The Power of One

Fighting Climate Change in Our Daily Lives

By Michael Caduto

From the tropics to the polar regions, climate change is having outsized impacts on environments around the world, so it’s only natural that our thinking focuses on the big solutions that are helping combat this global problem: towering wind turbines, expansive solar arrays, hundreds of thousands of electric cars plying our roads. In fact, if we could catch and convert all of the sun’s energy that touches Earth’s surface during one hour, we could supply the electrical needs for everyone living on our home planet for one full year!

In the midst of our grand carbon-busting projects, which are indeed critical for mitigating climate change, let’s not overlook the fact that there are nearly 8 billion earthlings alive today. Every single positive step that individuals take to cut down on the amount of energy we use, and to generate renewable energy, combines with the actions of others to create a huge impact, both cumulatively and synergistically. For example, there are over 126 million households in the United States. If every home lit just one bulb with solar energy, instead of using the electricity that flows through the power grid, we would save enough electricity to light all of the lightbulbs in 3.5 million households. That’s 14 times the 250,000 households found in all of Vermont! This would have the same climate-change fighting effect as taking 800,000 cars off the road—reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 9 billion pounds each year. 

The US population makes up less than 5% of the people in the world, but we use 25% of all the energy consumed globally, including oil, coal and natural gas. On average, each person living in the U.S. consumes nearly eight times more energy when compared to the average amount of energy used by any given individual from all of the other countries, combined. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there are over 10,000 electrical generating power plants, running 24 hours a day, to satisfy our country’s need for electricity. Half a million miles of power lines are required to feed this electricity to our homes and businesses—enough wires to wrap 20 times around the Equator. 

What to do? Drying our clothes “on line” would wring out some huge energy savings. Washing clothes in cold water and hanging them outdoors to dry uses much less energy and produces one-tenth of the carbon emissions as using a hot-water wash cycle and a traditional clothes dryer. On average, each load of wash done with a conventional wash cycle and clothes dryer uses enough energy to generate about 7 pounds of carbon dioxide. How much carbon dioxide is generated every time all of the households in the U.S. wash and dry one load of clothes? Let’s do the math:

126 million households x 7 pounds (3.2 kg) of carbon dioxide per load = 882 million pounds of carbon dioxide per national load of laundry. (One pound of carbon dioxide has a volume of 8.2 cubic feet, which, aptly, is about the capacity of a supersize clothes dryer.) If every household washed just one load of clothes each week with cold water, and then air-dried those clothes on a clothesline, this would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced for those loads by 90 percent. Nationwide, around 794 million fewer pounds of carbon dioxide would enter the atmosphere. That’s letting a lot of gas out of the carbon bubble.

And while it’s not among the more exciting things we can do to fight climate change, the importance of weatherizing our homes cannot be overstated. One of the major reasons that Vermont’s carbon emissions have risen in recent years, following a period of gradual decline, is an increase in the energy we consume for home heating. Vermont has a large number of aging homes that consume disproportionate amounts of energy because they are poorly insulated and rely on antiquated, inefficient heating systems. What are some of the most effective home energy-saving steps that we can take?

  • apply weather-stripping to keep out drafts, and hold in heat
  • install a programmable thermostat
  • insulate the attic
  • insulate hot water pipes
  • replace old appliances with energy-efficient models
  • seal or replace windows over time
  • install low-flow showerheads to save hot water
  • install energy-efficient heating (such as a heat pump)
  • visit Efficiency Vermont’s website to find out more:

Don’t let the size and scope of this worldwide environmental challenge take the wind out of your sails. Exercise the Power of One and you will have an impact by doing something meaningful in your daily life to fight climate change.  
Do just one thing: Any of the above

Spray-foaming the top few feet inside the basement wall of an old house and wrapping water pipes with foam insulation are two effective means of reducing the energy required to heat interior spaces and hot water. Photo credit: Michael Caduto


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