Discussions about climate change tend to make people feel guilty, but it's not difficult to turn those feelings into action for a carbon-neutral lifestyle.
The average person produces more than 5 tons of carbon dioxide a year, and it could be as much as 20 tons if you live in the U.S.; however, climate activists recommend you aim for a limit of 2 tons of carbon dioxide per person annually.
So what can be done to make your lifestyle more environmentally friendly?
"The first step for fighting climate change is to realize that making little changes isn't enough," says Michael Bilharz of Germany's environmental ministry.
That means we have to reconsider the systems we live in, the cars we drive, the homes we live in and the products we buy. Try calculating your personal carbon footprint with a free online calculator. Where you live, how you move, what you eat and what you buy all add up. When you understand how much carbon dioxide you create a year, you can figure out how you can make cuts.
At home, the biggest issues are energy and heating. The first step is to switch to an ecologically friendly energy provider, which may not be that much more expensive
— or may even be cheaper — than a traditional energy provider. And always turn off devices when not in use, and only heat as much as you need. Experts say lowering the room temperature by just 1 degree Celsius can reduce energy use by 6%.
Household appliances are major consumers of energy. Always run the washing machine and dishwasher only when full and at moderate temperatures. Highly efficient refrigerators or flat-screen TVs can still be unfriendly to the environment if they're bigger than you need for the number of people in your household. Energy-efficient light bulbs cost less to operate but that doesn't mean you can forget to turn them off and keep a good conscience.
One of the biggest ways to cut your carbon dioxide consumption is to avoid flying. Bilharz says a short flight can produce 1 to 2 tons of carbon dioxide, and an intercontinental flight generates 3 to 5 tons.
If you can't opt to take the train for a journey, consider a carbon dioxide offset. Via climate organizations such as Atmosfair and MyClimate, you can pay to offset tons of carbon emissions, and you'll receive a donation certificate.
If you want to make your new lifestyle sustainable, it helps to set priorities and make changes slowly so protecting the environment doesn't feel like you are constantly missing out on things you once enjoyed.