Climate change, carbon footprint… Sounds overwhelming, right? It is a complex topic that is only the umbrella of many other environmental issues. In the midst of new reports coming out and social media buzzing about the topic, what do we believe? Can we actually reduce our carbon footprint?
Think you can’t reduce your carbon footprint?
As a college student at a small business school, this is something my peers and I (generally) are confused about/don’t take as much time to understand, as most of us, are there to study business and less concerned about environmental issues.1 And in a way, I get it, climate change is not an easy issue to understand. And, to make matters more complicated, there is a lot of controversy around the topic. So to make things a bit easier for you, we’ve put together a few facts to help you better understand this complex issue as well as compiled some easy tips to help you reduce your carbon footprint and become more conscious consumers.
Climate Change: Let’s start with the facts:
Fact #1: The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that human activities have caused approximately an increase of 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels. If this trend continues, global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052. This would cause severe negative environmental and social impacts.
Best case scenario:
- At 2 degrees, the melting of ice sheets will pass a tipping point of collapse, flooding dozens of the world’s major cities this century.
- 400 million more people will suffer from water and food scarcity.
- Nearly all coral reefs could die out.
- Wildfires and heat waves would sweep across the planet annually. 2
Fact #2: Over the past century, the ocean has risen 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters due to global warming. To put this in perspective: “When averaged over all of the world’s oceans, absolute sea level has risen at an average rate of 0.06 inches per year from 1880 to 2013. Since 1993, however, average sea level has risen at a rate of 0.11 to 0.14 inches per year—roughly twice as fast as the long-term trend.” 3
Fact #3: Antarctica’s ice is melting six times faster today than it was melting 40 years ago. 4 According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, between 1979 and 1990, Antarctica shed an average of 40 billion tons of ice mass annually. From 2009 to 2017, about 252 billion tons per year were lost. And the rate of ice melt has increased as well, by nearly three times.” 5
Fact #4: Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment indicate that Greenland lost an average of 281 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2016, while Antarctica lost about 119 billion tons during the same time period 6
How Does This Happen?
Greenhouse gases are the main culprit when it comes to why our planet is heating up. This includes carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor, which trap heat in the atmosphere and in turn cause the planet to warm up. But, it is important to note that greenhouse gases are not always a bad thing — we need them. Without them, the Earth’s temperature would be too cold to support life. However, at the rate we’re going — global atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have risen approximately 44% since the 1750s mostly due to the combustion of fossil fuels for energy” (EPA, IPCC 2013; NOAA/ESRL 2017a) — it would heat up the planet beyond survivable levels.
Fact: The United States is the second largest contributor to CO2 in our atmosphere with 16.5 metric tons (almost 40 pounds per person) emitted per capita…yet only holds 4.4% of the world’s population! We would need four Earths to be able to sustain everyone at this rate. If we continue at this rate worldwide we will face severe environmental and social impacts similar to the ones listed above. 7
What You Can Do
It’s unlikely that one person alone can make a significant change for the planet. The kind of change required to protect our planet from climate change threats will require proactive efforts from all parts of society — collaboration among government, academia, industry, science, and of course all of us. Working together is the only way we will actually move the needle in the right direction. And, of course nothing will happen overnight. So, to help get you started and to make things just a tad bit easier, we’ve put together a few simple tips to help you become wiser consumers, more informed global citizens, and simple tips to help you reduce your carbon footprint.
4 Simple Ways To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
1) Protect our forests:
Did you know that “Forests currently remove around a quarter of the CO2 humans add to the atmosphere, keeping climate change from getting even worse. By destroying forests, we not only emit carbon dioxide but also lose the role forests play, through photosynthesis, in taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere?” 8
What you can do:
- Use recycled paper products such as recycled paper towels, toilet paper, envelopes, etc. (We will be sharing a few of our favorite brands in a separate post #staytuned).
- Use the online search engine Ecosia — with every search you make they plant trees. To date Ecosia has planted over 45 million trees all over the world. You can install their search engine + get more info here.
- A fun way to reduce your carbon footprint? Give the gift of trees.
A few organizations we love:
One Tree Planted
Stand for Trees
2) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, & Upcycle
The zero-waste movement isn’t solely about preventing plastic from polluting our oceans and landfills (an important and complex issue we will cover in future blogs) — it’s also about reducing our carbon footprint. The more waste we produce, the more trash we send to landfills and the more greenhouse gases we emit.
