HOW WE CUT OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT IN HALF
(AND IT ONLY TOOK ONE DAY!)
Making little changes can lower your carbon footprint. Enough of these little changes and we could reverse climate change.
Most people are familiar with “the butterfly effect” named from Edward Norton Lorenz’s theory of Chaos where he said “A butterfly flapping it’s wings in Brazil can produce a tornado in Texas”. But less well known is that he said the opposite can also be true. A little thing can snowball into a bigger effect. And something as small as a butterfly’s wings can be the instrument in preventing a tornado. This seems like a perfect analogy for reversing climate change. A series of little things can lower your carbon footprint and reverse the change that is happening to our climate and prevent the tornado in Texas.
“If the flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, it can equally well be instrumental in preventing a tornado”Edward Norton Lorenz, originator of the butterfly effect
LOWERING OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT
We were wondering how tough it would be to make enough changes to make a difference. We found it was not hard at all. Just a series of little things. And it could be done quickly – really quickly! Spoiler alert – it only took one day. And we are living better than we were before!
This is how we did it…
STEP 1 – FIGURE OUT WHAT WE ARE DOING THAT CREATES THE MOST CARBON
First, we researched where the average American carbon emissions is coming from and then compared this to our own activities. We had to do some adjusting since we work from home so we don’t create much from transportation. Our estimate was that most of our footprint was from food and electricity, so we concentrated on cutting these.
STEP 2 – RESEARCH WHAT CHANGES WOULD MAKE THE MOST DIFFERENCE
Then we researched how to make changes. We learned that some changes make almost no difference and some make a really huge impact. By choosing the ones with the biggest impact we were able to cut our footprint in half. The surprise came when we realized that cutting our footprint actually improved our lives. We are eating better and living better than before we made these changes. There was an initial cost in making some of the changes, but there were also changes that created a savings, so we are actually living better now on less. The research took a while, but making the changes only took one day. We also estimated some things by just cutting things in half (driving half as much, half as much water use, half as much electricity, etc.) But you could skip the research by assuming that most of the stuff on this list makes a big difference.
THIS IS WHAT WE CHANGED
It was the first thing we gave up. And we had no qualms about getting rid of it. And we certainly don’t miss it. Almost half the food produced in the US is wasted. So we cut back on waste by planning what we bought and storing it better.
Next, we started eating less meat, but better. This made the biggest impact. When we do eat meat, we usually choose pork, chicken, duck, turkey, dairy, fish and seafood, and save the steak for a special occasion and the lamb for Easter. This cut a big chunk out of the carbon footprint (see the graph below). Eating meat only one meal, every other day, has improved our health as well as cut the footprint. We had to get more creative, but we are eating better than ever. The meat we now buy is the best, locally sourced and our favorite cuts. But, since we have cut back overall, we can spend more and still save money.
“Meat products have larger carbon footprints per calorie than grain or vegetable products because of the inefficient conversion of plant to animal energy and due to CH4 released from manure management and enteric fermentation in ruminants.”
Weber, C. and H. Matthews (2008) “Food miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States.” Environmental Science & Technology, 42(10): 3508-3513.
The farmer’s market was the next big decision. It is now part of the routine and we shop there once a week. Most of the farmer’s are organic, so the methods they use cut down on carbon emissions. The produce is grown for taste and is fresh and local. The farmers choose which variety to grow based on flavor instead of how well it survives transport and storage. It is picked when ripe, often just the day before, or the day of the market, so it tastes incredible. Buying local also creates a smaller carbon footprint in transportation, and it helps our local economy, giving jobs to people in our community.
This was the next thing that made a really huge impact. For certain products, the choice of brand will make a big difference in your carbon footprint. For these products, we researched companies and started buying from those that are producing a product using sustainable methods. Specifically, Milk, chocolate and sugar are often produced in a manner that carries a huge carbon footprint. Every year more of the rainforest is being burned. Much of it is to to create more area to produce sugar, chocolate and to raise Cattle. Buying organic is one way of knowing that the land has been farmed for years. Buying from a company that is careful about their sourcing is even better. We found that Valrhona, Wholesome Organic and Horizon Organic were sourcing responsibly and were third party certified. We found these companies also produce a superior product, so by buying responsibly we are eating better. These products are often more expensive, but the taste is worth it, and we have been able to reduce the price by buying direct from the company online and sometimes in bulk. We also saved money by making our own yogurt, kefir, crème fraiche, sour cream, ice cream, etc. from Horizon milk and cream.
