With Earth Day just behind us, perhaps you’re wondering what you can do about climate change. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what changes we can personally make to reduce our own “carbon footprint.” Some of us are considering, or have already installed solar panels on our homes, others of us try to eat less meat, or eat more “local” food, and some of us are considering a hybrid or electric car, or already own one. But what are the biggest “bang for the buck” changes we can make in our own lives? Fortunately the New York Times recently had an article to help us out.

The take-away message? If you really want to make a difference, strongly consider a very fuel-efficient car when next in the market. It is the single most effective thing you can easily do. Some of the other choices are pretty easy as well, and are great to add to our “energy saving diet.”

The Big Winner: 

If every American household drove a vehicle getting 56 miles per gallon, it would reduce U.S. emissions by 10 percent.

The American new-vehicle fleet now averages less than half that. It is expected to average 36 m.p.g. in 2025 if Obama administration standards remain in place, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Runners-Up

If every household collectively took these 11 actions — changes not likely to upend the typical American lifestyle — they would reduce emissions by 2.2 percent (0.2 percent each), far less than driving highly fuel efficient cars.


• Reduce the distance you drive by 1.2 percent. That’s the equivalent of about 13 miles a month for the average American driver, who logs roughly 13,000 miles a year.

• Replace a vehicle getting the current average of 21.4 m.p.g. with one that gets 21.7 m.p.g.

• Keep your tires inflated to the recommended air pressure, or buy new tires marketed to have better rolling resistance.

• Reduce your driving over 70 m.p.h. by 25 percent.

• Reduce aggressive driving — making hard starts and stops, and speeding far above posted limits — by 25 percent.

• Fly 10 percent less.

• Turn down thermostat by three degrees, eight hours a day in winter.

• Replace one of every five incandescent light bulbs with LEDs.

• Reduce food consumption by 2 percent, roughly 48 fewer calories per day for many people. A miniature box of raisins is 42 calories.

• Reduce meat consumption by 7 percent — about a pound a month for some adults.

• Cut the amount of discarded food by 13 percent. This could be about three meals a week from leftovers that would have been thrown away.