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Practical ways to reduce CO2 emissions

The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted that to avoid wide-scale global warming would require “a rapid and far-reaching transformation” of human civilization that is unparalleled in history. The Panel offered some hope, noting that if emissions were to stop today, the planet could hold back some temperature increase. However, as of 2018, emissions continue to rise, not fall.

Currently, the United States ranks second (behind China), producing over 5.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and cement. During the summer of 2018 the Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates committed themselves to reduce our carbon footprint by 2 million pounds by June 2019. We saw this as one small step in reducing the carbon footprint on Earth. Moreover, because climate change disproportionately affects the most vulnerable on Earth, we viewed our commitment as a way of reaching out to those most in need of Earth’s healing.

So what are practical ways to reduce our carbon footprint?

One big way is to change our diet. For each day of the week that we eat vegetarian rather than consume meat, we reduce our carbon footprint by 700 lbs. annually. So if we typically eat meat daily and choose instead to eat vegetarian two days each week, we would reduce our carbon footprint by 1400 lbs. annually. If that seems too difficult given other dietary restrictions, merely substituting pork or fish or chicken or eggs in place of beef, may be the single most powerful change we can make, due to the amount of feed that it takes for cattle to produce a pound of beef, and due to the amount of methane that they expel.

Around the house

With the money we save on meat purchases, we can invest it in household improvements that will also help the environment. If we change our shower head to a low-flow mechanism, we save an additional 250 lbs. annually. (Such a shower head costs about $35-50.) For each incandescent light bulb that we change to LED, we save 260 lbs. of CO2. The LED bulbs last much longer, and in recent years, their price has dropped. (A 24 pack of brand name 60W equivalent bulbs can be purchased for less than $40.) Tune up the furnace and save about 300 lbs. of CO2 per year; or insulate the hot water heater for a savings of 175 lbs. of CO2 annually.

There are other personal choices that each of us can make to reduce our footprint. Within our households, for each degree we turn down the thermostat in winter, we save 500 lbs. of CO2 each year. Similarly, for each degree we turn up the thermostat in summer, we save another 500 lbs. of CO2. Reducing our shower time to five minutes saves 300 lbs. of CO2 annually.

Unplug, wash on cold, recycle

We also waste a lot of electricity by leaving our electrical appliances plugged in when they are off. By making a conscious effort to unplug (or turn off with a power strip) TVs, DVDs, CD players, video recorders, computers, and in particular any devices that have a block-shaped transformer on the plug, we can save about 600 lbs. of CO2 annually.

Ready to do laundry? Using cold rather than warm or hot water will save 100 lbs. of CO2 annually for each load switched to cold water. We can also save significant carbon emissions by reducing our use of the clothes dryer. Air drying a load of clothes each week will save 260 lbs. of CO2 per year.

Of course, recycling also has its benefits. If we recycle 100% of household recyclables, we can reduce our carbon emissions by 1,300 lbs. annually. And for every gallon we can reduce our non-recyclable solid waste, we will save 104 lbs. of CO2 each year.

Join us

These are relatively easy and practical ways that each of us can make a significant contribution to reducing carbon emissions and saving planet Earth. Other significant reductions can be made by keeping our cars tuned up and tire pressure maintained (1500 lbs.); reducing our driving by 20 percent (about 2000 lbs. for a car that is driven 15K miles/year and gets about 30 mpg); replacing current appliances with Energy Star appliances (500-600 lbs. per appliance).

We invite you to join with the Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates in our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. Go to ClimateChange.SistersofProvidence.org to read the Providence Climate Agreement and complete your pledge form. Thank you for doing your part in saving our planet Earth!

(Originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp

Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp

Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. She currently serves on the Congregation leadership team. Previously she ministered as a teacher and administrator at the secondary and university levels.

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