In Search of the Magic Bullet

“We’d be fine if only everyone would … [fill in the blank].”

“…quit having kids.”
“…stop eating meat.”
“…eliminate air travel.”

The truth is, there is no magic bullet. If there were a quick and easy solution, people and industries would’ve jumped on it. The flipside of the “no magic bullet” is that there are multiple areas that offer significant opportunities to reduce our footprint. And, a couple of those areas are extra large.

The two big areas, according to my research, are transportation and electricity.

Both the EPA and the Sierra Club report that the transportation sector generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the USA, over 28.5% according to EPA. (Another EPA webpage says transportation’s share is just 26% — illustrating the difficulty of getting a definitively accurate grasp of the breakdown. Still, the fact remains that transportation contributes a large share to our collective footprint.)

Electricity is up there at 28.4%.

So, if you want to reduce your footprint, transportation and electricity are two really good areas to start.

But, if you feel moved to tackle your footprint from another angle altogether — such as reducing your food footprint, or your household waste volume, or your lawn square footage — don’t think your contribution won’t matter. After all, electricity and fossil-fueled transportation are built into just about all human activities nowadays. And, agriculture does have a sizable share of the footprint.

The EPA offers these figures by economic sector for the USA:

Transportation 28%
Electricity 28%
Industry 22%
Agriculture 9%
Commercial 6%
Residential 5%

In this article How Much Does Animal Agriculture and Eating Meat Contribute to Global Warming?, Skeptical Science includes a World Greenhouse Gas Emissions Flow Chart from the World Resources Institute.

This chart makes clear that another huge contributor to our footprint is deforestation. According to the chart, “land use change” accounts for over 18 percent of our footprint worldwide, and pretty much all of that is deforestation. Anything you and I can do to plant more trees, and leave existing trees in place, will help. The same goes for allowing prairies and meadows to remain in place, or grow back.

Speaking of agriculture, and deforestation, lawns are the largest irrigated crop in the USA, and there may be more acres of lawn in the USA than of the EIGHT next-largest irrigated crops combined!

I know I’m always harping on lawns, and those of you who love your manicured patch of green might think I’m out to spoil your fun, but the fact is that the manicured lawn generates significantly more CO2 than it absorbs. Even if you love your lawn, consider letting it grow longer between cuttings. Also, leave the clippings on the lawn, and stop using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Also, consider turning part of all of your yard into meadow or forest. (If you’ve got a dictatorial HOA that forbids such practices, consider moving. Or better yet, get on the board of your HOA and shape a saner policy for the future, for your kids and grandkids.)

Long story short, there is no magic bullet, but don’t let that stop you. There are plenty of low-hanging fruit for footprint reduction. Choose the ones that are easiest for you, and/or closest to your heart, and have at it!

P.S. In regard to population control, I’m not going to deny the importance of thoughtful family planning. But whenever I hear someone say the best thing that could possibly happen to the world would be for the human race to go extinct, I’m always tempted to respond, “Mmmmkay … You go first!”