The President made headlines today by offering to cut US carbon emissions by 28% over the next decade. This sounds like a huge sacrifice, but it amounts to only 2.8% per year. If we meet this modest goal, we'd still be consuming twice as much energy per capita than most Europeans, and nearly ten as much as the Chinese! See http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/average-household-electricity-consumption.
I know from personal experience that we Americans can do a whole lot better without sacrificing our middle class life style, if we are willing to make the initial investment.
According to this chart, Jill and I were consuming around half as much electricity as the typical American home (5500 kwh), but we decided to do a lot better. During the past year, we invested in greening our home by purchasing solar panels, a gray water system, a Chevy Volt, and water-wise landscaping. It hasn't been cheap, but it hasn't been prohibitively expensive either. We'll pay off most of our investment in less than ten years and then start generating income from our green initiatives.
Our solar panels generate 5500 kw hours of electricity per year, which covers 90-100% of our need. It cost us $11,000 with rebates but will pay for itself in around 8 years if electricity rates continue to rise at 4% per year. We expect that the system will generate $2000+ year in "profits" after the pay-off period--which is a good return on investment. (The system is guaranteed for 20 years and will probably continue to function for 30 years or more.) With this system, our home energy use will be that of a typical person living in India or China.
Our Chevy Volt is a plug-in hybrid that will reduce our gas consumption by around 75%. It cost about the same as a comparable used car--around $22,000 with 24 k. It drives beautifully and we don't feel we have sacrificed comfort for fuel efficiency.
We hired a landscaper to remove our turf (and received $2 per sq ft from the city). We also installed gray water system recycles 10,000 gallons of water per year. We are hoping this system will reduce our water use by 40%. Turf removal and landscaping cost us around $4500, but nearly half of that cost will be reimbursed by the city and we'll save $1000 per year in gardening and water bills. Our new water-wise yard looks beautiful and supports fruit trees as well as vegetables. This shows you don't have to sacrifice beauty or comfort or homegrown food in order to be kind to our planet!
Being vegetarian reduces our food carbon footprint from two tons to one ton per year. And we enjoy our fruit and vegetable diet. It's fun to experiment with new recipes. like grilling veggies on the barbie!
Many of these green initiatives were possible in part because of good policy--city and federal rebates that made these investments more attractive financially. If the government subsidized green energy as much as it subsidizes fossil fuel, Americans could easily reduce their energy consumption by 80% in the next decade, and set an example for the rest of the world! This isn't unrealistic. Europeans already consume half as much energy per capita as Americans, and live a lifestyle comparable to our own. We need to pressure our legislators to get serious about addressing climate change. Scientists are telling us we need to reduce our carbon footprint by 80%, and we know it can be done. We've already done it!
What motivates Jill and me to green our lives? As the statement below explains, we are doing our best to put into practice Jesus' gospel of love--love for our neighbor, love for God's creation, love for life. We hope this love is contagious. We know this kind of love is needed to save our world.