Seven ways to reduce your carbon emissions

Want to save gasoline, lower your power bills and help save the environment? New Vanderbilt research identifies seven simple actions individuals can start today that have the potential to dramatically reduce energy use and carbon emissions.

Individuals generate up to 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Vanderbilt environmental law professor and director of the Climate Change Research Network, Michael Vandenbergh, along with CCRN associate directors Jack Barkenbus and Jonathan Gilligan found that following these seven “low hanging fruit” actions have the potential to achieve large reductions at less than half the cost of the leading current federal legislation and could generate roughly 150 million tons in emissions reductions and billions of dollars in net social savings.

“Put another way, these savings are the equivalent of removing 26 million automobiles form the road or eliminating the need for 54 large power plants,” said Vandenbergh.

The researchers identified almost three dozen actions that are easy to do and relatively inexpensive. But they highlight seven in their study that could have the biggest impact. The top actions include:

  1. Reduce idling. Research finds up to 8 percent of gas is wasted while idling. Shutting the engine off while sitting in a carpool lane or parking lot will reduce fuel consumption, reduce wear-and-tear on the engine, improve fuel economy, improve the performance of the catalytic converter and reduce emissions.
  2. Inflate your tires properly. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that vehicle gas mileage improves an average of 3.3 percent with regularly inflated tires. A two-car family could save about $120 per year by keeping tires at the proper inflation.
  3. Change the air filter in your car. Replacing a dirty air filter can improve gas mileage, lengthen engine life and result in substantial CO2 emissions savings. Gas savings alone from changing an air filter every 15,000 miles equals about $240 per year. The study shows that if an additional one-fourth of all vehicles have their filters changed on an annual basis, 19 to 27 million tons of CO2 will be saved.
  4. Reduce electricity “leakage." Stand-by power, which is the power electronics use when they’re not in use but still plugged in, costs the average household $48 to $67 per year. Some large-screen TV’s can use as much power in standby mode as a refrigerator.
  5. Adjust your thermostat with the seasons. Heat and cooling is the largest component of household CO2 emissions, so small changes can produce big results. Research suggests adjusting your air conditioning and heat by two degrees up or down reduces emissions without creating discomfort.
  6. Reduce the temperature of your hot water. Most water heaters are automatically set at 20 degrees Farenheit hotter than people need. CO2 emissions vary between electric and natural gas water heaters, but a rule of thumb is that a setback of 20 degrees F could reduce CO2 emissions as much as 1,466 pounds per year and save the average homeowner about $20 to $40 a year.
  7. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. Household lighting is responsible for up to 160 million tons of CO2 emissions per year. Incandescent light bulbs (IL) convert only 5 percent of their input power to visible light and they have a much shorter lifespan than compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL). Thus, replacing ILs with CFLs has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by roughly 50 to 120 million tons per year and save consumers money.

Read the full study by Michael Vandenbergh, Professor of Law; Jack Barkenbus, Research Fellow, Vanderbilt Center for Environmental Studies, and Jonathan Gilligan, Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Vanderbilt University

Read a Vanderbilt Lawyer article about Professor Michael Vandenbergh and the Climate Change Research Network

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