If you don't believe in climate change this post isn't for you. This post is for logical people. The most recent report from the UN on climate change was the most startling yet - but is it enough to make you try to change your carbon footprint?
Welcome to the hilarious world of carbon footprints!!! HAHAHAHAHA!!! They're so funny!!!! Sorry, yeah, carbon footprints aren't intrinsically funny but I figured if I started out with a BANG you'd stick with me. Said every high school girl ever.
I've done my best to make this information as digestible as a piece of dry toast - but the fun kind with an outline of the Virgin Mary burned into it to make it interesting and a bit alarming.
So let's get started then.
Table of Contents
What's a Carbon Footprint
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced and emitted into the atmosphere. This can refer to a business, individual or country. These greenhouse gases collect in the atmosphere and trap heat. BINGO. You have global warming and climate change because heat from the earth can't escape the atmosphere.
The good news is if we continue on like this we won't need to travel to tropical destinations for vacation because wherever you live will be a tropical destination. Also you'll possibly be dead. So there's that.
Your personal carbon footprint is a reflection of how good or shit you are in terms of controlling the greenhouse gases your life/lifestyle emits. A BIG carbon footprint means your particular life leads to a lot of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. A small carbon footprint means your life barfs fewer greenhouse gases into the air.
How big or small your carbon footprint is is based on the amount and how you travel, how much energy your home uses, how much shopping you do and what you eat. Among, ya know, other things.
So What are Greenhouse Gases?
Greenhouse gases are the bad things that block heat from escaping the atmosphere. They include Carbon Dioxide (from burning oil, coal or gas - think heating/cooling your home ), Methane (from the production and transport of oil, coal and gas and livestock - think cows/beef/sheep/goats ), Nitrous Oxide (agricultural fertilizers, and poop - again thinking livestock raised for you to eat ) and Fluorinated gases (from refrigerators, car air conditioning, foam production and aerosols ).
If you have your air conditioner set so cold you look like Jennifer Aniston in an episode of Friends, then you are creating more greenhouse gases than someone who keeps the temperature more moderate.
Both Canadians and Americans have the Bigfoot of carbon footprints. Only outdone by Australians. That's in terms of individual use. As far as countries go, China is the worst for emitting greenhouse gases, followed by the U.S.
Right now, average individuals in Australia, Canada and the US have HUGE carbon footprints, emitting 16-20 tonnes per person per year.
In order to stop the world from imploding - or exploding - we need to reduce that to 2 tonnes per person per year. Holy shit is right.
So how can you start to reduce your carbon footprint? Here's how based on the 4 biggest culprits in your life: travel, energy use, shopping and food consumption.
- Drive Less Cars are major emitters so before you hop in it to go to the store don't. Either walk to the store if you can or just plan ahead so you're taking ONE trip for several things instead of several trips for one thing each time.
- Fly Less Even ONE trip in an airplane is monumentally bad. One flight from Toronto to Florida for example produces the same amount of greenhouse gases as driving for an entire year.
Can't stop flying because (insert what's probably a made up reason but justifiable in your head here)? Then you should try to do these things.
- Fly direct. Flying direct might cost more but it uses less energy because there are less take offs and landings (where major emissions occur)
- Fly during the day. I couldn't begin to explain it but there are sciencey reasons why flying during the day produces less emissions.
- Make the next car you buy electric. Just remember to scream wildly out the window as you're driving because nobody can hear those cars coming.
- Don't fly.
- When you fly vow to offset your emissions.
Offsetting your emissions basically means giving money to organizations that put money into funding green energy or reducing emissions in other ways. A lot of airlines give you this option when you buy your ticket. Honestly. It's a thing.
- Turn your water heater down to 120 F / 49 C. Unless you're using your bathtub to cook hard boiled eggs, you don't need it hotter than that.
- Turn your air conditioner up or your furnace down by 2 degrees.
- Use an energy provider that has a green option (power provided by wind or solar) or use offsetting. In Ontario, where I'm from, a company called Bullfrog charges you a fee every month that they invest in green energy to offset the fossil fuel energy your home uses.
- Finally switch to LED lightbulbs. Seriously. Where are you even GETTING regular old lightbulbs?? You bought cases of them when you heard the switch was coming didn't you?
- Unplug instead of turn off. (the television, coffee maker, any other appliances)
- Use a laptop instead of a desktop computer (they use less energy.)
- Trees and shrubs. Plant 'em around your house. They can cool your home so much that your air conditioner won't need to come on nearly as often. And in the winter they protect your house from cold blowing winds.
- Dry your clothing on a clothesline.
If you ever see a farmhouse on the prairies or anywhere with open land surrounding it you'll notice the house is usually surrounded by trees. It's to protect the house from blowing winds and sun. So be smart like a farmer. Insulate your home with trees and bushes.
- Go solar. Solar panels, solar roofing shingles, solar lighting.
- Make your home more energy efficient with insulation or new windows. Even just filling cracks with spray foam can make a big difference. But energy efficient windows, doors and skylights can make a bigger difference.
- Choose natural fibres over synthetics for clothing.
- Shop Fair Trade. That means looking for the Fair Trade logo on food and clothing. It means it was ethically made and sustainably sourced. Don't worry. There's nice Fair Trade clothing. You won't have to dress like a drunk Sherpa.