We compost the vegetable scraps, since they create methane as they decompose unless it is captured in the soil. Composting also keeps the organic matter out of the landfill.
HOME HEATING AND COOLING
We live in Santa Cruz, California – near the ocean. Heating and Air conditioning is not what we spend money on. This might be an unfair advantage, but it also meant that we had to cut from somewhere else. The cut in our food footprint made up for it.
We started cooking more with the Instant Pot and the air fryer when possible, which cuts back on the cost of cooking. When used as a pressure cooker, the Instant Pot uses about 1/10th the energy of the oven. We switched to using an air fryer for smaller items instead of heating up the oven. The air fryer takes about 1/8 the amount of electricity, and it is on for less than half the time, since it does not need to be preheated. It doesn’t really fry, it’s actually a small oven, so we use it for some things that we would normally put in the oven.
This is what took the most time. We changed all the lightbulbs in the house to LED lights – every last one of them – even the Christmas lights, the stove lights, the fan lights and the backyard café lights. I had resisted this for some time, because I liked the look of halogen light. Then I found I could order lights in different temperature spectrums, so we were able to get lights that were 3500 K, which gave off a beautiful, natural light. We ordered all the bulbs online to save driving around searching for the right bulb. It took most of the day figuring out which bulbs to order, but we got it done in a day and they paid for themselves in a few months from the savings on electricity.
We checked the whole house for things that were using energy. We unplugged things we weren’t using, in case they were using electricity even when off (the extra tv, the old stereo). Then we got rid of some things that were outdated and we didn’t need (the landline phone with it’s WIFI connector and it’s tower, the old turntable and speakers, and the unused devices hooked to the tv that I am not sure even what they are anymore).
After learning that some devices continue to draw power if left plugged in or on the charger, we developed a system of removing them when charged.
All our electronics were already plugged into surge protector power strips for safety reasons. We started turning off the power strips when not in use to stop the vampire power drain.
We switched to doing all the laundry in cold water.
We cut our water use in half – since some electricity is produced from hydroelectric plants in California, and we are in a severe drought. How we did that is a whole other story, but essentially we did that in one day as well, by taking shorter showers, changing to more drought tolerant plants, planting the plants into the ground instead of in pots and choosing what to keep. Succulents turned out to be really easy to propagate and grow, and are a beautiful addition to the other drought tolerant plants.
STUFF YOU BUY
We are buying less, but buying better, so we use it longer. Better can mean researching electronics to find something that is has a longer life, or clothes that are made from natural organic fabrics so they wear longer.
Full disclosure – we have been working from home, so we don’t have a transportation footprint by driving to work each day. But this actually made it harder to reduce our footprint, since we had to reduce it from something else.
We changed our travel plans to half as many trips, and stay twice as long. The biggest carbon creator when we travel is the air transportation, so this effectively cuts it in half. This also saves us money since the air ticket usually one of the biggest expenses. We usually stay in a smaller, centrally located hotel, which we prefer, and that cuts back on transportation, and these are usually green.
We bought a stationary bike and free weights and canceled our gym membership, so we are saving trips to the gym. As an added benefit, it’s so convenient that we are exercising more often, and it costs less and takes less time.
We started shopping for most of our fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market once a week. This limits the number of times we are traveling to the store, and limits the distance that the food is traveling, since it is all local.
We switched to ordering any unusual things online instead of driving around trying to find something. According to Amazon, ordering online has about half the carbon footprint of driving to the store. For an added carbon savings, we select not having it delivered in 24 hours and Amazon uses a shipping method that saves a little more on carbon emissions.
Now, instead of reading about the hurricane in New Orleans, the forest fires in California, or, yes, the Tornado in Texas, and thinking “We wish there were something we could do”, we know we are already doing it. This will not solve the climate crisis, but it will buy us time to do the other things we need to do. And it can be done today. We only wish everyone realized how easy it is, and how much better our lives have become.