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Climate change is real, and it’s happening right now. Where’s the proof? Rising average temperatures around the world, more frequent and devastating storms and floods, severe droughts, glaciers melting at record paces, and rising sea levels are all clear signs that climate change is real and we’re in the midst of a climate crisis (“Climate Crisis 101”). What does a carbon footprint have to do with this?
First, let’s define the term carbon footprint. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, a carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from fossil-fuel combustion or electrical power production to conduct human/entity activities. Meaning, when we drive our cars, turn on the A/C or heat in our homes, or produce foods and goods, we generate and emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The problem with this is as more greenhouse gases get released into the atmosphere, the more the sun’s energy gets trapped in heat. This causes the Earth to become warmer and ultimately leads to extreme weather events (“Climate Crisis 101”). What can you and I do to help resolve the climate crisis?
While we can’t resolve this issue in one day, we can take small steps every day to make a difference. Here are 10 easy ways you and I can reduce our carbon footprint today to help save our planet.
1. Turn off the water when brushing your teeth.
Although water makes up 70% of the Earth’s surface, only 2.5% of that water is freshwater and only 1% of that freshwater is easily accessible to us (National Geographic). That means we need to be careful with how we consume that water. One way you can be more conscious of your water consumption (and combat climate change) is to turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth.
According to the Glen Canyon Institute, one person uses about five gallons of water when they leave the water running while brushing their teeth. To easily save 2-3 gallons of water each day, keep the water off when you’re brushing your teeth and only turn it on when you’re ready to rinse your mouth.
2. Take a shorter shower.
Another way to reduce your water consumption is to take a shorter shower. Instead of taking a 20-minute shower each day, strive to shower in 10 minutes or less. This time includes when you turn the water on in the shower to get the water to heat up. Why? A 10-minute shower uses around 40 gallons of water while a 5-minute shower uses around 15-25 gallons of water (Glen Canyon Institute).
Each minute counts so make the most of it. A bonus tip for this (and #1) is to install a low-flow showerhead and low-flow faucet aerators on each the faucets in your bathroom. Doing so will help to conserve up to 45 gallons of water per day without reducing water coverage or force!
3. Pack your lunch for work or school.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), agriculture contributes around 24% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, and food losses and waste (i.e. one-third of the food we produce) make up about 8% of the total greenhouse gas emissions.
If you want to reduce your carbon footprint with food, one way to do so is to bring your lunch to work or school. Doing so helps to reduce waste (e.g. food, plastic, water), reinforce healthy habits, and save time and money. Be sure to pack your lunch in reusable containers and bring reusable utensils.
4. Carry a reusable water bottle.
While we should strive to reduce our water consumption every day, this does not mean that we should stop drinking water. We need water to survive, so keep drinking water every day. To help combat climate change, though, opt out of using plastic water bottles by carrying a reusable water bottle with you to stay hydrated throughout the day. You can also drink water from a water fountain instead.
The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) reported that "the production and incineration of plastic will add more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere—equal to the emissions from 189 five-hundred-megawatt coal power plants." And that’s just for this year.
Additionally, 91% of plastic is not recycled, 79% of plastic is accumulated in landfills or discarded into our natural environment as litter, and only 12% of plastic has been incinerated (National Geographic). As you can see, plastic is a huge issue and contributor to climate change. Help resolve this crisis by switching out your single-use plastic water bottle for a reusable water bottle.
5. Unplug appliances.
Did you know that vampires are real and live in each of our homes? Yep, I’m not kidding—vampires are real. They’re not your typical blood-sucking, onion phobic, reflectionless vampires who can be killed with sunlight or a stake to the heart, though. Real vampires feed off of energy and can only be killed by unplugging your appliances (or by cutting ties with the vampire—that’s another topic/post though).
“Energy vampires” constantly use energy and drain power from appliances even when they’re turned off. Examples include a cell phone charger, hairdryer, printer, and shredder. As long as these things are plugged into an electrical outlet, they will continue to use the energy in your home, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and even account for 20% of your monthly electricity bill (Duke Energy).
