The United States could cut greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of France's total annual emissions by getting Americans to make simple lifestyle changes, like regularly maintaining their cars or insulating their attics, a study showed Monday.
If US households took 17 easy-to-implement actions -- like switching to a fuel-efficient vehicle, drying laundry on a clothesline instead of in a dryer, or turning down the thermostat -- carbon emissions could be cut by 123 metric tons a year by the 10th year, the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found.
"This amounts to... 7.4 percent of total national emissions -- an amount slightly larger than the total national emissions of France," showed the study led by Thomas Dietz of Michigan State University's department of sociology and environmental science and policy.
"It is greater than reducing to zero all emissions in the United States from the petroleum-refining, iron and steel, and aluminum industries, each of which is among the largest emitters in the industrial sector," the study said.
But the lifestyle changes come with a much smaller price tag and no great change to the way Americans live.
At present, US direct household energy use accounts for 38 percent of the country's carbon emissions, or 626 million metric tons of carbon -- a whopping eight percent of global emissions "and larger than the emissions of any entire country except China."
To quickly bring down those numbers, the researchers suggested greater focus on consumer behavioral changes and less on efforts to develop new technologies and put in place so-called cap and trade regimes.
The researchers grouped 17 actions Americans could take to reduce carbon emissions into five groups: weatherization, switching to more efficient equipment, maintaining equipment, adjusting appliance setting -- such as the temperature on water heaters -- and modifying daily personal use.
The action with the greatest potential to reduce US carbon emissions was the switch to a fuel-efficient vehicle. That alone would, according to the study's model, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by just over five percent by year 10, or by more than 31 million metric tons.
Weatherizing homes by improving attic insulation, sealing or replacing drafty windows and doors, could cut carbon emissions by 21 million metric tons.
Installing energy-efficient appliances to replace those that have reached the end of their useful life would save nearly 12 million metric tons of carbon emissions.
Even seemingly minor steps like not speeding away from a stop sign when driving, regularly maintaining one's car, or turning down the heating at home in the winter to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), could save between four and eight million metric tons in carbon emissions by year 10.
The lifestyle tweaks and positive results don't have to be limited to the United States, either.
Similar percentage reductions are possible in Canada and Australia, which have carbon profiles comparable to that of the United States, while Europe and Japan could save around half of the US level in percentage terms by getting their citizens to make the same changes, the study reports.