What is a Carbon Footprint?
We all have a carbon footprint, a measurement of the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we create by our daily activities. When carbon is released into the atmosphere faster than it can be reabsorbed by natural processes, it contributes to global warming. Presently, CO2 is being released ~3x faster than it can be reabsorbed, which means that almost everything we do aggravates the problem – from driving a car to lighting or cooling our homes, turning on a computer and heating our water. Sounds overwhelming? I see it more as an opportunity to take action to reduce our footprint in almost every aspect of our life.
Change at every level is crucial.
A carbon footprint is unique to each individual because we all manifest different behaviors. Some of us are more aware than others of our personal environmental impacts.
Various governments address this challenge differently. While some have programs in place to control carbon emissions, others are far from implementing a change. Actions taken by some city authorities, for example, include:
- green building ordinances
- outreach strategies to educate residents about climate change challenges and solutions
- incentives and tools to encourage residents to save energy and water
- promotion of alternative transportation systems and carpooling
- investment in public transport and infrastructure to facilitate cycling and walking
However, governments often prioritize economic development at the environment’s expense. Retrofitting infrastructure can provide a major economic stimulus. But beyond the economic issue is the moral question. It is now clear that our lifestyles are threatening not only the planet but future generations. Ironically, economically disadvantaged populations often suffer a greater burden of climate disruption while being the least culpable.
Each of us can lower our dependence on the Earth’s precious resources by adopting a few simple habits. However, while achieving behavioral change for children is relatively easy, adults who are more set in their ways pose a greater challenge. Sustainability education at all levels is needed.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
The consumption choices we make influence our carbon footprint. Here are some simple things you can do today to help reduce your environmental impact, save money, and live a happier, healthier life:
- Take shorter showers. (Try a shower timer!)
- Install a low-flow showerhead
- Ensure aerators are installed on all faucets
- Opt for native, drought-tolerant plants
- Don’t pre-rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher
- Install low-flow or dual-flush toilets
- Turn lights off when leaving the room
- Turn up the thermostat. When at home, set it at 78 degrees. When away raise the setting to 82-85 degrees. Consider programmable thermostats.
- Clean or change air conditioner filters monthly
- Replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient LED or CFL bulbs
- Unplug appliances and turn off computer monitors when not in use
- Use a ‘smart’ power strip to cut ‘vampire’ energy use
- Install opaque, white blinds or roller shades, and close them when leaving for the day
- Use cold water whenever possible, especially for washing clothes
- Insulate your water heater and set to 115°F
- Consume less meat; animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
- Eliminate waste by using a reusable water bottles, shopping bags, etc.
- Buy in bulk. Avoid products packaged for single use
- Opt for online bill pay and statements to eliminate paper waste
- Unsubscribe from junk mail and catalogs when possible.
- Use e-mail instead of printing documents when possible.
- When possible, print on both sides of the paper.
- Buy recycled or FSC certified paper.
- Walk or bike to save on gas and parking costs
- Use mass transit, carpool or consider telecommuting
- Buy from local businesses when possible
- Avoid car idling to decrease emissions and fuel waste
- Clean out your car. Excess weight can decrease gas mileage by 1-2% for every 100 lbs.
- Maintain your vehicle’s engine and tires. Properly inflated tires and a well-tuned engine save money and our environment!
Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if we achieved carbon-neutrality? By carbon-neutral I mean reducing carbon emissions to a level which does not contribute to global warming. Human society can phase out carbon emissions by focusing on energy efficiency, water conservation and investing in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and forestry so as to achieve overall ecological balance. New jobs would be created, and our children’s children would not be born into a world where their quality of life is seriously menaced by actions that were not of their making.