5 New Year's resolutions to reduce your carbon footprint : Life Kit Lowering individual greenhouse emissions may be easier than you think. Here are some New Year's resolutions experts agree have an impact in addressing climate change.

5 New Year's resolutions to reduce your carbon footprint

5 New Year's resolutions to reduce your carbon footprint

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Photographs by Becky Harlan/NPR; Matteo De Stefano/Getty Images; pixelfit/Getty Images; Collage by Becky Harlan/NPR
Close-up photograph of a man wearing gold, heart-shaped glasses that say &quot;Happy New Year.&quot; In the lenses, you can see a reflection of solar panels in one lens and food waste in the other lens, to symbolize the new year&#039;s resolutions this person made toward fighting climate change.
Photographs by Becky Harlan/NPR; Matteo De Stefano/Getty Images; pixelfit/Getty Images; Collage by Becky Harlan/NPR

The new year is underway and with it, you'll find dozens of New Year's resolutions to choose from. Perhaps this year, you are looking for resolutions that can help reduce your carbon emissions.

Governments and corporations have a major role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. But individuals can also have an impact, says climate advisor and marine biologist Ayana Johnson.

"It all adds up," she says. "Not only because of your tiny contribution to addressing the climate crisis, but because you are influential." Johnson says making changes to your carbon footprint can inspire your family and friends to do so, too – and have a ripple effect.

"If you can lead by example and get some of these shifts you're making in your personal life adopted more broadly in your neighborhood, in your local government, that really matters," says Johnson.

Your climate resolutions for 2023 can have a long term impact on the planet. Here are five ways to start.

Make 2023 the year to reduce food waste

Experts say reducing food waste and using the food you buy is one of the best climate resolutions out there. Up to 40% of food gets wasted in the U.S., and that food ends up in landfills where methane, a potent planet-heating gas, gets released. Food waste accounts for as much as 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

Start in the back of your refrigerator to tackle unused food, says Johnson. "There's those vegetables in the back that, like, don't get enough love. So can you freeze them?" she asks. "Can you just, like, be more realistic about how many you're gonna eat before they go bad and not buy them?"

Johnson suggests only buying fruits and veggies that you can realistically eat, so nothing goes bad. And when you go out to eat and have leftovers, take them home. She also suggests composting, which you can do wherever you live.

"Really, like, you're not sacrificing anything!" says Johnson. "If anything, you're sacrificing the guilt that's associated with wasting food!"

Eat less meat

Some of the most critical actions you can take on climate come down to eating less animal products – specifically red meat. Demand for beef and soy – that goes into feed for poultry and pork among other things– drives deforestation in places like the Amazon.

If you are a red meat-lover, try incremental steps, like only eating beef once a week or once a month. You can try replacing red meat with turkey or chicken which have a smaller emission impact than beef, or try plant-based meats. If you're already a vegetarian, try cutting out dairy for one day a week or one day a month.

It's all about incremental steps, says Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown, a nonprofit working on climate solutions. "You don't have to be perfect to make a difference," Foley says. And remember, when cooking with less meat, try adding spices!

Reduce your flying

Flying makes up about 2% of global emissions. That may not sound like a lot, but it's one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gasses. Some airlines offer the option to buy carbon credits to offset your flight emissions, but it can be hard to know if the offsets actually work.

Try participating in meetings or conferences over Zoom or Skype to reduce your air travel. If you do have to travel, stack your flights. For instance, if you fly for a work trip and you planned to vacation later in the year, why not add that personal trip to the end of your work trip? That way you can cut a flight or two.

Seal your windows and doors

Sealing your doors and windows may sound like a boring new year's resolution, but sometimes the most important climate solutions are the more mundane ones. Nearly half of the energy demand for buildings was used for space and water heating, according to 2021 data from the International Energy Agency. Weather-stripping your doors and windows can keep warm air from escaping your home in winter, and cool air from slipping out the door in summer, ultimately saving you money.

Check to see if your windows and doors are well-sealed. "If you feel a draft, that's pretty bad 'cause even if you can't feel it, you still have drafts so that's just throwing money literally out the window," says Foley with Project Drawdown.

Weather stripping is pretty inexpensive, often ranging from $10-$20. Super efficient heat pumps or solar panels and electrical appliances are another great way to reduce your home's carbon footprint, and there are tax credits through new federal climate legislation to help.

Get involved in energy policy

If you want more of a challenge for your new year's resolution, get involved in energy policy by contacting your public utility regulator. These officials keep tabs on the companies that supply your electricity. In the U.S. about 40% of electricity still comes from gas and 20% comes from coal. Some public utility regulators are working to help power companies transition off of fossil fuels.

Public outreach to these regulators makes a difference, says Simon Mahan, the executive director of the Southern Renewable Energy Association, a trade association for solar, wind and energy storage in the South. "Because public service commissions and public utility commissions aren't very well known, anytime they do receive public feedback, they do take it into consideration more often than not," he says.

These commissions hold public meetings where you share where you'd like to see your energy come from. "You don't have to go out and do a lot of Googling and do a lot of research on what is the best policy and then present that in a white paper dossier," Mahan says. Speaking from your own experience "is way more powerful than shipping off a link."

Your turn

Now you have five climate resolutions to jump start 2023. They aren't the only ones. We'd like to hear what your climate New Year's resolutions are. What are you doing to reduce your own emissions in your home – or more broadly in your community? Email us at climate@npr.org with the subject line "Resolutions," along with some photos, and we may feature your response on NPR.org.