To Lower U.S. Carbon Footprint, Practice the Five Rs:
Refuse, Reduce, Re-use, Rot, Recycle

For the first time in decades, Americans living in the nation’s major urban areas have a sense of what less populated metropolises could be like. Coronavirus has led to nationwide stay-at-home orders which in turn have spawned empty streets, ample parking, less crowded public transportation and cleaner air.

The human and economic devastation from coronavirus is a heavy price to pay for more breathing room. Still, however fleeting the uncrowded conditions may be, residents in overpopulated hubs like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago have gotten a glimpse of what a more relaxed lifestyle would be like.

Since Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stay-at-home order in New York, traffic on the state’s busiest bridges and tunnels has plunged nearly 60 percent. Fewer cars have helped rush-hour speeds to increase 288 percent to 52 mph from 13 mph on one of the city’s most gridlocked throughways, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The best news: New York’s air is cleaner. Particulate matter which contributes to lung cancer and heart attacks has dropped as much as 35 percent citywide.

Social and natural scientists have a formula that helps quantify environmental impacts based on three factors. Called IPAT or the Ehrlich equation, the formula is Environmental Impact (I) = Population (P) multiplied by Affluence (A) and Technology (T). Our impact on the environment is measured by population – how many of us there are consuming resources and creating waste; affluence and consumption – the amount of goods and services we use, and technology – how inefficiently/harmfully we produce these goods and services.

Applying the IPAT formula to the United States, the obvious conclusion is that we need to reduce our consumption and our population growth. Of two of the three requirements for improved environment, the first, reducing consumption, is dependent on citizen choices. Enlightened people will take the appropriate measures that are summarized in what’s known as the five Rs: refuse, reduce, re-use, rot and recycle.

  • Refuse – Reject single-use plastics and paper products and opt instead for reusable.
  • Reduce – Downsize purchases; be more mindful of what you really need.
  • Re-use – Find ways to keep items out of the landfill. Repair broken items instead of trashing them.
  • Rot – Start a compost system for food scraps, or drop leftovers off at a community garden.
  • Recycle – Research state laws to properly recycle plastic, paper, glass or metal that cannot otherwise be disposed of or re-used.

What else can you do? Bike more and drive less. Conserve water and protect waterways. Eat locally grown food. Adopt a plant-based diet. Switch to sustainable, clean energy. Cars, trucks, commercial aircraft and buses are a clean environment’s arch enemy. According to the EPA, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation account for about 29 percent of total U.S. GHGs.

But concerned citizens will require Congress’ help to slow population growth, the second variable to reduce carbon emissions. The federal policy of admitting more than 1 million legal immigrants annually – about 750,000 guest workers each year, plus the family members that permanent residents will petition, and immigrants’ children – is unsustainable by any measure. The Census Bureau calculated that immigration and births to immigrants drive more than 85 percent of population growth. Within the next four decades, this will push U.S. population above an unimaginable, nightmarish 400 million people.

Americans are aware of rampant population growth’s destructive consequences, and oppose more immigration. Now is the time for Congress to get onboard with the people before overcrowding becomes worse.