What can I do to help reduce global warming?

January 23, 2014

Because most human-produced heat-trapping gases come from burning fossil fuels, there is great potential for the collective actions of many individuals worldwide to reduce global warming by making changes in their daily and annual activities that produce heat-trapping gases and aerosols. Specifically, people can consider making the following choices in their personal lives:

  • reduce household energy use through use of energy efficient appliances and heating and air conditioning systems;
  • increase investments in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power systems;
  • avoid unnecessary household energy use through lighting and temperature control options as well as the use of power strips with switches enabling people to turn off always-on "vampire" appliances (i.e., computers and cable TV boxes); and
  • limit travel distances in conventional automobiles and aircraft while choosing energy-efficient mass transportation options, such as trains and buses, where possible.

Passenger rail

Thanks to low friction between train wheels and tracks, low grades, and gradual turns, trains have high energy efficiency. Photo from National Park Service Amtrak Trails and Rails.

Making the best choices to reduce emissions requires accurate and quantitative information about how our different lifestyles cause emissions. Examples of direct emissions are energy use in households, automobiles, and air travel. Indirect emissions result from production and distribution of goods used in household and businesses. More guidance on courses of action can be found in the National Academy of Sciences' 2010 report, titled Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change.

As addressed in previous questions, stabilizing global temperature at its current level requires eliminating all emissions of heat-trapping gases or, equivalently, achieving a carbon-neutral society in which people remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as they emit. Achieving this goal will require substantial societal changes in energy technologies and infrastructure that go far beyond the collective actions of individuals and households to reduce emissions.