- Calm the hell down with your midnight online anxiety induced shopping binges. The manufacturing, shipping and disposal of that $10 pair of pants that you only wear once is contributing to climate change.
You and the environment are better off if you buy ONE good thing that lasts and looks good for years than succumbing to all the Instagram ads for what is basically disposable clothing.
At Christmas nobody wants to see your family sitting on a bed wearing matching plaid pyjamas anyway. I know. You thought we liked it. We don't. We know you're just a regular family that normally wears old tee shirts to bed. It's O.K.
- Buy used and vintage. That goes for everything. Clothing, tables, chairs, make up. Just kidding. You can buy new make up. Nobody wants you to get a rash or pink eye.
- Fix stuff. K, you need to learn to fix your own shit or pay someone to fix it. Because throwing it out and getting a new one isn't a good option. Also complain to companies about their shit products. Everyone knows that things aren't made the way they used to be. The reason for that is so people throw shit out and buy new shit that will eventually break and the cycle continues with big companies making lots of money.
- Stop shopping. Seriously. Just stop. Find another way to make yourself happy or reward yourself. Get a different hobby. Learn to make your own moonshine or make really awesome toilet paper covers or dog biscuits or something.
83% of your personal carbon footprint
is created by FOOD.
THIS is the place you can make the biggest impact on your carbon footprint.
- Eat Less Meat That's right. Just less meat. You don't have to give up burgers or steaks entirely. If you eat meat 7 days a week just give yourself one meatless day in the week. If you already cut down on meat, do it some more. Or swap beef for chicken.
WHY IS BEEF BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?
The effect of raising cattle on the environment is multifaceted. They take a lot of feed, water and land to raise and once raised they burp a LOT producing one of those sneaky greenhouse gases - methane. To raise the beef, forested land is often clear cut. This takes away the one thing in this world that's silently working to reduce greenhouse gases: trees.
The creation of *one* pound of ground beef releases 14.8 pounds of CO2 in the the air.
One mature tree can absorb 48 pounds of CO2 per year.
The number one thing we want to do is reduce the amount of CO2 in the air. Trees do that naturally every second of every day. But don't be fooled. Just planting trees isn't going to fix this. We need to do other things too.
- Grow Your Own The biggest contribution to greenhouse gases is in the production of food as opposed to the delivery of it. Eat food that's in season and grow what you can at home. Growing your own helps reduce greenhouse gases produced by large commercial grow operations plus you aren't hopping in your car to go to the grocery store as much. Also chances are what you're growing is a Black Krim tomato as opposed to a 2,000 lb Black Angus cow. However, having backyard chickens is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint.
I know these seem like stupid little changes that'll never amount to anything. Just because something seems insignificant doesn't mean it is.
- Don't waste food. Like I mentioned above, food is probably the main source of your entire carbon footprint. Wasting food is like directly shooting all of the greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with a tee shirt canon for no reason at all.
Only buy what you need. 🥒 Make a menu for the week and buy the exact ingredients you need for that. 🍽 Rework leftovers into something new or suck it up and just eat leftovers.🍗 Scan your fridge every week to see what you need to use up before it goes bad. 🥜 Don't impulse buy bulk if you can't use it up.
Become Vegan. Going vegan is the #1 way you can reduce the carbon footprint produced by your food consumption. By doing this you eliminate 2 of the biggest greenhouse gas culprits - meat & dairy.
Become Vegetarian*. That's O.K. You're not willing to give up cream in your coffee or scrambled eggs. Going vegetarian is still going to make a huge difference in your personal carbon footprint.
*Or you can be a pretend vegetarian like me. I eat meat, but only a couple of times a week.
Continue to eat meat but grow all of the other food you consume. Sounds hard and it is. But it can be done. I grow the majority of my own vegetables, fruit, dried beans and some of my grains on a 40' x 40' rented community garden plot. Throughout the summer I preserve everything for the winter. To be honest, by February I'm really sick of canned beans and root vegetables. #truth
6 Easy Things You Can Do TODAY
- Look through your fridge for food that's getting old and use it.
- Make roasted tomato sauce out of tomatoes that are getting past their prime.
2. Fill cracks in your house foundation and around windows with a can of that spray foam. The aerosol is bad and the foam component is bad. But it's offset by the benefits of insulating your house.
3. Walk to the store instead of driving.
4. Turn your heat down or your air conditioning up by 2 degrees.
5. That sour cream container you're about to throw out or recycle can be washed and used to store other stuff like your yogurt or roasted tomato sauce in the freezer. Which only needs to be set to 0 F / -18 C by the way. Stick a thermometer in your freezer and increase the temperature if it's needlessly low. That's a bonus tip for you.
6. Keeping your car windows rolled up so your toots don't escape isn't an efficient way to reduce methane. Turning the air conditioner in your car off and rolling down the windows instead is. If you do go for a drive today roll down the windows instead of blasting the air.
If you made it all the way to the end of this, thank you. It's easy to think this is someone else's responsibility. That someone, somewhere, won't let the planet burst into flames. But it's already happening. So clearly that approach isn't working. For any of us.
You don't have to change everything. But you have to change something. And you need to start doing it today. Don't make it a bigger deal than it is. Nobody's asking you to eat cow farts. Just eat a bit less meat, don't buy garbage you don't need and change your thermostat by a couple of degrees.
The action isn't a big deal but the impact is.