If you’re driving your SUV to the farmers market to buy local asparagus and thinking you’re making a difference for the planet, you’re ignoring the gas-hogging elephant in the room.
Likewise, if you’re badgering your kids to turn out lights and the bulbs are incandescent, you’d make more progress if you replaced them with efficient ones.
You’d have to leave the old bulbs off three out of four days to get energy savings comparable to that of CFL or LED bulbs, says the Union of Concerned Scientists in the book “Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living.”
Experts at the science-based nonprofit calculated direct and indirect carbon emissions from 500 categories of consumer activity. Along the way, they sorted out a barrage of green advice and selected actions that deliver the biggest savings.
For most Americans, what matters most is how you drive, the energy you use at home, and what you eat, in that order.
If your car gets 20 mpg – average for today’s vehicles – and you replaced it with one that gets 40 mpg, you would cut your annual carbon emissions by 4 tons. You would also save about $18,000 on gas over the life of the car, the authors figure.
Home heating and cooling account for 17 percent of the average footprint, and the scientists say you can make significant reductions by installing a programmable thermostat. Likewise, sealing leaks in floors, doors, and around windows has a big effect.
Other home energy use amounts to 15 percent of the footprint, and the biggest culprit for most people is their refrigerator. Manufacturers have achieved such remarkable efficiency gains that any refrigerator made before 2003 is probably worth replacing, said Jeff Deyette, assistant director of energy research for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The vampire power your cellphone charger uses when it’s still plugged in? Unplug it.
Now let’s get to what you eat. If it’s beef, back off, the experts advise. Producing a pound of beef is responsible for 18 times the global-warming emissions of a pound of pasta.