Carbon footprint is a way to provide a number to the release of greenhouse gases by a particular action. Since most evidence supports the fact that greenhouse gases are causing climate change, if an organization, product, person, or event can lower its total carbonfootprint, then it can help slow climate change.Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide trap heat, helping warm the globe. Thesurge in carbon dioxide levels due to human activity since the Industrial Revolution is now causing an overall warming of the planet that is having impacts around theglobe.
What is a carbon footprint and how is it calculated?
A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, released into the atmosphere by a particular human activity. A carbon footprint can be a broad measure or be applied to the actions of an individual, a family, an event, an organization, or even an entire nation. It is usually measured as tons of CO2 emitted per year, a number that can be supplemented by tons of CO2-equivalent gases, including methane, nitrous oxide, and other greenhouse gases.
When calculating a carbon footprint, a lot of factors are taken into consideration. For example, driving to the grocery store burns a certain amount of fuel, and fossil fuels are the primary sources of greenhouses gases. But that grocery store is powered by electricity, and its employees probably drove to work, so the store has its own carbon footprint. In addition, the products that the store sells were all shipped there, so that must also be factored into the total carbon footprint. Beyond that, the fruits, vegetables, and meats that the store sells were all grown or raised on farms, a process that produces methane, which has a greenhouse effect 25 times greater than CO2.
All of those elements must be combined to understand the full carbon footprint of a given activity. Although adding up one’s individual carbon footprint can be difficult, online calculators can do some of the work for you, giving a rough estimate of your carbon footprint based on the size of your household, the efficiency of your appliances, how much you drive or fly, what you eat, and how much you recycle. This isn’t perfect, but it is a good way to measure your activities so you can understand roughly how much CO2 they generate and take steps to reduce your carbon footprint.
Importance of reducing carbon footprint
The term carbon footprint has appeared in the news frequently with the explosion of information that has emerged about climate change. Carbon footprint is the overall amount of greenhouse gas emissions, consisting primarily of carbon dioxide, associated with an organization, event or production. It is one of the most common measures of the effect of an individual, community, industry, or country on the environment. An increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore in carbon footprint, is the primary event associated with climate change that has led to global warming.
Carbon Footprint and the Environment
Our increasing carbon footprint is having profound effects on the environment. Rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns are changing the growing patterns of plants and result in indigenous vegetation moving to increasingly cooler climates. Sea levels are rising as the temperature of our planet increases–warmer water occupies more space than cooler water. Rising seas will not only erode shorelines and destroy ecosystems, coastal cities and towns could be displaced by rising seas.
Carbon Footprint and Wildlife
As vegetation shifts climates because of increasing temperatures and shifting weather patterns, wildlife that depends on it will become threatened because it is unable to keep up with the rate at which the climate is changing. For example, migratory birds arrive at their destination to find that food sources such as plants bloomed too early or not at all and melting Arctic ice destroys hunting ground for polar bears. According to the Nature Conservancy, one quarter of the Earth’s species will be headed for extinction in 40 years if climate change increases at its current rate.
Carbon Footprint and Human Health
Our increased carbon footprint has the capacity to harm our health. Most at risk are women in agricultural work and children. According to the World Health Organization, climate change is projected to increase the percentage of people in Mali suffering from hunger from 34 percent to at least 64 percent 40 years from now. An increase in malnutrition is caused by the result of climate change on food crops, such as drought that interferes with the growing season.
Drought also causes diarrheal diseases as access to safe water is compromised. Vector-borne diseases such as malaria are increasing as the temperature increases it allows malaria mosquitoes to survive in countries which were previously too cool for them. Lastly, increased air pollution has caused an increase in respiratory problems like asthma and other allergies have increased.
Carbon Footprint and Economic Losses
The threat posed by our increasing carbon footprint on the economy is significant. Climate change will affect local economies dependent on land and natural resources the most, such as farms that fall victim to lowered crop yields. For example, according to the Nature Conservancy, economic losses due to our increasing carbon footprint and the resulting climate change has threatened the lobster industry in New England as catches have plummeted. In addition, the increase in ocean temperatures is threatening the survival of coral reefs, a $375 billion per year industry.
