The next time some cranky person mocks your reusable grocery bags or belittles your low-flow showerhead—as we even have been known to do—here’s an intriguing little retort, courtesy of Conservation magazine. Turns out small, “personal” environmental actions actually could make a difference.
A group of researchers at Michigan State University crunched the numbers. If Americans took 17 simple steps—environmental changes that involve no major shift in “household well-being”—they could cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent.
“If that doesn’t seem like much, consider that this is equivalent to the total emissions of France,” Conservation’s Robert McClure reports. “It’s also equivalent to the combined emissions of the petroleum-refining, iron-and-steel, and aluminum industries.”
And, even more realistically, in reaching that 7 percent figure, the researchers didn’t assume that everyone could be persuaded to adopt all 17 environmental measures. So, for example, they calculated for an 80 percent low-flow-showerhead adoption, but dropped that number to 15 percent for carpooling.
Additionally, “there’s no evidence that people who take these steps excuse themselves from larger burdens,” McClure writes. “There hasn’t been much empirical data on that question, but existing evidence suggests just the opposite—that as a person begins to feel good about one set of small actions to help the planet, he or she is likely to start considering larger and bolder steps.”
Here’s a link to the report that the Conservation story is about. The researchers broke down actions into categories:
- weatherizing with attic insulation, by sealing drafts, and installing high-efficiency windows, and replacing inefficient HVAC equipment
- adopting more efficient appliances, equipment, and motor vehicles
- changing air filters in HVAC systems, vehicle maintenance
- reducing laundry temps, resetting temps on water heaters
- eliminating standby electricity, thermostat setbacks, line drying, more efficient driving, carpooling, and trip chaining