We hear a lot of talk about climate change and the devastating effects carbon pollution is having on the planet. From devastating storms to food insecurity caused by altered weather patterns, there's no questioning that carbon pollution is leaving its toll on the planet.
It can be difficult, however, to figure out what you can do to help. Melting icebergs and massive tornados are forces much larger than one individual. That said, there are various actions you can take every day that will help keep the planet healthy for generations to come.
See also: 8 Ways to Recycle Your Old Smartphone
As part of our recognition of the Climate Reality Project's third annual 24 Hours of Reality, this year themed "The Cost of Carbon," we've come up with a list of 10 actions you can take to reduce your carbon footprint.
The 24 Hours of Reality broadcast streams live from Los Angeles on Oct. 22 and 23, beginning at 2 p.m. ET on Tuesday. The program will travel around the globe exploring the unique challenges and devastation experienced by each of the six habitable continents: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe and Australia.
Mashable will also be hosting a Meetup to explore what we can do to reduce the impact of carbon on the planet.
1. Change Your Lightbulbs
How often do you think about your lightbulbs? Chances are, not very often. An easy fix you can make that will help the planet every day is to switch all of the lights in your house to compact fluorescent bulbs. One bulb can reduce up to 1,300 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution during its lifetime. And if every house in the U.S. switched its bulbs, we could reduce the electricity spent on lighting by one half. Worth climbing up that ladder and whipping out your screwdriver, huh?
2. Unplug Your Gadgets
Completely powering off your gadgets isn't just good for your devices, it's good for the planet. What's even better is unplugging your chargers when they're not in use. If you're someone who always leaves your phone charger dangling from the wall, doesn't power off your cable box and forgets to put your computer on sleep mode, many of your tech behaviors can use some adapting. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, adopting these practices can save you $100 each year on your energy bill.
3. Take Public Transit or Carpool
Image: Flickr, epSos.de
According to The Rideshare Company, the average American spends 18 days of the year in a car, each car emitting its own weight in carbon dioxide. The benefits of carpooling are quite simple to see. One car uses less gas than two and much less than three. Similarly, riding the bus or train to work helps to slash down the number of cards on the road. Still looking to organize the perfect carpool? These apps can help you set one up.
4. Choose a Laptop Over a Desktop
Laptops, unlike desktop computers, are designed to be energy-efficient, because battery life is a major factor to laptop design. According to Energy Star, a laptop can be up to 80% more energy-efficient than a desktop. Energy-efficient LCD screens, hard drives, CPUs and adaptors all factor into making makes laptops much better tools for the planet.
5. Filter Your Own Water
If you still buy packaged bottled water, you're doing the planet a major disservice. Beyond the environmental toll of the plastic waste from each 16 ounce serving, consider just how far your water was transported before you bought it in the supermarket. If you live in most western countries, tap water is perfectly suitable for consumption, especially if you use a filtration pitcher.
6. Adjust Your Curtains and Thermostat
Simple adjustments to moderate the temperature in your house can make a big difference for the planet. If you keep your house two degrees warmer in the summer and two degrees cooler in the winter you can save big bucks on your energy bills. Similar, turning off your thermostat while you're not in your home can save you 15% on your energy bill. Check out the U.S. Department of Energy for more thermostat tips.
Similarly, keep your curtains open during the day in the winter to let in sunlight, and close them at night to keep in warmth. During the summer, close the curtains during the day to keep out extra sunlight and open them at night to moderate the temperature, or even open them to let in a cool breeze. There are several energy-efficient curtains on the market that use insulation to further monitor your home's temperature.
7. Buy Local Food
Image: Flickr, Alice Henneman
Love eating watermelon year-round? That's great, but chances are, it isn't grown anywhere near where you live during the winter. Purchasing foods that are both in season and grown locally can drastically cut down the carbon emissions of the vehicles used to transport your winter watermelon across the country. According to the Worldwatch Institute, food travels 1,500 miles on average between the farm and the supermarket. We bet you can find foods grown closer to your home if you try to find them.
8. Plant a Tree
This classic way to give back to the environment is one of the most efficient ways you can cut your carbon footprint. Trees provide shade and oxygen while consuming carbon dioxide. According to the Urban Forestry Network, a single young tree absorbs 13 pounds of carbon dioxide each year. That amount will climb up to 48 pounds annually as trees mature. Just one 10-year-old tree releases enough oxygen into the air to support two human beings.
9. Print or Digital, Be Mindful Reading the News
People have been debating the environmental costs of consuming news online versus reading the print paper since the beginning of the digital media revolution. Newspapers, according to one study, cause roughly their weight in carbon emissions. That said, surfing the web expends energy, the amount of which varies based on the device you use.
The best policy to adopt when it comes to news consumption is to be mindful. If you subscribe to a print paper, be sure to recycle your paper every day. If online news is your preferred medium, chose an unplugged laptop or e-reader, rather than a plugged-in device for the majority of your browsing time.
10. Chose Energy-Efficient Kitchen Appliances
Though not the classiest option, microwaving your food is faster and often uses less energy than the stove. If a meal takes 15 minutes to cook in the microwave versus one hour in the stove, you'll save roughly 20 cents off your energy bill each time. The real task at which microwaves excel is bringing water to a boil — and you won't even sacrifice taste.
If you are using the stove, your food will cook faster on the upper shelf of the oven because heat rises.
Join the 24 Hours of Reality Meetup
Mashable is proud to partner with the Climate Reality Project to host Meetups on our Meetup Everywhere platform around 24 Hours of Reality.
