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How to Get Carbon-Free in 10 Years

Climate
Michael Melford / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

By Brooke Jarvis and Doug Pibel

This story from the YES! Media archives was originally published in the Spring 2008 issue of YES! Magazine.

The Joneses are your average U.S. energy consumers. They haven't yet upgraded to energy-efficient appliances, their house needs better insulation, and they keep the place as cool in the summer and warm in the winter as most Americans do. The two adults commute 30 miles each per day, in separate cars with average fuel efficiency, and every year they each drive an added 4,500 miles running errands and taking their child to soccer games and violin practice. The family takes one vacation trip per year, flying to visit grandparents 1,350 miles away. How much CO2 do their house and cars produce? We figure it at 60,000 pounds, or 10 tons for each family member.


Lately, though, the Joneses have been reading about climate change, and they're getting worried. Ecological crisis has never felt so urgent before. Even little Joey Jones is talking greenhouse gases—he learned at school that scientists are predicting a worldwide climate catastrophe that will change the rest of his life, unless we stop the worst effects by making big changes in the next 10 years. The Joneses decide that change is necessary, and they're ready to do their part. But how much can they really do? A lot, it turns out.

In 10 years, without sacrificing their way of life, the Jones family can eliminate the CO2 emissions that their home and transportation used to create—the bulk of their carbon footprint.

Sources: Rocky Mountain Institute, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, University of Chicago.

Count Your Carbon

Want to keep up with the Joneses? Here are the numbers we used. Use them to find—then shrink—your own carbon footprint.

The Rest of the Story

The Joneses only changed their housing and transport habits. How can you go further?

Eat meatless. For each day of the week you skip meat, you'll save 215 pounds per year.

Buy local. Most food eaten in the U.S. has traveled 1,500 miles to your plate.

Be a low-impact consumer. Choose local products, reduce the stuff you buy, and save embedded energy by buying used.

Reduce waste. Stop junk mail, reduce packaging, and reduce the 2,020 pounds each American's waste produces annually.

Avoid the McMansion. A smaller house saves a lot of carbon: on average, 11.4 pounds of CO2 per square foot per year.

Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.

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