Amid rising concerns today over the dangers of global climate change, there are now many incentives to use renewable energy. Get a solar energy company to install panels on your roof, and you’ll not only enjoy cost savings but also receive tax credits on the federal and state level.
However, it’s often the case that people don’t need further convincing of the desirability of going green. They already know how important it is to save the planet and that by doing so, they’re also reaping financial rewards. What they need help with is making the transition.
Most of us have grown up on lifestyles powered by fossil fuels in so many ways that we aren’t even aware of them. Or we might be able to identify issues but find ourselves incapable of self-weaning from behaviors that drive further emissions.
Overcoming those obstacles will be necessary for the majority to start truly approaching a net-zero way of living.
An undue emphasis on homes
The concept of a net-zero existence is prominently featured in the built industry, and therefore well-known in the housing sub-sector. Search for “net-zero homes,” and you’ll find many tips on how to design a home for a minimal carbon footprint. Panel installation, ventilation, cooling, and heating through passive design and energy-efficient appliances are common features of such builds.
Make no mistake, these improvements help. And home construction has the potential to impact our environment for decades. Much of the carbon cost of building a home is embodied or priced upfront. It’s best to get the design right from the outset so that you can offset those costs for a long time afterward.
But the emphasis on homes as an all-in-one net-zero solution is somewhat undeserved. Given the cost of housing today, many households are long-term renters with no plans to build property in the foreseeable future. And research indicates that the real obstacle to more widespread net-zero home construction is technological: a lack of skilled professionals, standardized regulations, and government support for renewables.
Until those factors change, there’s a far simpler way to reduce one’s carbon footprint on the home front. Just live in a smaller space, and you’ll automatically pay less for the floor area, thermal regulation, repair, and maintenance.
Small changes to transportation
Studies have shown that the average household’s carbon footprint can be broken down into three components, which tend to be equal in weight. Our homes are the first slice of the pie. The others are transportation and food.
Home energy consumption equates to a rate of 0.95 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted per kilowatt-hour. Compare this to the emissions released when you drive a car, which averages at 0.78 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile driven, and the latter doesn’t seem as impactful.
Basically, one mile in a personal vehicle costs just three-quarters of the emissions used to cool the average room with an AC for 1 hour. It doesn’t seem like it justifies the upfront cost of an electric vehicle, for instance.
However, this doesn’t account for the fact that in many areas, renewables go first on the power grid. That means if you adjust your energy consumption behaviors, you can effectively run many appliances without generating emissions.
The takeaway is that your transportation-related carbon costs are significant. And likewise, changing your behavior in this area can make a real difference. Small actionable steps include driving only when necessary, following fuel-conserving practices while driving, and consolidating trips. Whenever possible, take public transportation, or go the man-powered route: bike or walk short distances.
Food is a basic survival need, but in modern society, nobody hunts or forages. We get our food through the supply chain, which incurs carbon costs. These come from the production and processing of food itself and the transportation involved in bringing that food to your table.
Because meat products have a larger carbon footprint than plant products, calls for more people to switch to a vegan diet are indeed backed by evidence. However, this is a major lifestyle change. Not everyone can readily adapt, and for under-nourished populations, forsaking other dietary sources isn’t an option.
If you can go vegan, that’s great. But some change is better than none at all. Reducing meat intake or shifting to poultry while increasing your vegetable intake will help. So will eliminating processed foods, because you cut out the emissions associated with this step.
Finally, check where your produce comes from. Buying local means shorter trips and fewer transportation-related emissions.
Perfection shouldn’t be the enemy of good when it comes to saving the planet. We may not exist without generating a carbon footprint, but we can strive for as close to net-zero living as reasonably possible. Getting past the barriers involved in home living, transportation, and diet will take us there.