Loading page...

Personal Actions to Take to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Welcome to the BCSEA Victoria Chapter’s ranked list of personal actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A majority of British Columbians accept that we humans must greatly reduce our GHG emissions in order to minimize climate change and optimize our well-being into the future. But that is proving to be a big challenge. Where should we start? Who is responsible for what actions? The list below gives a range of actions, covering most areas where individuals cause emissions, but it doesn’t directly address emissions at the societal level, in transportation infrastructure, industry and other collective areas. BCSEA recommends people act at the individual level to cut their personal emissions AND act at the collective level, speaking out for climate action and supporting political leaders who support strong action. The figures given for reduced GHG emissions are approximate. See the footnotes below for a discussion of some of the uncertainties. Please feel free to contact us if you have comments or questions (victoria@bcsea.org).

 

 
Cutting Your Carbon Pollution
Metric Tonnes of CO2 (equivalent)1
Context: Average total GHG emissions (per person, per year).2
7.7
Children: Delay having children (per child, per year).3
7.7
Transportation  
Live where you can walk or bike instead of driving (per year).4
3.2
Switch to an electric vehicle (EV) (per year).4
3.2
Take public transit instead of driving (per year).4
2.1
Avoid one 8,600 km round trip to Hawaii (per trip).4
0.9
Houses  
Switch from oil heating to an electric air source heat pump (per year).5
5.2
Switch from oil heating to a high-efficiency natural gas furnace (per year).6
2.8
Insulate an oil heated house to a very high level of efficiency (per year).7
5.0
Insulate a gas heated house to a very high level of efficiency (per year).7
2.6
Switch from a house to an apartment or condo (per year).8
1.7
Condos & Apartments  
Switch from a central gas water boiler to a heat pump (per person, per year).9
1.0
Switch from a gas fireplace to a mini split heat pump (per year).10
0.8
Behaviour & Consumption  
Spend $1,000 less on clothes, phone, computer, or furniture.11
0.3
Air dry clothes instead of a gas heated clothes dryer (per year).12
0.1
Cook with electricity instead of natural gas (per year).13
0.1
Food  
Once a day, eat vegetarian (no cheese) instead of beef or lamb (per year).14
0.8
Once a day, eat chicken/pork/fish instead of beef or lamb (per year).14
0.6
Eat only locally grown food (per year).15
0.05
Social & Political Action  
Support elected leaders to pursue effective GHG policies; vote for climate action leaders; speak out.16

 

Footnotes

1. Metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (“TCO2(eq)”) are the standard units to present emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide.

2. Based on the average annual “consumption-based” greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per person for Saanich residents (source: ecoCity Footprint Tool Pilot: District of Saanich Summary Report, by BC Institute of Technology and Cora Hallsworth Consulting, 2018, pp. 8 – 10 & 16) (based on 2015 data).

Consumption-based emissions include the emissions from the production, transport and delivery of goods to the end user and the embedded emissions of manufacturing vehicles and constructing buildings. Not included are emissions for “national and provincial services,” such as the military, health services, coast guard, highway infrastructure.

The GHG emissions rates for residents in any southern Vancouver Island community are similar to those of Saanich residents.

BC-wide territorial GHG emissions are about 14 TCO2(eq)/person (or about 30 TCO2(eq)/person including wildfires and “other land use” effects. See BC provincial GHG inventory. BC-wide territorial emissions include GHGs from industry, but do not include GHGs embodied in imported goods or from the end use of exported fossil fuels.

3. Based on 7.7 T CO2(eq) average per person per year consumption-based GHG emissions from the ecoCity Footprint Tool Pilot: District of Saanich Summary Report (BCIT and Cora Hallsworth Consulting, 2018).

Because this figure is averaged across all age groups, it can also represent a single individual’s GHG emissions over their life. A more rigorous analysis might consider different typical GHG emissions rates in different decades. Other methodologies are also possible, e.g. Murtaugh and Schlax (2009) includes forecast emissions from expected descendants many generations into the future.

4. Based on the District of Saanich Carbon Calculator assuming 13,000 km/year driving distance (see Canadian average for light duty vehicles).  These figures include only the emissions from operating the vehicles, not from manufacturing them.)

5. Assuming ~ 60 - 95 GJ/year of oil replaced by ~ 30 GJ/y (8,200 kWh/year) of electricity. Expect wide variation in particular cases. (This figure includes only the emissions from operating the furnaces and heat pumps, not from manufacturing them.)

6. Assuming ~ 60 – 95 GJ/year oil replaced by ~ 40 – 65 GJ/year natural gas. Expect wide variation in particular situations. (This figure includes only the emissions from operating the furnaces, not from manufacturing them.)

7. Assuming ~ 80 – 100 GJ/year of space heating energy before upgrade and ~ 25 GJ/year after upgrade. Expect wide variation in particular cases. (These figures include only the emissions from operating the heating systems, not from manufacturing insulation.)

8. Assuming natural gas heating; ~ 60 GJ/year heating load for a regular house and ~ 25 GJ/year for an apartment-style home. Expect wide variation in particular situations. (This figure includes only the emissions from operating the dwellings, not from their construction.)

9. Assuming ~ 14 GJ/year per person hot water energy consumption. Expect wide variation in particular cases. Hot water heat pumps are proven technology and becoming more popular See here or here for more information. (This figure includes only the emissions from operating the systems, not from their manufacture.)

10. Assuming gas fireplace space heating in living room, supplemented by electric baseboards; ~ 16 GJ/year of natural gas replaced by a heat pump delivering the same amount of energy. (This figure only includes the emissions from operating the heating systems, not from manufacturing them.)

11. Source: District of Saanich Carbon Calculator. Derivation of figures not given. (This figure includes the emissions from the manufacture of the items.)

12. Assuming ~ 3 GJ/year energy consumption for a clothes dryer. Expect wide variation in particular cases. (This figure includes only the emissions from operating the equipment, not from manufacturing it.)

13. Assuming ~ 2 GJ/year of energy used for cooking. (Switching to electric induction cooking takes about half the energy of regular electric cooking, but the GHG emissions reductions are similar because BC Hydro’s power causes very few emissions.) (This figure includes only the emissions from operating the systems, not from their manufacture.)

14. Source: District of Saanich Carbon Calculator. (These figures include the emissions from the growing, harvesting, processing and transportation of the food items.)

15. “Food miles” to transport food cause on average ~ 5% of the total GHG emissions associated with food. Fertilizer, other production inputs, refrigeration, packaging and local distribution cause more emissions than transportation, even with long distances. Switching from meat (especially methane-emitting animals like beef and lamb), fish and dairy generally reduces GHGs far more than switching to locally produced food. However, plant foods that are flown – e.g. possibly berries or asparagus – may have 30 times more associated GHGs than trucked or shipped plant foods; their associated GHGs may rival those of foods like pork or cheese. (See The Environmental Impacts of Food Production, Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2020) or Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers, J. Poore, T. Nemecek (Science, 2018) or Wikipedia on Food Miles.)

16. Many GHG emissions are best addressed at the societal level, by making and enforcing policies that mandate allowable emission levels for transportation, industry, consumer products and other things. The GHG reductions caused by an individual’s political actions are difficult to measure, but they may be greater than their personal actions. One view of the most strategic climate policies to pursue is presented in The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success, by Dr. Mark Jaccard of Simon Fraser University, 2020  Jaccard argues for putting a global priority on eliminating coal from electricity generation and on switching to electricity for transportation.