethanol with gasoline as you wish, drive entirely on one or entirely on the other, it is up to you.
Whatever type of green-carbon fuel you use, the benefit is astounding. To figure out just how astounding, you will need two new terms:
- Carbon efficiency: the amount of fossil carbon your vehicle produces as it drives. Carbon efficiency changes depending on the source of the fuel that powers your vehicle. As carbon efficiency increases, greenhouse gas emissions decrease.
- Green miles per gallon (gmpg): the quantitative measurement of carbon efficiency. Green miles per gallon measures how far you can drive before you release one gallon of fossil fuel emissions. The more green miles per gallon, the better your car is for the climate.
The carbon efficiency of the best hybrid is about 50gmpg. That sounds pretty good, but if you fill your car up with ethanol you can easily achieve a carbon efficiency of 200gmpg—that’s four times better for the climate than the best hybrid. If you fill up your diesel vehicle with biodiesel, you can achieve a carbon efficiency of more than 2,000gmpg. That is forty times better for the climate than a shiny new hybrid, and makes your vehicle effectively carbon neutral.
This one step could eliminate your biggest contribution to climate change, and reduce your overall carbon footprint by 28%. If you switch to green electricity and heat as well, you will have cut you carbon footprint by 60%. Stopping climate change is that easy.
The chance to stop climate change is at your fingertips. The last 40% of your carbon footprint comes from the stuff you buy and the food you eat. Reducing these contributions does not require you to eat less—or even buy less stuff—it only requires a new mindset.
It requires the same mindset that already allowed you to cut 60% from your footprint: remember climate change when you buy. Focus on the source of your products and ask one question: Is this made from green carbon or fossil carbon? Did it grow, or was it made from petroleum?
Do you want paper or plastic? The choice is simple: paper comes from trees, plastic from oil. You could agonize over the sustainability of paper bags and the environmental repercussions of using trees for disposable goods—or not. Most paper bags are recycled and sustainably sourced these days. Go easy on yourself and simplify: did it grow, or was it made from petroleum? You decide; you choose; you make a difference.
And don’t worry about being perfect. Perfection is often the enemy of the good, and climate change is no exception. Do your best. It may be impossible to make the perfect choice anyway (how could you know exactly where your products come from?). Give yourself a break and focus on the source—just remember that your choice matters. Producers are watching.
The products you buy are the products worth making. If you choose based on the source of your products, producers will know, and your choice will ripple out, changing what gets made. The more green-carbon products you buy, the more will become available, and the more you will stop climate change at the root.
Years of choosing fossil carbon for our energy and products is changing the earth’s climate. The only thing we have to do to stop climate change is choose green carbon instead.
Let’s make that choice together.