Are Shorter Showers Beside the Point?

We did the math.


the epa estimates that if every household replaced its nine most used lightbulbs with cfls, we’d save as much in CO2 as if we eliminated 10 million cars. The bad news is, we need to cut about 17 times that much; the good news, according to a recent report by mega consulting firm McKinsey, is that we could trim the nation’s ghg footprint by almost 30 percent over the next 25 years by getting business to invest in efficient cars, appliances, and buildings as well as cleaner energy, with incentives including tax credits, subsidies, offsets, and fewer “regulatory hurdles.” The cost for the first 7 percent: about $50 billion a year, or about $50 per ton of greenhouse gases. And what about taking shorter showers? “Consumer conservation is important,” says Jon Creyts, one of the report’s principal authors, “but it was more practical for us not to factor individual choice into our methodology.” So we did the math ourselves. Below, a few samples of what individual change and bigger policy shifts can shave off our 15.6-trillion-pound total.

CULPRIT

HOW MUCH GHG? (IN LBS)**

HOW TO CUT IT

% RED.

COST

Coal burned for electric power

4.3 trillion

Replace half of our coal capacity with wind turbines.

13.8

$330 billion

Transportation

4.3 trillion

Replace 80 percent of the vehicle fleet—200 million cars—with plug-in hybrids powered by renewable electricity.

8.3

Plug-ins expected to cost at least $12K more than standard cars at first.

Poor use of carbon sinks, a.k.a. forests

880 billion

Plant new trees; reduce grazing.

5.6

$8.5 billion

Avoidable emissions of non-CO2ghgs

510 billion

Capture methane from landfills, coal mining; fix leaks in natural gas extraction.

3.3

$3 per ton

Driving to work alone

490 billion

Get each one of the 102 million people who drive to work solo to take transit.

3.1

$45.3 billion per year (up from $13 billion today) for transit improvements

Wasted heat at industrial plants

160 billion

Use “cogeneration” devices to take advantage of heat now blown out of smokestacks.

1.0

Saves $15 per ton

Phantom power for home electronics

153 billion

Unplug wall chargers or use smart power strips to cut juice when devices are off.

0.98

Smart Strips start at $30.

Inefficient industrial machinery

150 billion

Fine-tune and upgrade equipment.

0.96

$6 per ton

Junk mail

114 billion

Go to a site like 41pounds.org to get off most lists.

0.73

$8 per year

Household heating and cooling

943 billion

Dial thermostats 4 degrees up in summer, down on winter nights.

0.29

You save $61 per year.

Household hot water use

310 billion

1 minute in shower creates about ¼ lb of carbon—20.9 billion pounds saved yearly if we cut showers by 1 minute.*

0.13

You save $4 per year.

TOTAL REDUCTION: 38.19% OR 6 trillion pounds

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.