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Downsize your carbon footprint 

12 steps

1 Give your car a break. The carbon emissions from each gallon of gasoline combine with oxygen to create 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. Walk, ride a bike, push a skateboard or use public transportation whenever you can. Here are a dozen organizations and ideas that can help you get out of your car in Atlanta.

2 If you must drive, maintain your car and change your driving habits. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, changing air filters regularly can improve gas mileage by up to 10 percent, tune-ups can boost gas mileage by 4 percent, properly inflated tires can give 3 percent, and using the right motor oil can make a 1 percent to 2 percent difference. Driving less aggressively and keeping your highway speed under 60 can reduce your gasoline costs by a up to a third.

3 Cuddle up (or get naked). About 60 percent of the average home's energy bill goes toward heat and air conditioning. In winter, set the thermostat to 65 and grab a blanket, a sweater or a warm body. In summer set it at 75 – and strip down if necessary.

Go a step further by sealing leaky windows, doors, attics and chimneys. Instead of using the energy to heat outside your place, start insulating. Go to Energy Star for a free do-it-yourself guide.

4 Take a cold shower. Hot water is one of the home's top energy hogs. If you've gotta have the heat, you can use less hot water by screwing in a low-flow showerhead.

You can pretty easily check your water pressure: Put a two-quart pot in the tub in front of the shower and turn the shower on full-blast; see how long it takes to fill the pot. If it takes fewer than 12 seconds, then you're using more water than you need. Most hardware stores carry low-flow showerheads that mix air into the water stream, which maintains pressure but reduces the flow. They cost as little as six bucks, are easy to install and can cut your water use by as much as half. For ultimate efficiency, buy one with a shut-off valve. You won't have to readjust the temperature if you shut off the water between rinses. There are similar gadgets for your bathroom and kitchen faucets.

Check out the EPA's WaterSense program, for more information on saving water.

5 Switch to compact fluorescent lightbulbs. They use about a quarter the energy of conventional bulbs and have about eight times the lifespan. Your local hardware store carries them for about $12 a six-pack, which might sound expensive, but, when energy and replacement costs are taken into account, you'll save about $30 over the life of each bulb, according to the EPA. Because they can contain mercury, it's important to dispose of fluorescent bulbs carefully.

6 Turn off electronic devices. TVs, stereos and computers are more powerful than ever; they use a surprising amount of energy. Or save even more energy by pulling the plug from the socket when you're out for an extended period.

Go a step further than that by buying appliances stamped with the Energy Star logo. Energy Star certifies that the appliance (including refrigerators, washers, dryers and computers) is 10 percent to 50 percent more efficient than non-Energy Star in the same class.

7 Support your local farmer. The average meal travels about 1,200 miles to get to your table. Pay attention to the labels that say where your produce comes from; the closer the source, the less energy likely was used in transportation. To really make sure you're getting local food, buy it at a community farmers' market. Click here to find the one closest to you.

Check out Georgia Organics to learn more about sources for local, organic food, including farmers, shops and events.

Consuming less red meat [pdf] may be the most important single decision you make when it comes to eating and global warming, because a substantial amount of emissions come straight from the cows (yes, we mean by farting), forests must be clear-cut to make room for cattle and basically the larger the animal, the more feed crops are needed per pound of meat.

8 Stop your junk mail. The average home mailbox is force-fed about 900 pieces of junk mail a year. Those coupon booklets and credit offers used to be trees that absorbed carbon. Unfortunately, it's not as easy to stop the mail as it is to stop telemarketing. You've got to attack each variety of junk mail one at time.

9 Reuse what you can. Disposable bags, throwaway cups and conventional batteries all have two things in common: It takes energy to make them, and each has a reusable replacement. Switch to cloth bags, mugs and rechargeable batteries.

In general, durable, nondisposable products – such as cloth rags and porcelain tableware – require less energy to produce and wash than does producing and shipping single-use paper materials.

10 Recycle the rest. Recycling glass, plastic, aluminum and newsprint shortens the production cycle, which generally cuts down on the energy required to produce the end product.

11 Plant a tree. A shade tree will suck a ton of carbon out of the atmosphere during its lifespan. And trees help to lower the temperature in urban areas, reducing the need for air conditioning. Trees Atlanta has loads of tree-planting events and educational activities.

12 Get involved. Certainly start by calculating your own carbon footprint. But even if you shrink your own footprint, the voices of millions will be needed to press politicians to take substantial action to reduce the footprint we all make together. A good place to start is www.climatecrisis.com. Locally, check out these groups.

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