Slay these vampires by turning off AND unplugging your appliances when you’re not using them. Sounds like too much work? Use a smart power strip then. This will automatically cut off power for an appliance (that’s plugged into it) when you’re not using it which will help to save energy and money.
6. Turn off the lights before you leave.
Sounds simple, right? Yet how many of us turn off the light in a room before we go to use the bathroom or check on the laundry or get something from a different room? It’s just a minute. It’s not that serious. It is that serious, though. As stated in #2, every minute counts, and like #5, you should turn off the lights when you’re not using them to save energy (and money) and reduce GHG emissions.
Electricity is used for lighting, and guess what is used for electricity production? Fossil fuels. Because about 62.9% of our electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, electricity production is considered the second-largest generator of greenhouse gas emissions (Environmental Protection Agency). Help reduce the emission of GHG by turning off the lights before you leave a room or your home.
7. Carpool, use public transportation, ride your bike, or walk when possible.
Transportation is the largest generator of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States (EPA). You can help reduce GHG emissions from this by using a different mode of traveling when possible.
The keywords here are “when possible.” I understand that it’s not always possible to carpool with someone, sometimes it’s cheaper to drive yourself, and public transportation may not be available for certain places or is not an option at all. I get it. I live in an area where driving is required to get around and the closest bus station (which is next to the nearest stores) is a 10-12-minute drive from my home.
Thus, walking, riding a bike, and using public transportation are not feasible options for me right now. Carpooling is, though, so I use this option when it’s possible and makes sense. Your case may be different. Perhaps you live closer to a bus station or train station or you can simply walk to school or your workplace because you live in the city. If so, take advantage of those options when possible!
8. Leave earlier or take a different route to avoid traffic.
Raise your hand if you like sitting in traffic. ( )
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
No one likes to get stuck in traffic yet all of us have at some point in time or even recently. Not only is traffic a huge waste of time, but it’s also a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Think about it. The longer your car is running, the more fossil fuels it uses and the more greenhouse gases it emits. Plus, all that stopping and braking is not good for your car or the environment (Williamson Source).
You can help reduce this (and your carbon footprint) by leaving your home earlier to go to work, school, the doctor’s office, etc. If this is not possible, then you can take a different route to your destination to avoid traffic. Just put in the address in Google Maps or Waze (or your preferred GPS app) and use one of the suggested routes to get to where you need to go to.
9. Combine errands to make fewer trips.
Instead of going to the grocery store on Sunday, the post office on Monday, the library on Tuesday, your aunt’s house on Wednesday, etc., go to multiple locations in one day. For example, if you pass by the grocery store and post office on your way to work or school, plan to stop by both locations before or after work/school so you don’t have to make multiple trips throughout the week. Doing so will help to save time & gas and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from your car.
10. Go paperless with bills, bank statements, and payments.
Did you know that the average American uses about seven trees per year via paper products, wood products, and other products made from trees? For the entire U.S. population, this number totals to approximately 2,000,000,000 (yes, two billion!) trees per year. Additionally, about one billion trees worth of paper are thrown away each year, and the amount of wood and paper that is thrown away every year could heat about 50,000,000 homes for 20 years (University of Southern Indiana).
To help reduce paper waste (and your carbon footprint), sign up for paperless billing for the different companies you’re with and make payments toward your bills via their online system or your online banking account. Additionally, opt-out of receiving paper statements from your bank and request to have your statements sent to your email and/or posted on your online account.
Implementing these options will not only help to save our precious trees, but they will also help to protect confidential information, prevent theft, reduce clutter, keep important information in one place, and ensure your bills are paid on time (if you sign up for automatic payments).
There you have it—10 easy ways you and I can reduce our carbon footprint today! If these small actions seem overwhelming to you, pick one option from this list and start with that today. Implement it for a week and then pick a second option from this list. Implement both options for a week and then pick a third option from this list (and so on and so forth). The point is to be more conscious of how our choices and actions affect our environment and to take action to help resolve our climate crisis.
You don’t have to be perfect—you just have to do your part to the best of your abilities.
Over to You
What’s one thing you do (or plan to do) to reduce your carbon footprint every day? Let me know in the comments section below!