Climate change and global warming are two of the biggest problems currently threatening planet earth. Since the Industrial Revolution (a little over 200 years ago), human activity has led to an exponential increase in the average temperature of the earth.
This is largely due to the fact that humans have been burning ever-increasing quantities of fossil fuel to operate the many machines, technologies, and industries that have come into existence over the last 200 years, since the Industrial Revolution.
Due to our over-reliance on fossil fuels, there has been a 46 percent increase in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) present in the earth’s atmosphere. The proportion of other greenhouse gases – such as methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons – has also increased.
Greenhouse gases are simply those gases present in the atmosphere that trap the heat generated by the sun, preventing it from escaping the surface of the earth. An increase in the amount of greenhouse gases, therefore, directly leads to a rise in the average temperature of the planet.
This phenomenon is known as anthropogenic (or human-induced) climate change. The rising temperature is already leading to rapid and irreversible global warming.
Apart from the burning of fossil fuels for energy, factors like agriculture, urbanization, deforestation, and other human-driven changes in land use patterns also contribute to global warming.
Carbon atoms of varying atomic weight – known as carbon isotopes – allow scientists to identify the source of the carbon dioxide molecules in the air. As a result, we now have conclusive proof that the recent increases in the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are the result of human interference.
Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
Unchecked global warming is fast driving us to the brink of a climatic disaster. Corporations, governments, and nonprofits around the world are now working together, to try and minimize the damage caused by climate change.
In a situation so dire, what can a single individual possibly do to affect change?
There are, in fact, several steps you can personally take to help in the fight against global warming. Chief among them is to reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible.
Your carbon footprint is simply the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere, as a direct result of your choices and activities. Apart from individuals – companies, countries, and communities can all have their own carbon footprint.
Both at home and at work, there are several things you can do to minimize your carbon footprint. Primarily, you’ll need to reduce the amount of energy you use and the amount of waste you generate in your day-to-day life. Even little changes can add up over time and contribute to an overall decrease in the emission of greenhouse gases.
Fossil fuels like coal, petroleum, and natural gas are some of the major causes of global warming. Therefore, reducing your energy consumption – or shifting to renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro power – can help lower your carbon footprint.
In 2017, the US released a total of 5.27 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, averaging about 16.21 tons per capita. Hence, the carbon footprint of US citizens is second only to that of Australians, who released 16.96 tons of carbon dioxide per capita, during the same year. The main industries driving these greenhouse gas emissions are energy production, waste management, agriculture, and industrial processes.
On an individual level, your household energy usage, waste production, diet, travel habits, and shopping choices are some of the factors that can have an impact on your carbon footprint. You can use a reliable online carbon footprint calculator, such as the one offered by the World Wide Fund for Nature, to work out your own carbon footprint. Knowing the exact number might help you outline a more effective plan to reduce it.
Tips to Lower Your Carbon Footprint
Listed below are some of the simplest and most straightforward ways to reduce your carbon footprint, with minimal changes to your daily habits and lifestyle.
1. Insulate Your Living Space
To ensure your own comfort and wellbeing, as well as that of your family, you need to heat your home during the winter and keep it cool during the summer. Such temperature regulation, while essential, can be quite expensive and energy-intensive. Properly insulating your walls, ceiling, floors, and loft is a good way to reduce the amount of energy needed for temperature regulation.
By helping reduce your energy needs, proper insulation will also lower your carbon footprint as well as your household energy bills. Thus, insulating your home is good for the environment as well as for your wallet.
Sealing the gaps around your doors and windows is one of the most important aspects of proper home insulation. These gaps allow the temperature-regulated air inside the home to leak out, while letting the unregulated, external air seep in, thus working at cross-purposes with your air conditioner, furnace, etc.
According to Barry Contrael, the director of Siemens’ Low Voltage business division, when all the gaps and leaks are added up, the average American home has a basketball-sized hole in the wall. The energy you will save by sealing up these gaps will be enough to operate a refrigerator for a year.
The floors, walls, and ceiling of your home should be insulated with the type of insulating material that is most suitable for that specific surface. Some of the popular insulating materials include fiberglass, drywall, wood, and cellulose.
Each of these materials resists the flow of heat to a different degree, at various levels of thickness. This thermal resistance property of a given material is expressed as its R-value. To create an energy-efficient, net-zero home, you must optimize the thickness and R-value of all the insulating materials used during the construction (or renovation) of your residence.
A net-zero home is simply one that is so well-insulated and energy-efficient that it produces as much energy as it consumes in a year. If you can successfully turn your property into a net-zero home, you will not have to pay any energy bills and will have a living space that is comfortable, environmentally sustainable, quiet, healthful, and affordable.
2. Embrace Renewable Sources of Energy
Since the burning of fossil fuels is one of the major causes of greenhouse gas emissions, switching to renewable sources of energy is perhaps the best way to reduce your carbon footprint.
