by Abby Czeskleba
These days, it’s difficult to turn on the television without hearing a story about the adverse effects of global warming. Of course, newspapers are no exception. We read new studies and findings about global warming all the time. Meteorologists even use global warming to explain strange seasonal weather patterns. While there’s more than one theory about the cause of global warming, a majority will agree that it is caused by our carbon dioxide emissions. With the whole human race to blame, it’s hard to understand how we as individuals contribute to this problem on a daily basis. If we don’t understand our contribution to global warming, how are we ever going to change? Becoming more aware of the problem will help us all to cut down on the amount of carbon dioxide emissions and teach us how to conserve energy.
America: Leading the Way
Since 1980, residential housing nationwide has increased by 78.6 billion square feet or 2,820 square miles — an area almost three times the size of Rhode Island. A typical American house is an energy guzzler that produces a surprising amount of greenhouse gas. In the last 25 years, the average size of a single-family house — and consequently the amount of space that must be heated, cooled, and lit — has increased from 1,740 square feet to 2,330 square feet. As of 2005, the United States was the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide makes up more than 80 percent of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The United States now adds 21 percent more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually than in 1990, almost all of it from fossil fuels. Additionally, TVs, computers, stereos, and other electronic devices account for roughly ten percent of all residential electricity in the United States. Sixty percent of that electricity is consumed while the devices are not in use. That amounts to more than 56 million tons of CO2 emitted annually.
You Do the Math
Generating a kilowatt-hour of electricity in the United States (about what an iron uses in an hour) produces 1.64 pounds of carbon dioxide. So the typical household uses enough electricity to add more than 2,000 pounds a month of CO2 to the atmosphere. Most household appliances, except for stoves and dryers, don’t have exhaust pipes. Power plants produce a steady stream of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. For example, a standard refrigerator uses roughly 1,239 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. As a result, 2,032 pounds of carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere. Experts on greenhouse-gas emissions say that every time your car burns a gallon of gasoline, you are putting more than 25 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as well as a smaller amount of methane, nitrous oxide, and various other toxic gases. A single gallon of gasoline weighs only about 6 pounds. Additionally, a new SUV is typically driven 15,000 miles the first year, burns 882 gallons of gas, and produces 22,050 pounds of CO2; whereas a typical midsize car is driven 12,000 miles annually, burns 494 gallons of gas, and produces 12,350 pounds of CO2 .
Solutions for a Better Tomorrow
The good news is that roughly 33 percent of the American production of all greenhouse gases, or the equivalent of 17,422 pounds of CO2 per person, comes from sources under our direct control — for instance, our cars and houses. Cutting that number by half may not entail much pain or inconvenience because we have a tendency to be wasteful with our energy.
There are a number of simple steps we can take to decrease the amount of CO2 we use on a daily basis. The next time you have a barbecue, cook your burgers with propane gas — you’ll only use 5.6 pounds of CO2 per hour as opposed to 11 pounds of CO2 with charcoal briquettes. You can also ask your energy company about switching to a supplier that uses electricity from windmills, small hydroelectric plants, and methane landfills. This small step can remove close to 20,000 pounds of your family’s annual pollution. If you can’t switch your energy supplier, you can add insulation to your house to help cut down on heating and air conditioning bills.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions for the Average U.S. Household
Figures are based on national averages for a 2,000- to 2,500-square-foot house.
• 54,900 ft3 of natural gas
• 6,643 lbs of CO2
Lighting and Appliances:
• 8,998 kilowatt-hours of electricity
• 14, 757 lbs of CO2
• 2,785 kilowatt-hours of electricity
• 4,566 lbs of CO2
• 19,700 ft3 of natural gas
• 2,384 lbs of CO2
Source: U. S. Department of Energy, 2001 Residential
Other fun ways to save energy include replacing parts of your lawn with ground cover to decrease the amount of mowing. While mowing the lawn is a great workout, lawn mowers (especially power mowers) produce more carbon dioxide per mile than any car. At work, you can decrease your energy use by using a flat-screen computer monitor. Flat-screens use 50 to 70 percent less energy than older models.
CO2 Emissions & Household Appliances (pounds of CO2 emitted per year):
Television: 196-525 (depending on size of TV)
VCR/DVD player: 90-115
Cell phone: 15
Landline phone: 43
Ceiling fan: 82
Radio/CD player: 74
Perhaps one of the easiest solutions is to install a dozen compact fluorescent light bulbs around your house. This quick and easy step can eliminate 550 pounds of CO2 each year. Perhaps more importantly, the light bulbs would pay back their cost after using them for just three months. The government estimates that if every American home replaced just one light bulb with a florescent light bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars. As a means of encouraging people to use more energy efficient lighting, Energy Star is offering coupons for discounts on florescent light bulbs. For more information, visit www.energystar.gov and click on “Take the Energy Star Change a Light Pledge.”
Finally, you can help decrease the level of CO2 emissions by driving a hybrid or “green” car. Such environmentally friendly cars include the Honda: Insight, Civic Hybrid, Toyota: Prius, Scion XA, Echo, and VW Jetta Diesel. For more information about hybrid cars, visit www.greenercars.com for comparison information about different car models.
Regardless of whether you change one light bulb or buy a new car, the important part is that you are making a conscious decision to help the environment and shrink your CO2 footprint.