When lightning struck in New South Wales, a southeastern state in Australia, a wildfire that would draw global attention began.

The October 2019 blazes swept through the region destroying an area the size of Iceland, killing more than 25 people and causing an estimated one billion animal deaths. Thousands of Australians fled their regions as the bush fires swept along and nearly 2,000 residences were destroyed.

The Australian bush fires have also had a worldwide effect: it is estimated that the burning has released 400 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

Fighting Climate Change Begins at Home

The fires came toward the end of Australia’s hottest and driest year on record. Their scope triggered a round of global outrage over inaction by world governments to address climate change.

But it’s also led many people around the world to ask, “What can I do?”

While further increases in temperature and upcoming droughts could lead to more fires in the coming years, there is much that can be done to reduce carbon emissions, both on a global level and right at home, says Kayla Ihrig, a sustainable living and travel blogger at Writing from Nowhere.

“Some people are afraid that starting to reduce their carbon footprint will mean sacrifices in quality or comfort. In reality, a lot of sustainable practices make your life better and save you money,” Ihrig said.

Try these strategies to lower your CO2 emissions and reduce energy bills at the same time.

1. Change Your Light Bulbs

Incandescent light bulbs use more energy than bulbs that use light emitting diodes (LEDs).

“While LED light bulbs cost more, they use a quarter of the energy and can last 25 times longer,” says Craig Ricks Jr., president of Acadian Windows and Siding, a  residential construction company in the New Orleans area.

Incandescent bulbs create 4,500 pounds of carbon emissions each year, reports CPE LED Lighting. LED lights produce just 451 pounds of carbon emissions annually. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that if every household in the United States replaced one light bulb with a LED bulb, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 9 billion pounds.

2. Opt for Sustainable Laundry

If you currently spend hundreds of dollars on laundry detergent each year, look for a sustainable product that will save on costs. Detergents such as Ecoegg, which lasts for up to 720 loads, could reduce your overall bill. You’ll also cut out the number of plastic bottles you use for laundry detergent. To go a step further, invest in a drying rack to avoid using the dryer all the time. Use cold water when washing clothes to lower energy use.

3. Take Faster Showers

Time how long it takes you to shower each day; then look for ways to speed up the process and reduce your personal carbon footprint. Also invest in a water saving showerhead to reduce both water and energy consumption.

“Taking shorter showers can lower carbon emissions drastically,” Ricks says. “Investing in a low-flow showerhead to reduce hot water can prevent the release of 350 pounds of carbon dioxide.”

You can also save time by not shampooing your hair every time you shower, which can actually be bad for some people’s hair.

4. Put in a Smart Thermostat

“Smart thermostats have built-in motion sensors and work with the GPS on your phone to detect when you’re home or away,” says James Both of One Hour Smart Home.

The thermostat can be set to automatically turn down the heating or cooling systems when you’re at work or on vacation. You can also control the temperature from your phone. If you have the air conditioning set at a higher temperature during the day while you’re at the office, when you get in your car to go home you can turn it back down.

Smart thermostats also track the amount of energy you use over time. You can look through past patterns to see where you could save more energy in the future. The average American household spends $900 a year on heating and cooling, according to Energy Star. A smart thermostat like Nest can lead to a savings of 10 percent to 12 percent on heating and 15 percent on cooling. If everyone used an Energy Start Certified smart thermostat, 6.5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions could be offset.

5. Join an Energy Program

Check with your local utilities service to see how you can work together to use less energy and save money.

“Some utilities have programs that you can enroll in that will pay you money to reduce your energy consumption during peak energy periods like a hot summer day,” Both says.

If you’ll be out of your home during those peak hours, you could reap benefits by turning off the cooling system or raising the temperature during that time.

OhmConnect, an energy program in California, rewards users for lowering their energy consumption when the grid is stressed. Users of the program pair their smart devices to OhmConnect, which then turns off the devices at the start of an OhmHour and turns them back on after the hour has passed. Every time the community of 500,000 people collectively reduces their power for one hour, 150 megawatts of energy are saved, which is similar to turning off as many as five fossil fuel power plants, OhmConnect reports.

6. Add a Smart Strip

About 50 devices in a typical U.S. household are drawing power, even when they are turned off, estimates Alan Meier, a senior scientist at the Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab. Devices in off, standby or sleep mode use the same amount of energy that 50 large power plants could produce in a year, at a cost of more than $19 billion.  Overall, electricity use accounts for about 33% of the carbon emissions released in the U.S. each year.

smart strip can help you reduce your carbon emissions by turning off the power to devices when they are not in use. If your microwave is connected to a smart strip, the strip will detect when the appliance is not in use and turn off the power to it.

7. Make Home Improvements

“Putting in energy efficient windows, insulation and appliances will pay off and reduce energy consumption,” says Pablo Solomon, a designer and promoter of the environmental movement.

Check to see if your windows are double-paned, which can help block UV rays and reduce heat loss. Consider adding a coating to the glass to help keep heat in during cold months, and cool air inside throughout warm periods.

Look at your insulation in your attic to make sure you have the right amount for your area of the country.

When you need to replace an appliance such as a dishwasher or refrigerator, look for options that encourage energy efficiency to use less energy and save money.

If you want to take it a step further, consider renewable energy sources like solar panels. Many solar companies include a guarantee for their system, and some states provide incentives for solar users. The value of your home could also rise if you have solar panels in place.

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Rachel Hartman