Naturalist David Attenborough has called climate change “the biggest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced.” Fortunately, while some consequences of climate change, such as rising seas and coasting flooding, are irreversible, it’s not all bad news. According to NASA, “it may not be too late to avoid or limit some of the worst effects of climate change.” However, it’ll take a good amount of effort from governments and individuals alike.
It may not feel like you can fix climate change by yourself, but reducing your personal carbon footprint is a good place to start. Below, we’ll cover a few changes you can make in each major area of your life — transit, home life, food, and clothing — to do so.
Out of all the air pollution solutions we’ll cover in this article, rethinking how you travel may be the most impactful.
- According to the American Public Transportation Agency, “the private vehicle is the largest contributor to a household’s carbon footprint.” As such, one of the biggest things you can do to reduce air pollution is to drive less. In fact, you can reduce your carbon footprint by 17% just by reducing your driving by 2,000 miles per year.
- For short trips, walking or biking are great eco-friendly options. For longer trips, switching to public transportation might be more practical. The APTA notes that “a single person, commuting alone by car, who switches a 20-mile round trip commute to existing public transportation, can reduce his or her annual CO2 emissions by 4,800 pounds per year, equal to a 10% reduction in all greenhouse gases produced by a typical two-adult, two-car household. By eliminating one car and taking public transportation instead of driving, a savings of up to 30% of carbon dioxide emissions can be realized.”
- If you can’t go completely carless, there’s another thing you can do: drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, such as a hybrid or electric car. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, even when accounting for the electricity used to charge these vehicles, they still usually have a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline cars because they typically produce less tailpipe emissions.
- Finally, flying less can also dramatically reduce your carbon footprint. While you probably don’t fly as much as you drive, the BBC says that “mile for mile, flying is the most damaging way to travel for the climate.”
Again, you don’t have to cut all flights out of your life to help the environment. As one round-trip flight between California and New York can generate around 20% of the greenhouse gasses your car emits in a year, even cutting one flight can make a big difference. And if that’s not doable, you can also make other changes, such as flying nonstop, flying when it’s cooler, flying coach, and supporting airlines that use more efficient fuel.
Being mindful of the food you eat — and how you shop for it — can also reduce your carbon footprint. Some of the most impactful food-related changes you can make include:
- Eating less meat. According to Green America, a recent study found that “each meat-eater is responsible for 1.5 more tons of greenhouse gases than a vegan per year.” But you don’t have to go cold turkey (pun intended) to make a difference — even cutting back on your meat consumption, switching to poultry instead of red meat, or eating animals lower on the food chain, such as mackerel, can help.
- Eating locally. Did you know food travels an average of 1500 miles to get from the farm to your plate? Eating seasonal, local food can help limit your “food miles” and reduce the carbon footprint of your food by up to 7%.
- Avoiding plastic whenever possible. Around 4% of the world’s petroleum is used to produce plastic. Instead of buying flimsy plastic bags from the grocery store that you’ll likely throw out after one use, try switching to reusable shopping bags. Also, avoid plastic tableware and products with excessive plastic packaging whenever you can, and recycle the plastic if the label says it’s recyclable.
- Only buying what you need. Food waste is a huge problem, with Americans wasting 40% of the food they buy on average. Wasting less food can reduce methane emissions from landfills and help conserve energy and resources, both of which can lower your carbon footprint. A few things you can do to lower your food waste include making (and sticking to) a list when you go grocery shopping, avoiding bulk purchases you wouldn’t be able to finish before they spoil, and reusing or freezing leftovers.
According to a recent study, energy use in homes accounts for around 20% of US greenhouse gas emissions. There are two main ways you can go about lowering your energy consumption:
- Using less energy: This includes tactics such as turning off lights when you leave a room, unplugging electrical devices you rarely use, and turning down the heat.
- Making your home more efficient: This strategy often requires an upfront cost but can pay off in the long run. Some ideas include sealing windows, switching to LED lights, replacing old appliances, and planting greenery around your house.
- Another easy way to reduce your carbon footprint in your home life? Recycling. As the National Institutes of Health explains, “Recycling saves non-renewable resources. For example, by not recycling paper, 80% more wood will need to be harvested… to meet growing paper consumption demands. However, through active paper recycling, only 20% more wood will need to be harvested.”
But paper isn’t the only thing you can recycle. Many communities make it easy to recycle everything from batteries to beverage containers, electronics, plastic, organic material, and more. However, the EPA found that in 2018, paper recycling reduced the largest portion of municipal solid waste — 46 million tons — which is roughly equivalent to removing over 33 million vehicles from the road for a year!
- The fashion industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, as it takes tons of energy to produce, manufacture, and transport garments. In fact, it takes around 713 gallons (2,700 liters) of water just to produce a simple cotton t-shirt.
- One of the most helpful changes you can make clothing-wise is to buy used clothing from thrift stores or online platforms such as thredUP. By buying secondhand, you can give clothes another life and divert them from the landfill, where they’d take a long time to deteriorate. Additionally, it can help reduce the clothing industry’s overall emissions, as the fewer new clothes people buy, the fewer clothes they need to make.
- If you’re uncomfortable wearing someone else’s clothes, you can also support apparel companies that prioritize sustainability and choose fabrics that have a lower environmental impact, such as wool.
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is to drive less. But helping fight climate change isn’t the only benefit of cutting back on miles. In addition to saving money on gas, driving less can also lower your car insurance bill if you switch to a pay-per-mile model with Metromile. In fact, our customers save an average of 47% compared to what they were paying their previous auto insurance provider. Get a free quote to see how much you could save — while saving the planet — today.
*Average annual car insurance savings by new customers surveyed who saved with Metromile in 2018.