She hangs her laundry out to dry, all year around. She also drives a smaller car than she used to. And she reuses bags and containers. These are recent changes Seattle mom Nikki Wolf and her family of three have made in response to a popular movement to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. What else motivated them?
“I don’t know if it’s a cliché at this point, but it was Al Gore’s movie and the polar bears,” Wolf says. She’s referring to the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, in which former U.S. Vice President Al Gore elucidates data and predictions regarding climate change.
Gore’s film echoes what many scientists are saying: that humans need to reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 80 percent by 2050 to stave off the worst effects of global warming. Hearing this can be overwhelming. In answer, Wolf advises taking small steps. “If you can do one thing at a time, it’s less overwhelming and easier to remember,” she says.
Lower your family’s CO2 emissions, one step at a time
In 2003, the U.S. was responsible for roughly a quarter of worldwide CO2 emissions, ranking us as the number-one CO2-emitting country in the world. Your family can help change this, starting with household living.
The average two-person household emits about 41,500 pounds of CO2 per year. The three main sources are electricity use, heating and waste. To cut back many hundreds — or even thousands — of pounds of emissions per year:
• Change incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs: Saves 100 lbs. of CO2 per year, per each 60-watt bulb you replace with a 15-watt CFL.
• Turn off your computer at night: Saves 500 lbs./year.
• Lower your thermostat by two degrees in winter: Saves 353 lbs./year.
• Avoid heavily packaged products: Saves 120 lbs. per 1 percent reduction in garbage.
• Install a low-flow shower head: Saves 350 lbs./year.
• Turn down your water heater: Saves 500 lbs./year for each 10-degree adjustment.
• Use a low-energy, low-water-use laundry-washing machine: Saves 440 lbs./year.
• Wash clothes in cold water, not hot: Saves 500 lbs./year at two loads a week.
• Recycle all of your home’s waste newsprint, cardboard, glass and metal: Saves 850 lbs./year.
• Wrap your water heater in an insulating jacket: Saves as much as 1,000 lbs./year.
• Caulk and weather-strip around doors and windows: Saves as much as 1,000 lbs./year.
• Insulate your home and tune up your furnace: Saves about 2,480 lbs./year.
• Change your furnace filter regularly: Saves as much as 350 lbs./year.
• Eat less beef: Saves 330 lbs. CO2 per quarter-pound burger you forgo every week.
• Use a human-powered lawn mower: Saves 50 lbs./year.
• Line-dry your laundry: Saves 390 lbs./summer.
• Install a solar water heater system: Saves 720 lbs./year.
• Ask your utility company for a home-energy audit to pinpoint problems. Can save thousands of lbs./year.
• Invest in green energy. Visit the Bonneville Environmental Foundation at
• Shop locally and look for locally produced food and goods.
• Teach your children about what you’re doing and why.
In the U.S., transportation accounts for approximately one-third of greenhouse gas emissions and is the fastest-growing major source of greenhouse gases. To reduce emissions from vehicles:
• Bike, walk, bus or carpool: Saves 1 lb. of CO2/mile; two times per week saves 1,590 lbs./year.
• Drive less. Consolidate trips (errands and kid shuttling, for example).
• Drive a fuel-efficient car (32 miles per gallon or more) — or buy a hybrid to get as much as 50-70 miles per gallon: Saves 5,600 lbs./year.
• Use a renewable fuel like E-85 (85 percent renewable ethanol, 15 percent gasoline).
By taking all the measures listed above, your family can cut CO2 emissions by more than 15,000 pounds per year.
Nurture the proactive child
Share these tips with your child to help them get involved:
• Read. Learn about the environment and talk with others about it. Share what you learn about climate change.
• Save electricity. Turn off lights, televisions and computers when they’re not in use.
• Bike, bus and walk when you can. Talk to school administrators about transportation alternatives.
• Recycle cans, bottles, plastic bags and newspapers. Save natural resources and the energy it takes to manufacture more.
• Plant trees. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air.
• Plant a garden. Experience the energy efficiency of growing and harvesting your own food.
To Wolf, living sensibly and reducing carbon emissions go hand in hand. It’s what she calls “living consciously” — and what she wants to pass on to her daughter, Piper, 3. “I want this stuff to be ingrained in her, so it’s her way of life.”
Natasha Petroff is a Snohomish-based mother, stepmother, writer and editor. She takes great hope from her husband, Greg, who believes in the power of children to enact change: “They’re the first generation to come into the world doing things differently from the start,” he says.
Climate Solutions: Practical Solutions to Global Warming
ParentMap, June 2007: How to talk about climate change with kids