Most of the time when people talk about climate change, the subject is really air pollution. Air pollution comes in various forms from things like particulate matter ending up in the air we breath to the emission of green houses gases, most notably carbon dioxide.
This biggest source of air pollution is burning stuff, particularly burning fossil fuels.
What are fossil fuels? Fossils fuels are energy substances which are essentially made up of long since decomposed living matter, i.e. it's essentially the fossils of swamps and forests of long ago. In other words, plants which sequestered a bunch of carbon decomposed beneath the earth, still containing their carbon, turning into things like coal, when we burn them we release this long sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere, along with other pollutants like ash.
There are a host of other concerns beyond climate change or global warming which can be discussed when we talk about air pollutions such as effects on human health like asthma or other environmental concerns like acid rain, but these all come back to one truth, we and all living things need clean air.
So what actions can we take as individuals who need clean air?
The key piece here is the burning of fossil fuels. These are primarily used to generate energy to do things like turn on the lights, heat your home, drive your car, or mow your lawn. The simplest solution is to reduce our use of these things. Here are some suggestions:
- Make sure your home is properly insulated; this includes insulation itself as well as eliminating things like drafts around windows.
- Adjust your thermostat a few degrees (cooler in the winter, warmer in the summer); appliances like the condenser for your air conditioner are power hogs. Additionally consider how many months of the year, you can go without using heating or cooling to control the temperature of your home.
- Use Energy Star appliances, refrigerators, washers, hot water heaters, frankly most major appliances have become better about using less energy.
- Reduce how much gas you use; this may mean driving less, driving more fuel efficient cars, using public transportation when available, replacing your lawn mower or trimmer with a manually powered or rechargeable.
The above list are fairly simple things that can be done, but large scale solutions like adding solar panels to your house or using a geo thermal pump for temperature control are also options.
Your carbon foot print can also be offset by making different choices about the food you eat. Take for example the carbon footprint of beef. Grain is seeded, tended to and harvested by machines burning diesel, then driven to a grain elevator or processing plant, energy is spent turning the grain into feed which is delivered (still burning fossils fuels) to the cows. The cows are eventually loaded onto trucks and driven to be slaughtered. The production of meat has a large carbon footprint. Fruits and vegetables which are transported long distances such as out of season strawberries which may be grown in distant places like Peru have a bigger carbon footprint than if you only purchase them in season and / or from local producers. If we consume less meat and fewer out of season produce items then we can reduce our own carbon footprints.
Lastly as mentioned earlier, the fossil fuels are largely comprised of decomposed plant matter which had (prior to being burned) sequestered carbon. This is a major function of plant life. Turf grass doesn't sequester much carbon. In order for your yard to help reduce your carbon footprint, you need to plant trees; they sequester the most carbon. Even native grasses which are taller and have deeper roots will sequester more carbon than turf grass but the real winners here are the trees.
To wrap this topic; here are some things you can do: be more efficient with energy usage at home, burn less gas, invest in clean energy technology for your home or car, be mindful of your food's carbon footprint, and offset your own by planting trees. Even if there isn't political will to encourage this things along the way, remember the "Power is yours"; it all starts at home.