How to reduce carbon footprint?
1. Learn the 5 R’s: refuse, reduce, reuse, rot, recycle:
You’ve probably heard of the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. But there are two more that are equally important.
- Refuse – Avoid single use plastics and paper products by saying no thank you, opting for reusables.
- Reduce – Downsize what you purchase, opting to be more mindful of what you really need.
- Reuse – Always find a way to keep an item out of the landfill by keeping it in great condition, repairing or upcycling it when it breaks.
- Rot –Set up a compost system for your food scraps, or find a food scrap drop off centre (like a farmers market, or community garden) near your house.
- Recycle – Properly recycle any plastic, paper, glass or metal that comes into your life you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse by researching your state’s recycling laws.
2. Bike more and drive less:
Traditional cars put out a lot of exhaust, which pollutes the air. In fact, vehicles produce one-third of all U.S. air pollution. The toxins emitted by vehicles are also very dangerous for human health, considering the tailpipes are at street level where humans can breathe the air directly into their lungs. It requires much less energy to produce a bike than it does to manufacture a car.
If you can’t bike to work for whatever reason, take public transportation. It puts less cars on the road, which reduces the amount of exhaust filling the air at once.
3. Conserve water and protect our waterways:
Reducing your water usage is essential: There’s only so much water on this earth, and we can’t make any more of it. Here are a few ways to help conserve water and protect our waterways:
- When you brush your teeth, be sure to shut off the water while you lather up. Don’t leave it running. Only turn it on when it’s time to rinse your mouth out.
- Take shorter showers. A fun way to do this is by listening to a 5 to 10-minute song, then shut the shower off when it’s over.
- Don’t flush things down the toilet to dispose of them. One flush can waste up to 5 or 7 gallons of water!
- Avoid dish/body soaps filled with toxins. Conventional dish and body soap contain ingredients that go down the drain and only further pollute our water supply. Make the switch toall-natural, eco-friendly soap.
- Opt for reusables. Lots of disposable items take gallons of water to make. For example, one roll of toilet paper takes 37 gallons of water; A single disposable diaper takes 144 gallons of water. There are several other products, like paper plates, cups and towels, that gallons of water to make as well. That’s why switching to reusables will help you save water in the long run.
5. Switch to sustainable, clean energy:
The U.S. gets 81 percent of its total energy from oil, coal and natural gas (in other words, fossil fuels). These fuels heat our homes, run our cars, and provide us with electricity. However, fossil fuels are limited, finite resources and just the transportation of them alone can cause air pollution. When the fuels are burned, they emit toxins that speed up climate change.You can help stop our reliance on fossil fuels by switching to sustainable energy today. There are so many amazing, innovative ways to source energy in this day and age. Solar and wind power are just a few (though, by far the most common).
Here’s how to cut down on fossil fuels:
- Install solar panels on your roof: This is the most expensive option, but a good one if you feel you can make the investment. Talk to a professional and a trusted company before making the leap. Your own utility may even offer installation.
- Join a community solar farm: This is a lot more feasible if you’re on a budget. Or don’t have a suitable roof. The solar farms are remote and don’t require you to install anything on your property. In return, you’ll see savings on your energy bill over time.
- Sign up for energy saving programs: Many utilities are beginning to offer programs that will help you reduce your energy usage, and save a buck. See if yours offers any you can take advantage of.
- Cut down on electricity use altogether: No matter what you decide to do, using less electricity is always the best option. Invest in more energy efficient products and make sure to shut off lights when you’re not in a room.
- Buy an electric car: Instead of buying a traditional car buy an electric car. If it’s too out of budget, consider buying a used electric car instead.
We are well aware of the current climate change and how it is affecting our environment. To effectively deal with global warming, we must significantly reduce the amount of heat trapping emissions we are putting into the atmosphere. We have the technology and practical solutions at hand to accomplish it, some of which are mentioned above. As individuals we can help by taking action to reduce our personal carbon emissions. Acknowledge your social responsibility towards our environment and work towards making it a better place to live for our future generations.
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