A carbon footprint is the total amount of gases generated by humans as they go through their activities of daily living. Gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, also known as greenhouse gases, contribute to the warming of the planet. Individuals from different countries generate different footprints. According to The Nature Conservancy, the average carbon footprint worldwide is 4 tons per year per person. The U.S. average is 16 tons per year per person. Travel, housing and food are the greatest producers of carbon. Traveling in an airplane is the activity that generates the most carbon, but driving in a car or public transportation releases carbon dioxide as well. Housing generates carbon through usage of electricity for cooling and heating. Construction contributes to carbon as well. Depending on what we eat and where it comes from also contributes to our carbon footprint. We determine how much carbon we generate each year by the choices we make.
In order to keep our planet from warming, each person must get our carbon footprint below two tons. This must be done by 2050 to prevent an increase in temperature above two degrees. A rise in over two degrees would have devastating consequences. Sea levels would displace at least 10% of the world’s population. A rise in temperatures would alter the earth’s growing seasons and rainfall. Droughts, floods and storms would increase in intensity. Although worldwide changes are needed, we can make a difference by reducing the amount of carbon each one of us generates. Following are some tips:
1) Decrease your dependence on fossil fuels. Fly less. Drive less, consolidate trips. Schedule meetings through Skype or Zoom. Switch to an electric car. That can reduce your emissions by one-fourth. Turn out lights. Unplug vampire appliances after use. Walk whenever possible. Carpool. Work from home if possible to eliminate travel.
2) Change your diet. Eat mostly a plant-based, seasonally and locally grown diet. Eat less or no beef. Food from other countries has a higher carbon footprint because it is transported longer distances. Make a list before going to the grocery to prevent buying more than you can eat. About 40% of the food that is purchased is thrown away because it spoils before it is consumed.
3) Compost your food waste. Food that is put into the garbage cans ends up in a landfill. When it decomposes, it releases methane gas. Landfills are the third leading emitter of greenhouse gasses – which contribute to global warming.
4) Support businesses and industries that use clean energy instead those who use oil and coal. Use solar, geothermal, hydro-power and wind whenever possible. Divest yourself from industries that pollute the Earth. Investing money in stocks that provide capital for polluting industries keeps them in business.
5) Limit your clothing purchases. Approximately 10% of worldwide carbon emissions come from the clothing industry. Purchase clothing or bedding made from organic cotton to reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides that wash into the waterways. When making a purchase, buy quality clothing that will last for years rather than just weeks or months. Purchasing clothing with recycled plastic content introduces microplastics into the environment both by water and air and should be avoided.
6) Stop using plastic. It is made from oil, which is a fossil fuel. Plastic does not decompose and recycling it does not offset the damage it does to the environment. Most plastics cannot be recycled and many of them end up in the ocean. Only 9% of all plastic ever manufactured has been recycled. The rest ends up in the environment and will degrade into microplastics over time.
7) Hang your clothes on the line to dry. A dryer is the third largest consumer of electricity in your household after the refrigerator and washer. Your clothes will last longer if they are line dried instead of tumbled in the dryer. Discontinuing your use of a dryer will reduce your family’s carbon footprint by over 2,400 pounds per year. Adjust your thermometer to lower temperature in the winter and raise it in the summer. Air conditioners require a lot of energy and contribute to your carbon footprint. Electric heaters are better than heaters powered by fossil fuels because they do not create emissions. However, the electricity must come from sustainable sources such as hydroelectric, wind or solar power – not fossil fuels.
8) Reduce the amount of waste you generate. Carry your own reusable water bottle instead of purchasing water. Buy fresh fruits and veggies instead of packaged food. Reuse and recycle packaging whenever possible rather than discarding it in the garbage. Take your own to-go container to restaurants and avoid using Styrofoam clamshell boxes. Suggest to restaurants that they buy to-go boxes that decompose to provide to customers.
9) Write letters to your elected government officials and request that they make climate change a priority. Our government has withdrawn from the Paris Treaty and denies that human activity has any effect on global warming. Pressure from constituents can establish a new direction. The window of opportunity we have to reduce carbon emissions to reduce our impact on the environment is shrinking. Take action now. Vote for candidates that prioritize the environment. We only have one earth and we cannot live without it.
10) Look for new ways to reduce your impact on Earth. Read about global warming. Learn how others are reducing their carbon footprint and incorporate that into your own life. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Live simply so that others may simply live.”