Reducing GHG emissions enough to slow climate change mathematically requires massive reductions from individuals and companies everywhere. Fortunately the products and methods evolving to achieve such reductions will save you and your community money while creating local jobs and building energy independence.
Your “carbon” footprint is the total direct and embodied greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to your purchases and usage of products and services; the normal measure is metric tons (1000 kg) of CO2 equivalent, or MTCO2e. If your car gets 20 miles per gallon then your exhaust pipe emits about one pound of pollution for every mile you drive. You generally cause GHG emissions from your transportation, your housing, your food, and goods and services you buy. Similarly, businesses cause GHG emissions from the transportation, buildings, and goods and services they buy or lease, and from some industrial processes.
Visualize your emissions
CO2 is invisible and odorless, but you can think of balloons full of CO2 continuously popping out of your tailpipe or your gas furnace. Burning 80 gallons of gasoline or diesel creates about one ton of CO2 pollution. One metric ton of CO2 pollution would fill a 33-foot sphere, and one day of New York City’s emission spheres would bury the Empire State Building.
Americans emit on average 17 MTCO2e per year, and all of us cause various quantities of emissions. The emissions directly caused by our consumption include those from transportation and housing; the food, goods, and services we buy emitted GHGs in their creation (“embodied emissions”) and can be calculated on a macro basis but there is little infrastructure to track embodied emissions by product.
Calculate your footprint
Of the various carbon calculators available on the web, the Berkeley calculator provides good accuracy, a range of simplicity or complexity, comparisons to averages in your area, and quantified suggestions for improvements. It quantifies your largest emission sources and you can use such a calculator to periodically track progress (annually is good) or compete with others.
Notes specific to the Gorge: Electricity in the city of Hood River is from Pacific Power, which is about 2/3 coal (about 20% higher emissions than the calculator’s US average) unless you buy clean electricity. Wasco PUD and Klickitat PUD source most of their power from hydro and wind, or essentially clean.
Fix your personal footprint!
Hacking your footprint is fun and rewarding, but don’t expect to fix it overnight.
Here is a video series with 30 easy ways to reduce your footprint.
Here are many ways to save energy and reduce emissions, from the US Department of Energy.
Here is a list of actions you can take to reduce emissions from your housing, starting with simple behavior changes you can make immediately and progressing through remodeling your insulation and heating systems.
Here is a list of considerations if you are building or remodeling a house.
Here is a presentation about how a family can cut their emissions in half over a decade or so. If households and companies everywhere achieved that much reduction in the next ten years, we’d be on target for roughly 1°C of warning instead of 3.5°C.
Deep Green Movie (2 hours), produced by Matt Briggs of Lake Oswego, gives examples of changes we can make to our housing and transportation.