Thermographic photography offers clues to where energy is being wasted in this older house in Connecticut. Red and yellow patches indicate escaping heat, while new double-pane windows appear cool blue. By sealing in warmth, the windows cut heating costs, which can account for up to half a family's energy bill.
Not long ago, my wife, PJ, and I tried a new diet—not to lose a little weight but to answer a nagging question about climate change. Scientists have reported recently that the world is heating up even faster than predicted only a few years ago, and that the consequences could be severe if we don't keep reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are trapping heat in our atmosphere. But what can we do about it as individuals? And as emissions from China, India, and other developing nations skyrocket, will our efforts really make any difference?
We decided to try an experiment. For one month we tracked our personal emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) as if we were counting calories. We wanted to see how much we could cut back, so we put ourselves on a strict diet. The average U.S. household produces about 150 pounds of CO2 a day by doing commonplace things like turning on air-conditioning or driving cars. That's more than twice the European average and almost five times the global average, mostly because Americans drive more and have bigger houses. But how much should we try to reduce?
For an answer, I checked with Tim Flannery, author of The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth. In his book, he'd challenged readers to make deep cuts in personal emissions to keep the world from reaching critical tipping points, such as the melting of the ice sheets in Greenland or West Antarctica. "To stay below that threshold, we need to reduce CO2 emissions by 80 percent," he said.