Our carbon footprint is a lot like the impressions we leave behind in wet cement, but there’s a lot we can do to smooth it all out again and make a positive impact in the world instead.
Making footprints is easy, and we sometimes leave them behind without even realising it.
When walking on the beach, our footprints are washed away as the waves rise to meet the shoreline. But this isn’t the case with every type of footprint.
Think about what would happen if you stepped in wet cement? Your footprints are imprinted on that piece of earth, and will stay there once the cement has set.
It’s a constant reminder that you were there, and shows the impact you had on your surroundings.
A carbon footprint is similar, it shows the effects that your carbon dioxide consumption has on your environment, and can have a long-lasting impact.
Let’s take a closer look at our carbon footprint.
What is your “carbon footprint”?
I’d often heard people refer to their carbon footprint, but never completely understood what it was. I wondered: could it be reversed, like footprints in the sand are washed away?
After some research, I learnt that a carbon footprint refers to the total amount of carbon dioxide you produce while going about your daily life.
Carbon dioxide is a by-product of burning fuels like coal, oil and wood. While you may not be loading fuels into a burner every day, your daily activities can make use of lots of these types of fuels without you knowing it. Just think of the petrol that powers your car, and produces tons of carbon dioxide every time you take a trip.
So every time you drive to work or school, turn on your heater, or even when you buy a burger – because cooking uses fuel too – your carbon footprint increases.
Since carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas – a gas that adds to global warming – our contribution to carbon emissions can have a negative impact globally.
Have a look at these carbon-footprint facts, and the major effects of global warming according to National Geographic:
- The Earth’s poles, which are covered in ice, are melting.
- Antarctica’s Adélie penguin breeding pairs have decreased from 32,000 pairs to 11,000 over the last 30 years.
- Some fauna and flora are moving to higher, cooler areas in order to survive.
- Sea levels are rising at an increased rate.
- Worldwide, the average rain and snowfall have increased significantly.
How does our carbon footprint make a global impact?
Without taking the time to reduce our daily, weekly and yearly carbon footprints, the fast pace at which global warming is affecting the Earth will continue, and we can expect:
- the extinction of more wildlife due to changing ecosystems and habitat loss
- an increased occurrence of destructive weather events – like hurricanes, cyclones, droughts and floods
- more people being displaced and negatively affected by the effects of climate change.
Certain areas in my home country, South Africa, are already experiencing more frequent droughts, and this has had a significant effect on the well-being of people who live here.
And what is the biggest contributor to global warming today?
Cowspiracy, a documentary film on meat and dairy farming, states that the agriculture industry:
- is the number one cause of climate change
- uses ⅓ of the Earth’s fresh water
- has contributed to 91% of the destruction of rainforests
- uses 45% of the Earth’s total land.
Even if you choose to keep buying produce from large-scale farms, you can offset your carbon emissions by becoming more environmentally friendly in other aspects of your life – like by walking or biking to work instead of driving.
You’ll make the biggest impact if you try to reduce your carbon footprint in every area of your day-to-day- activities. And there are lots of everyday things that you can do to reduce yours, and add to a positive global impact.
Tracking your carbon footprint
The best way to start reducing your carbon footprint is to figure out how big it is first and then decide on how much you’re willing to reduce it by. But how can you keep track of your carbon footprint?
An online carbon-footprint calculator is an easy way to find out how big your carbon footprint is.
There are many free versions online. Take a look at the World Wildlife Fund’s carbon-footprint calculator here, and calculate your footprint today!
Reducing your carbon footprint
As soon as I had calculated my carbon footprint, I was taken aback by how high it was, but fired up to start making some positive changes.
After doing some research, this is what I came up with. There are tons of ways that we can start reducing our carbon footprints right now, but we can’t make an impact overnight!
You’ll immediately see your bin being filled with less waste as you opt for items with less packaging, and place food scraps in a composter. You may even feel the extra weight of your wallet once you start a veggie garden, and leave behind the carbon emissions linked to store-bought produce.
But it’s only once these efforts add up that you’ll start to see a positive impact that spreads beyond your own front door.
So sticking with your environmentally-friendly changes is just as important as starting in the first place! Luckily, there are lots of options to choose from, so you can start making an impact in a way that’s convenient for you too.
Let’s take a look at some practical ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint today:
- Make use of energy-saving light bulbs in your home.
- Swop to a plant-based diet, or practise meatless Mondays. This can cut your carbon footprint by up to 50%.
- Find ways to reuse your food waste – dinner leftovers make for great lunches!
- Support marine and wildlife conservation projects and contribute to efforts to make a positive impact.
- Knowledge is power. Do your homework on climate change and its effects.
- Support Earth Hour, and up your impact every year.
- Instead of leaving appliances and lights on standby, switch them off at the plug as soon as you’re done using them.
- Dust off your bicycle and cycle to work. If that’s not possible, walk or start a lift club.
- Consider using renewable energy – like solar or wind power – instead of energy generated by coal or gas.
- Reduce, reuse, and recycle all the plastic glass and paper that you would have thrown away.
These were my first steps in attempting to reduce my carbon footprint. They worked because they were simple, and made a significant difference in my carbon emissions.
And because they were manageable, they motivated me to challenge myself and find even bigger ways to drop my carbon emissions to an all-time low. And if I could do it, you can too!
Today activities that reduce your carbon footprint are being backed by players in all types of environments.
You’ll spot stores that are reducing the amount of packaging they use, employers that offer charging spots for electric cars, and governments who are upping their provision of renewable energy.
This means that there’s really no excuse not to hit the ground running and make some carbon-footprint friendly changes in your lifestyle right away.
Because, what’s more important than leaving behind something that says “I was here”, is leaving behind a healthy planet that benefited from your presence.