How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Strategies to live more sustainably
How can we be more proactive in reducing our carbon footprint?
How can we be more proactive in reducing our carbon footprint?
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Carbon footprint refers to the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as CO2 and methane, produced by individuals, organizations and households. The concept has assumed great significance in light of the urgency to fight climate change. If we are to successfully fight climate change and keep the increase in global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius, reducing individual and institutional carbon footprint should be our priority. The main advantage of the concept of a carbon footprint is that it allows people to make changes in their lifestyle—big or small—that they are comfortable with, and yet help society transition to sustainability.

Main Components of the Carbon Footprint

1. Transportation: It can be argued that cars are a quintessential part of American culture. However, our love of cars comes at a hefty environmental price, namely, the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the burning of gasoline which fuels not only climate change but also causes air pollution affecting public health negatively. One of the most effective ways of reducing our carbon footprint is by opting for public transport, such as buses and trains, when feasible. Walking is also a good option. Similarly, electric or hybrid vehicles produce a small fraction of the emissions produced by the internal combustion engine used by gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles or none at all providing great options to reduce our carbon footprint.

At a broader level, the government can help by designing towns and cities that are pedestrian-friendly and walking oriented. For example, mixed-use neighborhoods can have offices and residences in proximity to each other, thus reducing the need to commute long distances. Similarly, sidewalks can encourage people to walk to their neighborhood grocery stores and schools. The government can also provide subsidies to enable people to buy electric cars reducing both air pollution and climate change.

2. Energy use: Individuals can take steps to make their homes more energy efficient. This could be accomplished by improving insulation, which could lower the energy needed to heat or cool a home, lowering both emissions and costs for the family. Rooftop solar panels are another great option that can substantially lower the household carbon footprint. Furthermore homeowners and others can take advantage of the generous subsidies offered by the government to offset the cost of solar installation. The homeowners can also sell the energy produced by their rooftop solar installation to the grid (“net metering”). This can be an additional incentive to install rooftop solar panels. Additionally, LED light bulbs, which consume a tiny fraction of the energy required by fluorescent bulbs, should be used where possible. Other easy ways to decrease household energy consumption are lowering the temperature of hot water, using full loads in washing machines, and turning off computers and other appliances when not in use.

3. Lowering consumption: Americans in general are avid consumers with many practicing the idiom of “shop ‘til you drop!” While this may be gratifying to individuals collectively, it imposes a huge burden on the environment. Clothes, gadgets and shoes that we buy require energy and materials to be made. For instance, a cell phone has many metals in it that are mined and transported over long distances, involving huge energy expenditures. Due to a cultural preference for the latest fashion or trends, people often discard their perfectly good gadgets or clothing so that they can fit in with their peer groups or attain a status boost through consumption. This generates huge amounts of waste which is often disposed of in landfills. The transportation of waste also has a significant carbon footprint which can be substantially reduced if we lower our consumption levels. Reducing consumption levels will require a multi-pronged effort. Schools, for instance, can educate students about the harmful environmental and economic effects of consumption. Furthermore, the connection between consumption levels and happiness is far from a simple one. In other words, once our basic needs are met, a higher level of consumption (i.e. more stuff) does not guarantee happiness.

4. Food: With globalization, our food supplies are increasingly sourced from around the world. Transportation of food over long distances involves expenditure of energy. If we opt for locally sourced foods we can lower our carbon footprint. This could also support family farms if we choose to buy from local farmers. Another way to lower our food-related carbon footprint is through choosing fruits and vegetables that are in season and which have been minimally processed (e.g. fresh as opposed to frozen). We should also be mindful about food waste which ends up in landfills producing methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. Any food or kitchen waste can be easily composted instead of being discarded, which would add to the waste burden and occupy space in landfills.

These four areas provide ample opportunities to individuals, families and organizations to lower their carbon footprint. This will allow us to lower our GHGs and slow the pace of climate change. We can easily incorporate these strategies in our lifestyle without compromising our quality of life. With the plethora of information available on the internet, changes are easier to understand and implement. What we need is the willpower and the intent! Given the seriousness of the threat that climate change presents, we do not have time to lose. As Gandhi famously said, “let us be the change that we want to see in the world.”

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