Climate change is our new reality, but the fact of the matter is, no matter how much we believe that it is happening and that we humans are the cause, most humans continue to live lives that put more carbon up in the atmosphere day after day.
It is a strange reality that reminds me of, “someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” We realize in our heads that we are the cause, but we fail to take action. This article aspires to raise the disparity in your life up into your conscious mind and to offer up a few quick actions that you can take to do better.
If we truly believe that we individually and collectively are the cause of the catastrophic climate change happening around us, we must take action.
Change Is Hard
One quick example of this that I find endlessly curious is home cooking. Where I live in the United States, most homes are plumbed with natural gas which is used for space heating, water heating, and cooking. We are currently in the process of rebuilding our home after the recent Thomas Fire razed it to the ground and our new home will have no natural gas lines run into it, instead opting to #ElectrifyEverything.
The question I most often get when this comes up is about cooking and if we are going to have an electric cooktop. These are common in much of the world, but people here seem to have a strong affection for cooking on a flame. So many people have said that they couldn’t give up a gas range and that electric cooking is just crap.
For me, gas ranges are a source of indoor air pollution and beyond that, require the burning of a thing that causes climate change. Yeah, your single stove isn’t going to make or break the world staying under 2 degrees C by itself, but collectively, we can make a difference by switching to electric (everything) instead of burning things for heat. It is also representative of a mindset of indifference about our actions that allows us to live irresponsible lifestyles because ‘I’m just one person’ and ‘how much of a difference does it really make?’
I firmly believe that we can shape our mindsets and the impact our lives had by winning these simple battles. For me, the choice to go electric or not was never about what I preferred to cook on, it was a principle-based decision to do the right thing for the planet, for my kids and for our indoor air quality, among other things. We can do better, so let’s get started with three easy steps.
Understand The Current State
The first thing we can to do reduce our carbon footprint is to understand it. The first few times I went through carbon footprint tools, I was surprised by the disproportionate impact air travel had on my footprint and the impact shipping of packages and goods has.
I’ve since started purchasing carbon offsets from myClimate for most of my air travel and am working to make this 100%. Seeing the impact of shipping has made me more conscious of how much I buy online and I’m similarly working to reduce this, but the convenience has proven a very hard addiction to break and I admittedly am still pretty terrible about buying goods online.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has a carbon footprint calculator that requires some work to pull data from your home and energy usage habits, but ultimately results in a profile that breaks down our impact into different buckets. It also provides a handful of actions that can be taken to reduce your carbon footprint. This is a great tool for those who are very in touch with their energy consumption and those who like data. The CarbonFootprint.com tool follows a similar approach and digs into multiple areas, including flights, for a comprehensive look at your carbon footprint.
On the softer side, the Nature Conservancy has a very user friendly tool that makes it quick and easy to get a read on your carbon footprint using estimates for utility bills and miles traveled. It unfortunately does not have electric vehicles as an option for transportation, but using the MPGe should get the number close if it is being charged up with grid power.
Improve Your Foodprint
The World Bank and IFC’s report “Livestock and Climate Change” found that, “livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.” That’s a serious chunk of emissions, with beef taking the cake with the largest footprint per serving by a large margin.
The University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems calculated the emissions per serving of beef to be 6.61 pounds of CO2e per 4 ounce serving of beef. Compared to 1.26 pounds per 4 ounce serving of chicken, beef is the stand out contributor to emissions from the agricultural industry.
According to The Guardian, the meat and dairy industries produce 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gases, but only 18% of the calories consumed by humans around the world. Additionally, it uses 83% of farmland, which is directly contributing to climate change and, “Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.” That’s a pretty tall side order to take in along with every portion of meat and dairy just by itself.
Meat fans will list out the ways meat can be raised more responsibly, but it is simply on a different level entirely. It’s to the point where, “even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing,” according to The Guardian.
I’m not proposing that everyone give up meat entirely, though that is clearly the most sustainable, low carbon way to live. Instead, I think it’s easier to either give up meat most days during the week, or just eat meat as a special treat. Alternately, significant gains could be had from just dropping beef and opting for chicken or pork, which are responsible for just 1/4 of the emissions per serving compared to beef. I personally found that I had more energy when I wasn’t eating meat and later found out about the environmental benefits of not eating meat, but to each his or her own.
Get A Bike
Ok, so clearly just getting a bike won’t help things at all, but getting out and riding it is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, get more in touch with your city and to get in shape while you’re at it. Many mass transit options make accommodations for bikes, which means you can use your bike for just the first and last mile and take the bus/train/etc. for the bulk of the trip.
As a special bonus, battery technology improvements have made e-bikes – or bikes with motors and batteries added to enable faster, farther trips – practical and affordable in much of the world. The adoption of 2- and 3-wheel electric vehicles is sparking an electric vehicle revolution that’s blasting around the world at a staggering rate.
The Power Of Individual Action
Ultimately, we each have more power than we sometimes realize. We have the power to change, to get informed, to educate others and to shape this world of ours. The unfortunate reality is that unless we live our lives with intention, it is likely that the impact of our lives on the world around us will be negative.
Take charge and choose to live a lower carbon life. Today. With Christmas around the corner, it is a great excuse to invest in a clean tech gift that will help you to shrink your personal carbon footprint to kick off 2019.
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