Since the mid-20th century, Earth’s climate has been warming at an unprecedented rate. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there is at least a 95 percent probability that this is the result of human activity.
The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is the main driver in this warming trend. Shrinking ice sheets, global temperature rise, decreased snow cover, sea level rise, warming oceans, extreme natural disasters, and ocean acidification are all sources of evidence for this warming.
The issue of climate change may be an overwhelming subject for an individual to address, but there are many tools and resources to help one understand and manage their personal impact. A key component of sustainable living is the reduction of one’s carbon footprint.
What is a Carbon Footprint?
In the field of environmental science, an individual’s carbon footprint represents the total amount of carbon dioxide, methane, and other harmful emissions that result from their unique lifestyle. CO2 and methane are the two most harmful for the environment and as a result can be used to adequately evaluate one’s impact.
Carbon footprint calculators take into account factors such as location, income, transportation, energy use in the home, waste, and others. These calculators are widely available and are useful in the effort to implement sustainable living into one’s routine.
Learning about your carbon footprint is the first step in living sustainably. With increased awareness comes a clear understanding of how to approach the future.
Implementing Sustainable Living
There are several ways to implement sustainable living into your daily routine. An easy way to break it down is by focusing on three main areas of your life:
- Consumption (food and energy)
- Waste production
According to a study done by the Harvard Health Watch, the average American drives for 101 minutes per day. That is a total of over 614 hours per year. The emissions from diesel and gasoline engines include many harmful greenhouse gasses, all of which have significant environmental impacts. Although it may not be practical for everyone to take public transport or ride a bicycle, the simple reduction of one’s daily driving can have significant impacts on the collective level.
Energy and Food Consumption
Sustainable living techniques are easily applicable in the area of consumption. First, let’s focus on energy.
The average consumption of electricity for a U.S. household in 2016 was 897 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month. Approximately 65% of the electricity generated in the United states in 2016 came from fossil fuels (natural gas, coal, and petroleum). The energy stored in fossil fuels gets converted into electricity through various methods. Ultimately, this process leads to even more harmful emissions. Therefore, to start mitigating one’s environmental impact, it is important to minimize the amount of electricity being used in the household.
Here are some of the best ways to accomplish this.
- Wash clothes in cold water (~90% of the energy is used for heating the water).
- Turn off and unplug appliances and lights that you’re not using.
- Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs).
- Open windows for a breeze instead of using the air conditioning.
- Wear warm clothing instead of using the heater.
- Hang clothing to dry instead of using the dryer.
- Install energy-efficient appliances (solar panels, washing machines, etc.).
Consuming the right foods is also crucial in the effort to implement sustainable living into your routine. When thinking of what foods to buy, it is always important to think about its source. Locally sourced foods are more sustainable to consume for two reasons; Less travel equals fewer emissions, and buying local helps support the local economy in very significant ways.
Reducing your meat consumption can also mitigate your environmental impact. Greenhouse-gas emissions from the livestock sector amounts to between 16% and 20% of total global emissions. The cow is the main contributor and releases between 70 and 120 kg of methane per year. The effects of methane are 23 times that of CO2. So by cutting down on those hamburgers, you will be making a substantial impact.
The last area of focus in sustainable living is the individual’s production of waste. Reducing one’s use of plastic and recycling are the most effective methods in addressing this. The traditional approach to managing plastic waste is to bury it in landfills. The problem with this, however, is that some of the harmful chemicals in this waste can seep into the groundwater and lead to contamination.
Here are some habits that lead to more sustainable waste production.
- Use a refillable water bottle instead of disposable plastic bottles.
- Use reusable silverware and dishes instead of plastic substitutes.
- Recycle as much as possible, and buy products that come in recyclable material.
- Reuse and repurpose materials instead of recycling or disposing.
A Part of the Whole
Implementing sustainable living into one’s daily routine is an admirable endeavor that should always be encouraged. The small things that you do throughout your day will accumulate over time and create a significant impact. Multiply that by millions of people, and that is how real change is made.