Small Steps at Home Can Combat Climate Change, Study Says


It’s time to sweat the small stuff—at least when it comes to global warming.

So says a new study that gives teeth to those oft-heard energy-saving suggestions, such as installing low-flow showerheads or carpooling to work.

If everyone adopted these habits, we could slash carbon emissions now—and prevent an estimated 123 metric tons of carbon from being released by the tenth year, according to the study. That would save about 7.4 percent of U.S. national emissions.

All, supposedly, without any skin off our noses.

The authors’ argument is pretty basic: Act today with simple strategies, instead of waiting for complicated laws to be set in motion.

Take the 1,400-page U.S. Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, whose recommendations will likely take a long time to get rolling, the researchers say.

And some experts are already pessimistic that a global climate pact will be hashed out in Copenhagen in December. (Read things you should know about the new U.S. climate bill.)

In the meantime, opportunities to cut emissions now have been “relatively neglected,” the authors say.

The team—led by Michigan State University sociologist and environmental scientist Thomas Dietz—measured 17 things most people can do without reducing “well being.”

Those include drying clothes on lines, changing HVAC air filters, tuning up air conditioners, maintaining cars, setting back thermostats, weatherizing buildings, and installing efficient water heaters, among others.

First the researchers estimated how much we would reduce emissions if everyone in the U.S. got on the carbon-slashing bandwagon.

Then the team guesstimated “plasticity,” or how many of us can be convinced to take action, based on real data of the most effective and proven interventions.

This gave them the rate of RAER—or the “reasonably achievable emissions reduction.”

Why does this matter? Pretty much because our homes are carbon factories. U.S. households spew out more carbon—626 million metric tons in 2005—than total carbon emissions of every country other than China, according to the study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. (Check it out here.)

To borrow a hackneyed expression, apparently small steps can make a big difference.

Christine Dell’Amore

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Related Green Guide links:

–Test your global warming IQ.

–Go on a carbon diet.

Photograph by Steve Raymer, NGS

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.