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  • Writer's pictureJames Anderson

WHAT CAN WE DO NOW? – making significant progress on climate change is not as hard as we think, even

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

Does everyone realize that per capital CO2 emissions in the US have decreased from 22.2 tons in 1973 to 14.2 tons per year in 2020 (Ritchie and Roser, 2020, )? That’s about a 40 percent decrease in 47 years. Meanwhile GDP has increased by about 15x from $1.4 trillion in 1973 to about $21 trillion in 2020. This reduction in CO2 isn’t nearly enough to forestall the worst impacts of climate change. We need to do much more, much faster. However, we can clearly say that reducing emissions and being more sustainable are not goals that are counter to economic growth and prosperity. Can we flip the script to say that making progress on climate change – reducing emissions and improving sustainability – isn’t that hard? It’s clear we are making progress There are lots of things that all of us can do.

This was the topic of a neighborhood book talk last week organized by my friendly neighbor and all-around awesome human, Jim Connolly ( It was a great gathering and we talked a little about the book, but most importantly, we just thought about what we could do as individuals, within our neighborhood and within our community to reduce GHG emissions. I think it was surprising to many to realize that simple actions as individuals could significantly reduce our GHG footprint, perhaps by about half. Further, through a variety of means, we could offset the rest of our emissions and take steps to improve the environment in our neighborhood. Without going into the full discussion here was the upshot.

We can each take these steps.

  1. Subscribe to a green power provider - takes 30 minutes

  2. Electricity your personal infrastructure - water heater, furnace, stove, car – as they reach the end of their life or require maintenance.

  3. Plant shade trees - takes a couple of days

  4. Protect nature - a contribution to an appropriate organization takes minutes

  5. Offset your carbon footprint - takes a few minutes

Items 1, 3, 4 and 5 are easy to do and can be done in minutes or days. Item 2 can be done as these things need to be replaced.

There is some detail behind each one of these, but for many Americans these things are relatively easy to accomplish. Picking the best green power program takes a little research (I’m happy to help). Deciding the right carbon offset to subscribe to can seem murky and calculating your personal carbon footprint is ridiculous but taking even a small action is progress. Yes, there are other things we can do as well. Our group came up with a long list – stop using plastic bottled water, eat less meat and dairy, travel less, bike more… - all these are good things also. They all make a positive impact.

The bottom line is that these things are not hard to do. They are feasible at scale with little additional cost for many of us. These individual actions can reduce our personal emissions by approximately half and the rest would be offset with emissions reductions and carbon sequestration (predominantly nature-based solutions). So, our 14 tons per year would be closer to 7, and with other actions we could reduce this further and sequester even more.

This would further accelerate our path to zero emissions and beyond to a more sustainable and stable world. As the world’s second largest emitter, this would be an example for all.

**Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2020) - "CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions". Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource]

P.S. I love Our World in Data…

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