The average US adult footprint is 30 tons. About half that is direct and half of that is indirect.

I wish to limit all of my suggestions to:

  • things that add luxury and or money to your life (no sacrifices)
  • things that a million people can do (in an apartment or with land) without being angry at bad guys

Whenever I try to share these things that make a real difference, there's always a handful of people that insist that I'm a monster because BP put the blame on the consumer. And right now BP is laying off 10,000 people due to a drop in petroleum use. This is what I advocate: if we can consider ways to live a more luxuriant life with less petroleum, in time the money is taken away from petroleum.

Let's get to it ...

If you live in Montana, switching from electric heat to a rocket mass heater cuts your carbon footprint by 29 tons. That as much as parking 7 petroleum fueled cars.

35% of your cabon footprint is tied to your food. You can eliminate all of that with a big enough garden.

Switching to an electric car will cut 2 tons.

And the biggest of them all: When you eat an apple put the seeds in your pocket. Plant the seeds when you see a spot. An apple a day could cut your carbon footprint 100 tons per year.

proof: +

I have about 200 more things to share about cutting carbon footprints. Ask me anything!

Comments: 2226 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

jfphenom611 karma

Can I put a rocket mass heater to replace my furnace in a cold-climate 4000 sq ft home? How do I go about swapping it out? What is the up front cost? Do they require any maintenance?

Is it actually feasible for an average consumer to make this change?

paulwheaton119 karma

Excellent questions!

A 4000 square foot home will probably have three rocket mass heaters. Keep your existing heaters and set the thermostats quite low.

Hundreds of thousands of consumers have build their own rocket mass heaters.

altmorty3 karma

I don't know what a rocket mass heater is, but it sounds amazing.

jaleenrabei282 karma

Hey Paul. How do you make recoding carbon foot printing palatable? Most people do think it's fair to care about the environment and whatnot but find it difficult to implement such ideas. How do you reach these kind of public?

paulwheaton302 karma

I think there are people that don't care about carbon footprint stuff. And I think that rather than hitting them with sticks, it is better to appeal to their wallet or to the luxury in their lives. If a person lives in montana and switches from electric heat to a rocket mass heater, they will be warmer and save about $1500 per year. $1500 per year is a pretty strong motivator.

Mysticpoisen162 karma

You've been pushing the rocket mass heater hard in this thread. Can you talk about the benefits of a rocket mass heater over something like a heat pump?

paulwheaton94 karma

I can build a good rocket mass heater for $200 in a weekend. And it will cut my annual heat expenses 99%. A heat pump is gonna cost a few thousand bucks (or more depending on the type) and will cut your annual heat bill by 30% to 65%. Does this help?

anndddiiii9 karma

Are there other location specific suggestions like this one? I live in Milwaukee- urban Wisconsin. Any specific home/appliance switches that makes sense in our climate and locale? Edit: word

paulwheaton17 karma

I think that your heating and cooling needs will be kinda similar to montana. I have to say "montana" because:

  • that's where i live, and

  • now I can use some rock solid math

awsumchris240 karma

Love what your doing, but would the carbon tied up in those theoretical apple trees not just rejoin the carbon chain further down the line when the tree decomposes or is burned?

JZinCO370 karma

Hi. Forest scientist here. And I used to do greenhouse gas accounting.

Proper forest management--e.g. removing trees in overstocked forests can increase avoided emissions from drought/fire/beetles etc.

Planting trees in agroforestry uses can increase soil organic carbon. Thus net carbon over time is actually higher than zero. Plus other benefits.

Last, wood products have a long life span and can lead to net positive carbon sequestered. Support your local timber mill. Some of these products, like black carbon (biochar), are inert and can last many centuries.

paulwheaton83 karma

Can confirm. All true.

paulwheaton107 karma

It absolutely will! Yes! And if we add a trillions trees to the current natural carbon cycle, and keep our tree count up, then that is (roughly) a billion tons!

Frosty-Frown-2332 karma

Hey Paul.

Since I'm guessing you have quite the experience in discussing this with various people. What is some of the main pushback you get from people? Also are there any groups/demographics you find are more open or closed to the ideas of reducing their environmental footprint?

paulwheaton38 karma

Number 1, by far: they already bought the light bulbs so they are all done fixing things. The twisted thing about that is that for most people in the US the "better" light bulbs end up making things only 0.01% better or, more often, worse.

People that are more open to these ideas: I think people keen on organic stuff. Maybe permaculture enthusiasts. But when it comes to people grooving on this stuff, I am often surprised at who is into it and who fights it.

shrey156629 karma

How about your views on carbon footprint in other countries like India? Any specific measures you would like to suggest?

paulwheaton30 karma

I confess that most of my research is in cold climates. More specifically, in the united states. But I am glad to take a shot. What is the carbon footprint, per adult, in India?

TheCottonwood29 karma

What do you think is more important to focus on for your personal footprint:

What you eat or growing/raising what you eat?

paulwheaton57 karma

The standard american diet (SAD) has a footprint of 10.5 tons. Food choices can drop that to 4.5 tons. Choices plus growing your own can take that to -1 tons (negative one ton).

EatsRats8 karma

Talk to me about microclimates...what can I focus on doing in my backyard to create something more beneficial?

paulwheaton30 karma

I advocate hugelkultur. It converts a flat backyard with a homogoneous microclimate to a huge collection of diversity. Warmer spots, colder spots, fertile spots, wet spots, dry spots ... Diversity!

omgitsmoki15 karma

Do you have some good link examples to follow for that?

Or recommendations for apartment living with no balcony?

paulwheaton6 karma

About 16 years ago I made this article. It's very old and I really need to polish it a bit. I do talk about hugelkultur in my book - and that is very updated.

wildensdad4 karma

I’m very concerned about climate change and my focus has been to organize industry talks to promote this but I live in a very conservative region and that’s my target audience so I have to be very careful about my phrasing. How do I educate them on the importance of these topics without losing my professional credibility as a “hippie”?

paulwheaton7 karma

The mission is to get the carbon footprint lower. If you mention "carbon footprint" to this group, then you get the "hippie" label and they won't listen. So perhaps your presentation is "how to prove those damn hippies are bunch of lying hypocrites!" Seems like something they would get into. "Those damn hippies talk about carbon footprint, but if they were sincere, they would ______" --- see where I'm going with this?

verdant112 karma

What is a big enough garden? I know nothing about farming.

paulwheaton3 karma

It depends.

Rather than forcing yourself to have a garden that is the perfect size, I would like to encourage you to start dabbling in gardening. And maybe you will love it so much you will end up with a really big garden.

I can say that if you want a super easy garden that puts out enough food for one person with near zero work and zero inputs, the general rule of thumb is one acre per person.

meothe1 karma

I love your suggestion about planting seeds. What would be an HOA friendly way of doing this? My HOA would inadvertently cut the seedlings down because I don’t have much control in the landscaping decisions.

paulwheaton3 karma

There is a large park in seattle loaded with hundreds of fruit trees because a guy snuck in there and planted seeds. Eventually, parks and rec started to take care of the trees! :)

adylaid1 karma

Okay can you explain the Montana suggestion? We bought a house recently (1910 Craftsman) and I believe the heater is gas but I'm not 100% sure. No a/c. I'm sure our insulation isn't the best. Idk, I obviously want to do everything I can to help but at the same time, those things can't be cost-prohibitive.

paulwheaton2 karma

I suggested Montana because:

  • i live in montana, and

  • I've answered questions like this a few hundred times. I have the math for montana pretty well memorized and similar states will be similar.