A growing number of people these days are debating whether to buy a hybrid car, use public transportation, or ride a bike to work. Those decisions impact what is being called a person's "carbon footprint" - the amount of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases a person's activities produce. Producer Zulima Palacio looks into the issue of the carbon footprint and offers suggestions on how to reduce it. Mil Arcega narrates this Searching for Solutions report.
Almost every action in our daily lives - being at home with the lights on, watching TV or driving a car - involves energy use. And most energy use produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Now, governments and environmental organizations are measuring the carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases our activities produce. This is called the carbon footprint.
"A carbon footprint is essentially the sum total of an individual's energy use," explains Katie Mandes of the PEW Center on Global Climate Change.
A carbon calculator can help individuals measure their carbon footprint. Just type "Carbon Footprint" into your favorite search engine, and you will find thousands of groups that can measure your footprint.
A "Personal Emissions Calculator" can be found on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's website. When you answer questions about your house, transportation routines and lifestyle, the calculator itemizes and adds up your energy use.
"A well-designed calculator will give an individual specific tools and tips that they can use to immediately begin to reduce their carbon footprint," Mandes added.
Scott Sklar has been working to reduce his carbon footprint for nearly 40 years. He has transformed his 1920s house outside Washington, D.C. into an environmentally friendly home, using many kinds of solar panels.
"On my 3.1 kilowatt house, I have two kilowatts of polycrystalline across the top roof and a half a kilowatt of photovoltex on the smaller roof and my solar water heater equals about over a half a kilowatt,” Sklar said. “So I have 3 kilowatts on a 3.1 kw house, which means on a day like today, it's a spring day, I am not drawing any electricity from the electric grid."
Sklar installed additional insulation throughout his home, a vent in the attic to lower the inside temperature during the summer, and a wind turbine to generate electricity, in addition to the solar water heater.
"When I put that on in the mid 1980s, that added about eight dollars a month to my mortgage. I was saving $25 a month in energy cost, and now I am saving $40 a month on my energy cost, and it's all been paid off,” Skiar added.
Around the house, Sklar has planted fruits and berries, and he collects runoff water in barrels to water his garden. In the basement, he keeps batteries that store the electricity from the solar panels. "These are 24-deep cycle batteries. They don't need any maintenance, and they store the electricity from the panels across the roof," he explained.
Sklar has energy-efficient appliances and ceiling fans that circulate air.
He gives tours of his property to clients of his company, The Stella Group. It helps government and private companies transform their buildings so they are energy efficient.
Over the past three years, Sklar has been testing hydrogen fuel cells. "This electricity is made without heat, without noise and the only emission is pure water, and the water actually waters this little tree here in the corner," Sklar said.
He says about 80 percent of today's clean energy is cost effective.
"The global warming issue is finally, I think, taking root, that people have to do something about it themselves first before they worry about governments or anybody else getting involved," he said.
Sklar drives a hybrid car. He says in the near future home energy will be tied to onsite energy systems, whether solar, wind, fuel cell or other clean technologies, and this will help reduce our carbon footprint.