Think Green

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How you can reduce greenhouse gas emissions

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Earth's average temperature has risen by 1.4 F over the past century, with projections for the next 100 years expected to dwarf that increase. The global rise in temperature has contributed to changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts, intense rain, and more frequent and severe heat waves.

Though the issue of climate change continues to inspire debate, there's no debating that human behaviors have had a significant impact on the global climate. Greenhouse gases, or GHGs, are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, and many human activities release these gases into the atmosphere. Once released, GHGs trap energy in the atmosphere and cause it to warm, a natural process that is necessary to support life on Earth. But when these gases build up in excess, the planet's climate changes, and the effects on both the ecosystem and human health can be dangerous.

While some might feel helpless against climate change, there are steps men and women can take to reverse changes. Reducing GHG emissions is both easy and wide-reaching.

* Buy ENERGY STAR(R) products. Established by the EPA in 1992, the ENERGY STAR program was instituted to encourage manufacturers to produce more energy efficient products and to incentivize purchasing such products for consumers. Nowadays, more than 20 years after the program's inception, ENERGY STAR labels can be found on appliances, electronics, lighting, and heating and cooling systems. Products that have earned the now-familiar labels can dramatically reduce GHG emissions and can save consumers substantial amounts of money on energy bills over the life of the products.

* Audit your heating and cooling systems and practices. Homeowners and even renters know that the costs of heating and cooling their homes and apartments can be significant. The coldest and warmest months of the year tend to produce the highest energy bills, but there is much men and women can do to reduce such costs and decrease GHG emissions at the same time. Routinely inspect air filters on heating and cooling products, as dirty filters force the systems to work harder to heat and cool a home. When the system has to work harder, energy bills and GHG emissions increase. Men and women also can start using a programmable thermostat so they aren't paying to heat or cool their homes while no one is home. This also means HVAC systems won't be emitting GHGs while the house is empty. For those still using older heating and cooling systems, consider replacing them with an ENERGY STAR-qualified system that won't produce as much GHG emissions and might even make homeowners eligible for certain tax credits.

* Conserve water. Even the way we use water can be inefficient and produce GHG emissions. Three percent of all energy used in the United States is used to pump and treat water, and such processes produce GHG emissions. Placing a greater emphasis on conserving water around the house is an easy and effective way to reduce GHGs. Turning faucets off when shaving or brushing your teeth can substantially reduce how much water a household consumes, and such measures are effortless. In addition, inspect toilets around the home for any leaks, as the EPA notes that a single leaky toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water per day. Another easy way to conserve water and reduce GHG emissions is to run the dishwasher only when it's full. Doing so can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 100 pounds per year.

* Embrace composting. Homeowners can take steps to reduce GHG emissions outside their homes as well. When cleaning up the yard, whether disposing of grass clippings or raking leaves in the fall, compost such materials instead of packing them up and disposing of them in landfills. When sent to landfills, yard waste contributes to GHG emissions. When composted, such waste is repurposed and fed back into the yard, benefitting the environment as a result.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions may seem like a task best left to scientists and environmentalists. However, there are many easy ways eco-conscious men and women can pitch in to lower GHG emissions and do their part to protect the planet.