Many energy providers around the country now offer greener tariffs, allowing you to source most of the electricity you use from solar, hydro, wind, and other renewable resources. You can also install solar panels in your home to save money on energy bills and reduce your household carbon footprint.
Solar panels often require a bit of upfront investment. However, the long-term energy savings (and years of lower utility bills) will more than make up for that initial investment.
A set of high-quality solar panels on your roof will effectively harvest the free heat and light produced by the sun, turning it into electricity for you to use. The federal as well as state governments offer various tax incentives for people installing solar panels in their home, to encourage the use of renewable energy resources.
This is a much better alternative to coal-burning power plants, which produce over 50 percent of all electricity used in the United States, and are considered to be the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, you must look for a utility company that offers green energy plans in your area, in order to reduce your carbon footprint.
3. Purchase Energy-Efficient Appliances
An energy-efficient electrical appliance is a refrigerator, air conditioner, or dishwasher that was especially designed to be less energy-intensive than other models or products in its category. Innovative, energy-saving technologies are used to manufacture these appliances.
Many companies declare exactly how energy-efficient a particular product is, and how much electricity it will allow you to save over a period of time. As a result, you can make an informed choice every time you purchase a new appliance for your home.
For the best results, you should check the Energy Star rating of any electrical appliance or device before you buy it. The presence of an Energy Star label automatically means that the product is more energy-efficient than the minimum guidelines.
Most appliances will have anywhere between one and six stars. The more stars a product has, the more energy-efficient it is, relative to other models of the same size. For additional energy savings, always remember to switch off and unplug any appliance that you’re not using at the time.
Lastly, you can use compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) to light your energy-efficient home. CFLs use one-fourth the energy of incandescent light bulbs, and last about ten times longer. Modern CFLs also do not have the greenish tinge that past versions often did.
4. Minimize Water Usage at Home
Running water, supplied by pipes and faucets directly into our homes, is something we often take for granted. However, a lot of energy and resources are used to process and deliver this water to your bathroom, kitchen, etc. Moreover, once the water has been delivered, additional energy is spent on heating it for your shower.
Hence, you can significantly lower your carbon footprint simply by making a conscious effort to use less water. Taking short showers, washing some of your clothes in cold water, and turning off the tap while you’re brushing your teeth are some of the simple actions that could have far-reaching consequences, in the long term.
You could also consider buying a solar water heater, to make sure that only environmentally sustainable, renewable energy is used to heat your bath water. Another useful tip – to achieve your zero carbon footprint goal – would be the use of low-flow shower heads in your bathroom.
Low-flow shower heads prevent the wastage of hot water by dispensing no more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute. However, the best low-flow shower heads force the water through very small apertures, which increases the velocity of the water and maintains the water pressure, despite the smaller amount of water being dispensed. When less warm water is dispensed, less energy is needed to heat water for a shower, which ultimately leads to the conservation of both water and energy.
5. Use Electric Vehicles
Electric vehicles (also known as EVs) do not run on fossil fuels, nor do they emit any polluting exhaust gases. According to research conducted by the European Energy Agency, the rate of carbon emissions from electric vehicles is around 17 to 30 percent lower than a similar vehicle that runs on diesel or petrol.
This helps minimize air pollution in congested cities, by preventing the release of ever-greater amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Apart from the well-known electric cars from Tesla, Nissan, Audi, etc., you can also opt for electric bikes and e-scooters, for a more budget-friendly option.
While electric vehicles are certainly more ecofriendly and sustainable than their petrol or diesel counterparts, they do release some greenhouse gases during the manufacturing phase and the battery-charging process. Public transport like trains, buses, and the subway will always be the better option – but if you must drive a car, you should definitely drive one that runs on electricity instead of traditional petroleum fuels like diesel and petrol.
6. Mind Your Dietary Choices
Switching to a diet with fewer animal products – like meat and dairy – can significantly lower your carbon footprint. This is because meat and dairy are obtained from cattle. These animals require lots of land, food, and water to survive, until it is time for them to be slaughtered for meat.
Cattle also produce a lot of methane while digesting coarse plant material like grass, hay, leaves, etc. As mentioned earlier in this article, methane is one of the primary greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Thus, cattle farming is one of the activities that leads directly to climate change.
You should also try to consume organic, plant-based, and locally-sourced food, whenever possible. Shipping food items from one country to another requires a lot of energy and resources. You can prevent a lot of energy wastage simply by patronizing your local farmers’ market more often. Plan out your meals ahead of time and freeze any leftovers for future consumption, to further reduce food wastage.
You can use the above-mentioned tips to significantly reduce your carbon footprint over the next few years. This is important, because the greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere today will remain here for thousands of years.
The resulting climate change will affect the lives of generations of humans yet to be born, leading to problems like prolonged droughts, frequent storms, and devastating wildfires.
Hence, by doing everything you can to reduce your carbon footprint today, you are helping improve the lives of the billions of humans who currently inhabit the planet, and the trillions who will inhabit it long after we’re gone.