Landfills are the third largest source of methane (CH4) emissions in the United States, accounting for 16.4% of total CH4 emissions in 2016. (Methane is generated in landfills as waste decomposes and in the treatment of wastewater.) 9 Over the last 250 years, the concentration of CH4 in the atmosphere increased by 163% 10
- In 2015, about 262 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste were generated in the United States, of which
- 52.5% was landfilled
- 25.8% was recycled
- 12.8% was burned with energy recovery
- 8.9% was composted 11
Some good news:
Waste-to-energy: Landfill methane can actually be converted into a source of energy.
Confined and controlled burning, known as combustion, not only helps to decrease the volume of solid waste destined for landfills, but also recovers energy from the waste-burning process. Waste-to-energy generates a renewable energy source, reduces carbon emissions by offsetting the need for energy from fossil sources and reduces methane generation from landfills.
In fact, in 2016, 71 U.S. power plants generated about 14 billion kilowatthours of electricity from burning about 30 million tons of combustible Municipal Solid Waste (MSW).
What you can do:
- Whenever possible try to reduce your single-use plastic usage; this includes straws, sandwich bags, razors, etc.
- Leave grass clippings on your lawn after you mow instead of bagging them. The clippings will return nutrients to the soil instead of taking up space in landfills.
- Use food scraps, yard trimmings, and other organic wastes to create a compost pile. Adding compost to soil increases water retention, decreases erosion, and keeps organic materials out of landfills.
- Be sure to recycle packaging materials after your move. Many organizations, like U-Haul, have places where you can drop of unused boxes for others to reuse.
- When traveling, think about carpooling, using an electric vehicle, or mass transportation instead of your own car.
- Use your purchasing power! #thewiseconsumer Remember, the more you buy eco-friendly products the more the trend will catch on to source and produce their products more sustainably.
3) Eat for a more stable climate
When it comes to climate change, what you eat can actually make a difference.
What you can do:
- When planning meals, shopping or ordering in a restaurant, consider:
- How low on the food chain is this?
- How much energy goes into producing it?
- Is it grown organically?
- How far did it travel to get to the store/table? 12
- Don’t waste food (Check out The Wise Consumer’s post on Food Waste here).
- #MeatlessMondays Try eating one or two meatless meals a week. You don’t have to become a vegan or vegetarian to eat sustainably (though it helps), but keep in mind your meat consumption as food production is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. (Note: It’s not just that the animals are contributing to climate change, rather it’s the entire livestock life-cycle — from converting land from forests to pastures, to growing feed, to direct emissions from animals (belching and manure) from beginning to end. In the end, it comes down to smarter farming practices. 13
- Eat local whenever possible. Eating local food reduces CO2 emissions by reducing food miles — the distance food travels from farm to consumer. The average piece of produce in the United States travels 1,500 miles, while local food may only travel 100 miles (or less).14
4) Vote & Get Involved
Making small changes in your routine is a big step into helping the environment — and so is getting involved.
What you can do:
- Stay informed with current world news and the environment.
- Let your voice be heard over social media, with your friends and family, your community, your schools, local businesses, and more about little things they can do to save the planet.
- Politicians represent you — get politically engaged to hold them accountable for what you believe in and raise concerns.
- Many communities have environmental groups/activism groups that participate in clean-ups, recycling drives, and more, which makes it easy to make changes and lend a helping hand. 15
If all of this information is too much– don’t sweat it. Start with three simple practices or changes in your routine and lifestyle, you’ll be surprised how easy it is and how good it makes you feel that you’re giving back! Just remember–every little bit counts. What and how you consume matters! #makeadifference
Author: Lydia Paglierani (in collaboration with Madeleine Wisecup)
Lydia Paglierani is a junior at Bryant University in Rhode Island studying Communication and Marketing. She grew up in a small town called Portsmouth on Aquidneck Island in Rhode Island, surrounded by farms and the ocean. Lydia started to take interest in protecting our planet starting in 6th grade when she joined the Green Club–there she learned how to grow and maintain plants in the school’s greenhouse, as well as the importance of being environmentally friendly. This carried with her throughout middle school and into college, becoming the VP of Project Development for a club called Sustain Us on campus this past fall. Being a more intentional and conscious consumer is one way Lydia hopes to make a difference, giving back to our planet however and whenever she can.
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- Fun fact: I recently became the VP of Project Development for a club called Sustain Us on campus this past fall. Sustain Us aims to host educational and engaging events for any and all students on campus, as well as bring together like-minded individuals who want to develop a more sustainable community. While there is an administrative side that has taken some serious sustainable and environmental initiatives, the goal is to get students together to learn more and become more involved with doing good for the planet.
- Business Insider
- CBS News
- National Wildlife Federation
- Climate and Land US Alliance
- IPCC 2013; NOAA/ESRL 2017b
- US Energy Information Administration
- David Suzuki Foundation
- Food Revolution
- World Wildlife Foundation