A quick scan of the headlines will tell you that extreme events and dramatic changes in the weather are happening all over the world. The effects of climate change are being felt, and the problems we face seem insurmountable. The changes required to slow or stop climate change and the degradation of our environment seem massive. However, that doesn't mean we can't do our part as individuals.
Here are some staggering and sobering statistics: According to The Nature Conservancy, to avoid rising global temperatures, the average global carbon footprint needs to be under 2 tons per person by 2050. And the average carbon footprint in the U.S. is 16 tons per person. This makes the task seem daunting, for sure.
Look to the humble honeybee for inspiration when tackling big issues such as reducing your carbon footprint. Worker bees have a short lifespan, and in that lifespan, each one will make 1/12th tablespoon of hundreds of pounds of honey the hive needs to survive. We can all work to reduce our carbon footprint by lowering the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we are responsible for. Like the honeybee, our small actions can affect big change when enough people take them. Here are some easy things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and help our environment.
Reduce the Fossil Fuel Impact of Your Transportation
Cars emit exhaust that can pollute the air. If possible, try to use your car less. Can you bike or walk somewhere instead? Can you combine trips or plan your route so that it is more efficient? If your city offers public transportation, take advantage of it as much as possible. Carpool or rideshare so that there will be fewer cars on the road and, therefore, fewer emissions.
This not only reduces CO2 emissions, but it also reduces road congestion and the engine idling that traffic can cause. Reduced engine idling reduces emissions greatly. Along with excess idling, unnecessary braking and accelerating can also cause you to use more fuel, so driving calmly and keeping your car in good repair will help you get better mileage and use less fuel.
If driving is essential, and we know it is in some areas, consider buying an electric car the next time you need a new one. There are many more options available these days, and choosing an electric or hybrid model can lower or even eliminate your use of fossil fuels for transportation.
Reduce Carbon Footprint at Home
Begin by doing a home energy audit to figure out how much energy your home uses. Once you’ve figured that out, there are some steps you can take to reduce your energy use at home. Some are pretty simple, and others involve a little more effort or expense, so do what you can at first and work towards getting better.
Turn off the lights when you are not using them. Turn down the heat and air conditioning. Keep your water heater at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Use LED lights; they are more efficient and use less energy than incandescent bulbs. Don’t keep your refrigerator and freezer temperatures lower than required and when you get new appliances, choose energy-efficient ones. If possible, use a low-flow showerhead.
If you can swing a large change, seal and insulate your home to reduce heat or air conditioning leakage, and consider installing solar panels to generate your own clean, sustainable energy.
We often like to buy a new piece of clothing to refresh our wardrobes, and it’s hard to pass up a good deal. Unfortunately, what is known as “fast fashion” takes a huge toll on the environment. Clothing is often made unsustainably, and when they are out of style or wear out, they are usually dumped in landfills.
When shopping for new clothes, consider buying fewer items, choose items that will last more than one season, and are from responsible brands. Some clothes have fair trade logos indicating they have been sustainably made. Others have recycling programs that close the loop and keeps clothing out of landfills.
Another option is to shop in thrift or vintage clothing stores. This can help the environment, and you often find gently used clothing that still has a lot of life left in it. In turn, you can donate your used clothing to charities or organizations that repurpose them.
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
Yes, the three Rs. These are familiar concepts but could be followed more closely. Avoid single-use plastics specifically, but all plastic use, if possible. Try to reuse or recycle any plastic items you do get. Bring your own shopping bags and reusable water bottles and travel coffee mugs and choose sustainable single-use cutlery made of bamboo or compostable materials rather than plastic.
Recycle metal, glass, plastic, or paper that you do use. Don’t put non-recyclable items such as Styrofoam, aerosol cans, and broken glass in the recycling bin and try to buy just what you need to reduce excess or waste items.
This is often where people throw up their hands. Experts have found that eating a vegan diet is good for the environment. However, if you are not ready to go full vegan, simply cutting down on meat, especially red meat, will help. Raising cows is CO2-intensive, and the cows themselves emit harmful emissions.
In addition to cutting down on meat, examine your food purchases, and think about how you can waste less. Most people waste more food than they realize. By buying less food, you can not only reduce waste but reduce the carbon footprint created by producing and shipping the food to your local grocery store.
Avoid Flying If You Can, or Make up the Difference
According to The New Your Times, a round-trip flight from New York to California generates 20% as much as greenhouse gas as a standard car generates in a year. If possible, drive rather than fly, as driving a short distance is more fuel-efficient and carbon-footprint friendly than flying. This benefit is not as significant for longer trips. If possible, when flying long-haul trips, choose non-stop or as few stops as possible, as each time the plane takes off, it uses more fuel.
If you can’t avoid flying, you can choose to offset your flight emissions by donating to sustainable projects. This helps by taking out the same amount of CO2 from the atmosphere that your flight put into it.
Most of these changes are easy to implement and can immediately reduce your carbon footprint. Our choices can make a difference, and we all share the responsibility to take steps, big or small, to reduce our own carbon footprint.