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    How simple lifestyle changes can reduce your carbon footprint, help the environment

    By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer

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    Figuring out the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint may seem tricky without knowing where to begin. However, making a few changes can dramatically impact the environment.

    The average American is responsible for about 18 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions annually. The bulk of emissions come from home energy use, transportation, food consumption and things that people buy.

    Below are ways to reduce carbon emissions and how much those changes help the environment.

    Home energy use

    Home heating and cooling counts for an average of 17 percent of emissions.

    “Getting a programmable thermostat and using it properly could save you 15 percent,” said John Rogers, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    “You program it, set it and forget it, and you can save a bundle versus someone who leaves it on all the time,” Rogers added.

    A programmable thermostat can save an average of $180 per year, according to experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    Woman recycling at home

    (Photo/John Keatley/Getty Images)

    Getting rid of air leaks will also help. Sealing up air leaks around doors, windows and in walls can save between 15 to 25 percent on heating and cooling energy losses and as much as $275 annually.

    “What stats like that tell us is that there are simple things we can do that can have a pretty big impact on our personal carbon emissions,” Rogers said.

    Switching to geothermal energy, which is a clean, renewable energy source generated and stored within the earth, can save a person up to 70 percent in energy costs, or about $200 off of a $300 electric bill, according to experts at Pinewood Forrest.

    The urban community in Fayetteville, Georgia, aims to become the first large-scale fully geothermal community in the United States. Each home will be outfitted with a geothermal heat pump in place of a traditional HVAC system.

    Geothermal power uses the consistent temperature below the earth’s surface to heat and cool homes in a more efficient, affordable and longer-lasting way than traditional HVAC systems.

    Infographic - Other ways to reduce carbon emissions

    “If HVAC is the largest user of energy in your home, we need to focus there,” said Rob Parker, president of Pinewood Forrest.

    “Geothermal energy is the answer for that,” he added. “Using the earth and the energy that comes from it to be able to cool your home is significant.”

    Compared to a traditional system, which typically lasts around 12 years, geothermal power can last beyond 50 years.


    Modes of transportation make up 28 percent of the average American’s emissions.

    If a person drove 30 miles round trip to work each day, the person will have driven 7,800 miles each year.

    A simple way to cut down on emissions is choosing a car with better gas mileage, which could save you approximately 4,500 gallons of gas over a car’s lifespan.

    “The single-most important thing you can do is probably upgrade your car,” Rogers said.

    “If you go from a car that gets 20 miles per gallon to one that gets 40 miles per gallon, you will save, if you drive the average amount, almost 4 tons of CO2 a year,” he said.

    Driving an 84-mile-range electric car cuts emissions by more than 50 percent when compared with a similar-sized gas-powered vehicle, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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    Carpooling, taking mass transit, walking or biking can also save one pound of carbon dioxide for every mile a person doesn’t drive, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

    Food choices

    One of the biggest culprits of CO2 emissions in a person’s diet stems from red meat consumption, which makes up an average of 14 percent of emissions.

    Infographic: The carbon footprint of 10 foods

    Dr. Jennifer Jay, professor of environmental engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), compared the carbon emissions in a serving of beef chili to that of a serving of lentil soup.

    “If someone chose lentil soup, it has around 70 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent in that serving,” Jay said. “Beef chili has just over 3,000 grams of CO2 equivalent, so you can see the big difference in where we choose to get our protein.”

    Opting for a serving of lentil soup over beef chili for just one meal saves the emissions equivalent of driving 13 miles in a 40 mile-per-gallon vehicle, Jay said.

    “Ruminant animals have an extra impact in that their natural process produces methane, so, their digestive process produces methane, and that’s a really highly potent greenhouse gas,” Jay said.

    By cutting food-related emissions in half, a family of four that consumes the average amount of red meat will save around 3 tons of carbon emissions annually.

    “That’s about as much as half a year’s worth of driving,” Rogers said.

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