If you've been wondering what you can do around the house to help cool global warming, a major utility company offers its customers a first-of-its kind payment plan as an alternative or adjunct to existing do-it-yourself options anyone can choose.

California's Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) is offering its 5.8 million customers, a voluntary ClimateSmart program that costs about $4 a month for a typical household, about 3 percent more than the current average bill.

For the money, the utility will tell customers how much carbon dioxide they generate at home every month based on their electricity and natural gas use -- about 5.3 tons each year for the average household.

Scheduled to begin the program this spring, PG&E will use the program's proceeds to fund forest restoration and conservation projects in California. The projects are designed to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air in amounts equal to that put there by the participating households, effectively making them "zero carbon" or "carbon neutral" homes.

CO2, a by-product of burning fossil fuels (much electricity is generated this way) is a greenhouse gas largely generated by humans. Greenhouse gasses contribute to global warming, an observed increase in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere and oceans.

Most scientists believe humans' CO2 habits are responsible for much of the recent global warming, but humans also can help reverse the trend. It's a global trend that has led to disastrous climatic changes including greater incidences of more severe hurricanes, firestorms, heat waves and events that are bringing down the glaciers and melting the ice caps.

Some of it is already irreversible and left unaddressed global warming will broaden deserts and shrink coastlines.

"In the long run, sea level rises are going to be the most severe impact of global warming on human society," said Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, presenting a report by German scientists at a major United Nations Climate Change Convention in Nairobi this winter.

Rahmstorf said the result will be tens of millions of "sea level refugees" moving inland because of sea levels rising nearly three feet between 1990 and 2100.

The predictions have left many reeling, feeling small and hopeless, believing only concerted efforts can make a difference.

But PG&E's goal is to remove two million tons of carbon monoxide from the air -- house-by-house. That's the equivalent of taking 350,000 cars off the road for one year.

Critics of the PG&E program, including The Utility Reform Network (TURN), argue PG&E's plan to spend $16 million in marketing and advertising a program to generate $20 million to $29 million to help offset CO2 production, may not be the best approach, financially.

But the program is voluntary and except for an additional 3 cents a month tacked onto all utility customers bills', customers have to voluntarily opt in to pay the larger fee.

Turning a home into a zero carbon house is something anyone can do and there are a growing number of operations to help make it so.

The non-profit Carbon Fund, for example, offers a carbon calculator to determine how much carbon you generate and steps you can take to reduce carbon emissions, ton by ton.

Many of the steps provided through links to other Earth-aware websites are energy savers and that means they save money.

You can also buy so called "carbon offsets" or "carbon credits" which are donations to the Carbon Fund and other groups that use the donations to develop carbon-reducing projects like solar and wind-powered generators.

The Weather Channel's new "Climate Code" requires only that you tune in (times are East Coast times) to learn and be encouraged by what others from Nebraska farmers to Wal-Mart are doing about global warming.

The key is, while there remains some debate over how much action is needed to stop and or reverse global warming, there is no debate over the fact that individuals and households can have an impact.

Other resources include the Pew Center on Global Climate Change offering a global view and comprehensive global approach; Consumers Union's "Greener Choices" which a year ago on Earth Day, began offering a free guide with "green" ratings and reliable and practical advice on how to be environmentally-friendly as a goods and services buying consumer; and the Alliance To Save Energy, a self-empowering website where you could easily get overwhelmed with all the steps you can take to help you save energy and put the brakes on global warming.

Meanwhile, here are just a few steps you can take at home to help the planet chill.

  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. It sounds like old hat, but according to Environmental Defense, another cache of tips, if every household replaced three 60-watt incandescent light bulbs with these bulbs, it would be the equivalent of removing 3.5 million cars from the road.
  • Improve energy efficiency at home by installing a programmable thermostat, install more weather stripping and insulation and set your home washing machine to warm or cold rather than hot.
  • Where possible, buy power from services that generate it from non-fossil fuels. More than 50 percent of retail customers in the United States can now purchase a green power product directly from their electricity supplier, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Where that option is not available, buy carbon credits that support renewable energy development.
  • Get that clunking, gas guzzler out of the driveway. A full 33 percent of all greenhouse gasses are driven by our lust for the automobile. At least keep the one you have well tuned. When you purchase your next car consider electric, a hybrid or high mileage models. Don't overlook carpooling and using public transit whenever possible, say, on weekends.

    Every little bit helps.

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