If you're in New York, Mashable will be hosting a Meetup Tuesday, discussing the cost of carbon. We'll also tune into the 24 Hours of Reality broadcast.
If you're outside New York, check out the other Meetups taking place, and if you don't see one near you, it's not too late to sign up to host your own. Be sure to share the ideas, photos and videos that come out of your Meetup using the hashtag #CostOfCarbon.
Image: Flickr, PCLVV
1 Air travel is usually the largest component of the carbon footprint of frequent flyers. A single return flight from London to New York – including the complicated effects on the high atmosphere – contributes to almost a quarter of the average person’s annual emissions. The easiest way to make a big difference is to go by train or not take as many flights.
2 The second most important lifestyle change is to eat less meat, with particular emphasis on meals containing beef and lamb. Cows and sheep emit large quantities of methane, a powerful global warming gas. A vegan diet might make as much as a 20% difference to your overall carbon impact but simply cutting out beef will deliver a significant benefit on its own.
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3 Home heating is next. Poorly insulated housing requires large quantities of energy to heat. If you have properly insulated the loft and filled the cavity wall, the most important action you can take is to draught-proof the house, something you can do yourself. Those with solid brick or stone walls will also benefit from adding insulation, but the financial benefits are unlikely to cover the cost of doing the work, over time.
4 Old gas and oil boilers can be hugely wasteful. Even if your current boiler is working well, it’s worth thinking about a replacement if it is more than 15 years old. Your fuel use may fall by a third or more, repaying the cost in lower fuel bills.
5 The distance you drive matters. Reducing the mileage of the average new car from 15,000 to 10,000 miles a year will save more than a tonne of CO2, about 15% of the average person’s footprint. If car travel is vital, think about leasing an electric vehicle when your existing car comes to the end of its life. A battery car will save you money on fuel, particularly if you drive tens of thousands of miles a year. Even though the electricity to charge your car will be partly generated in a gas or coal power station, electric vehicles are so much more efficient that total CO2 emissions will fall.
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6 But bear in mind that the manufacture of an electric car may produce more emissions than the vehicle produces in its lifetime. Rather than buying a new electric vehicle, it may be better to keep your old car on the road by maintaining it properly and using it sparingly. The same is true for many other desirable items; the energy needed to make a new computer or phone is many times the amount used to power it over its lifetime. Apple says 80% of the carbon footprint of a new laptop comes from manufacturing and distribution, not use in the home.
7 Within the last couple of years, LEDs (light-emitting diodes) have become cheap and effective. If you have any energy-guzzling halogen lights in your house – many people have them in kitchens and bathrooms – it makes good financial and carbon sense to replace as many as possible with their LED equivalents. They should last at least 10 years, meaning you avoid the hassle of buying new halogen bulbs every few months. Not only will your CO2 footprint fall, but because LEDs are so efficient, you will also help reduce the need for national grids to turn on the most expensive and polluting power stations at peak demand times on winter evenings.
8 Home appliances. Frequent use of a tumble dryer will add to your energy bill to an extent that may surprise you. But when buying a new appliance, don’t assume you will benefit financially from buying the one with the lowest level of energy consumption. There’s often a surprising premium to really efficient fridges or washing machines.
9 Consume less. Simply buying less stuff is a good route to lower emissions. A suit made of wool may have a carbon impact equivalent to your home’s electricity use for a month. A single T-shirt may have caused emissions equal to two or three days’ typical power consumption. Buying fewer and better things has an important role to play.
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10 The CO2 impact of goods and services is often strikingly different from what you’d expect. Mike Berners-Lee’s book How Bad Are Bananas? takes an entertaining and well-informed look at what really matters. Bananas, for example, are fine because they are shipped by sea. But organic asparagus flown in from Peru is much more of a problem.
11 Invest in your own sources of renewable energy. Putting solar panels on the roof still usually makes financial sense, even after most countries have ceased to subsidise installation. Or buy shares in new cooperatively owned wind, solar or hydroelectric plants that are looking for finance. The financial returns won’t be huge – perhaps 5% a year in the UK, for example – but the income is far better than leaving your money in a bank.
12 Buy from companies that support the switch to a low-carbon future. An increasing number of businesses are committed to 100% renewable energy. Unilever, the global consumer goods business, says its operations will be better than carbon-neutral by 2030. Those of us concerned about climate change should buy from businesses acting most aggressively to reduce their climate impact.
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13 For a decade, investors ignored the movement that advocated the divestment of holdings in fossil fuel companies. Large fuel companies and electricity generation businesses were able to raise the many billions of new finance they needed. Now, by contrast, money managers are increasingly wary of backing the investment plans of oil companies and switching to renewable projects. And universities and activist investors around the world are selling their holdings in fossil fuels, making it more difficult for these companies to raise new money. Vocal support for those backing out of oil, gas and coal helps keep up the pressure.
14 Politicians tend to do what their electorates want. The last major UK government survey showed that 82% of people supported the use of solar power, with only 4% opposed. A similar survey in the US showed an even larger percentage in favour. The levels of support for onshore wind aren’t much lower, either in the US or the UK. We need to actively communicate these high levels of approval to our representatives and point out that fossil fuel use is far less politically popular.
15Buy gas and electricity from retailers who sell renewable power. This helps grow their businesses and improves their ability to provide cost-competitive fuels to us. Renewable natural gas is just coming on to the market in reasonable quantities in many countries and fossil-free electricity is widely available. Think about switching to a supplier that is working to provide 100% clean energy.