How to reduce my carbon footprint today?
There are many ways you can improve our environment, from reducing waste to investing on new technology. But, when it comes to climate change (global warming), the main focus is to cut your carbon footprint efficiently and effectively as possible. If you aren’t sure whether your effort is making a difference, read on. It is important to understand where and how you should put your effort today.
Greenhouse gases are important to stabilize Earth’s temperature and without them, the surface of our planet would be 33˚C cooler. Greenhouse gases occur naturally, but humans have been interfering with the planet’s energy balance by adding too much of them. This too much greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere acts as a blanket to keep the heat from the sun on the surface of Earth that causes global warming. Global warming is a global issue, not a local issue. No matter where you live, all of us need to reduce greenhouse gases as quickly as possible. But how?
There are many different sources of greenhouse gases, electricity, energy for transports, food and product production, waste in landfills, etc. The largest emitters are electricity (responsible for 29% emissions) and transports (responsible for 25% emissions). While we have many other environmental issues to tackle, reducing greenhouse gases has become the urgent action we must take. We should still do our best to preserve ocean, forest, water supply, wildlife, and other natural resources for the future. However, reducing energy consumptions, switching to clean energy, and optimizing transportation are what we need to do first.
We show examples how you can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions right now without spending extra cost. Actually, you will save money.
How greenhouse gases cause climate change?
Climate is the predictable usual weather at a place. It would be different from place to place, season to season. There is also Earth’s climate. Climate change is a change in Earth’s climate as well as changes found in each place and season. When we look at the long history of Earth’s climate, it has been always changing and most of the time, it was either too hot or too cold for anything to live. The Earth’s climate became incredibly stable within a couple of Celsius degrees narrow range about 11 million years ago. We are currently living in a very lucky moment.
Climate change can be due to natural processes, but the recent warming of Earth’s climate happening last 200 years is caused by human activities. The Earth’s temperature depends on the balance between energy entering and leaving the planet’s system. When sunlight reaches the Earth’s surface, it can either be reflected back into space or absorbed by the Earth. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb energy and block the heat to escape to space. We need greenhouse gases to keep the planet warm to live, but too much of them cause overheating. The consequence of overheating is climate change such as droughts, floods, bush fires, rising sea level, etc.
Which type of greenhouse gas is the worst?
There are many gases in the atmosphere and certain gases trap heat radiating from Earth toward space. Because these gases remain semi-permanently, we need long-term solutions for not adding them. We also have to wait for at least 100 years to see declining of accumulated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – 80% of greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide. Anything once lived contains carbon and when carbon is released into the air, it reacts with oxygen and becomes carbon dioxide. Fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil) are highly concentrated carbon, and burning them is the largest emitter.
Methane (CH4) – 10% of greenhouse gases is emitted during the production of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane also comes from livestock such as cows and sheep, and organic waste in landfills. It is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Nitrous Oxide (N2O) – 7% of greenhouse gases is produced by fertilizers, burning fossil fuel and biomass. Nitrous oxide is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – 3% of greenhouse gases is entirely from industrial. These gases are typically emitted in smaller quantities, but they are very potent greenhouse gases.
Greenhouse gas emissions by source - Where greenhouse gases come from?
Carbon is essential to all living lives on the planet, and it flows in and out of the land, ocean and living things. Natural processes such as volcanic eruptions, respiration and decay add billion tonnes of carbon to the air, but this is balanced by the ocean, land and plants absorbing it. Humans add extra 43 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year (in 2019) and the nature take up 5 billion tonnes of this extra carbon. The remained carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere well over 100 years. Including other greenhouse gases, global emissions are about 50 billion tonnes per year.
- 75% of greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil fuels, and within that, 40% is coal, 32% oil, and 21% natural gas, etc.
- Electricity (29%) and transport (25%) are the largest sectors of greenhouse gas emitters
- 50% of greenhouse gas emissions is responsible for production and usage of consumable goods
- Food and organic waste in landfills are responsible for 6% of global emissions.
How to start reducing my carbon footprint today?
Switch to renewable energy – You don’t need to install solar panels or invest on renewable energy companies. Simply switch your energy provider to the one sourcing from renewables. Find a provider available in your area and make a switch. You are indirectly supporting the energy resource sector (fossil fuel, renewables, or others) by consuming their products. In Australia, Greenpeace created an independent assessment of energy providers in Australia. If you are a business and want to switch to renewables, learn how at Business Renewables Centre Australia.
Adjust your shower routine – Hot water system is one of the biggest electricity users in most residential houses. And having a shower is what we use most of hot water. There are a few things you can do about hot water usage.
- Adjust the temperature setting on the hot water tank below 60 Celsius degrees. Higher than that is a waste of energy
- Try to lower the temperature of the running water
- Think about when to have a shower. For example, having a shower in the evening rather than early in the morning during winter can reduce a need for a heater
- Close the water tap while lathering up soap and washing your body. Run the water only when you rinse off
Turn on electrical devices only when you use them – Are your TV and computers turned on all day? Make it a habit to turn off electrical devices every time when you finish using them. Turning off power points on the wall can save energy even more.
Minimize using air conditioner – Air conditioner is another big electricity user. Air conditioners also release potent greenhouse gas from refrigerants. It is the best not to use air conditioner. So, try using natural ways to heat and cool your home. You could use curtains, natural air flow by opening windows, insulating the building, etc.
Reduce driving a car – Do you drive a car to a store just around the corner to get milk? Try walking or riding a bike for a short distance and take public transports as much as possible. You could also plan a trip in advance to share a car with your families and friends. A typical bas can take off 70 cars from the road.
What you can do now for the future
These changes we should make today may not deliver a significant result in a short period, but they are still very important to make our life sustainable.
Reducing your consumption – Try purchasing only what you use, anything you use daily. Your purchases will create demands in the market and lead to more production and waste. Read more about Zero-waste lifestyle.
Make sustainable choices – For example, products produced at local place have lower carbon footprint than the products shipped by air from far away. There are businesses producing their products with less resources and packaging that are compostable, re-usable, and recyclable. Non-toxic products can help reduce the pollutions in the environment.
Compost food and organic waste – Food and organic waste in landfills is responsible for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Compost them at home or dispose of them in an organic waste bin. Compost is valuable to improve soil quality and food production. Read more about How to compost at home.
Protect and plant trees – Trees and plants can absorb carbon dioxide, but it takes 10 to 20 years before new tree can start offsetting carbon emissions. Therefore, it is the best to protect what we have today. Planting trees is a long-term project but needs to be done for both humans and wildlife. When you travel by a plane, you could offset your carbon footprint by purchasing carbon credits offered by the airline.
Invest in sustainable solutions – When you can, switch to more sustainable options such as installing solar panels on your roof, changing to more energy efficient appliances, etc.
While we have many environmental issues to tackle, reducing greenhouse gases is the action we have to take urgently. Investing in new technologies, improving waste management, conserving nature are all important, but these are long-term projects. What we as individuals need to do right now to effectively reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t require a big investment. Reducing your electricity and car usage, and making a conscious decisions are just behavioral change.
If your living environment becomes unsafe because of climate change, most of the items on your planner such as parties, travel, even house cleaning doesn’t matter. I encourage you to understand what is happening and do what you can now so that you don’t have to pay the cost later.
Greenhouse gas reduction options - https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BriefingBook44p/GreenhouseGas
What is the greenhouse effect? - https://climate.nasa.gov/faq/19/what-is-the-greenhouse-effect/
Energy and the environment explained - https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/energy-and-the-environment/greenhouse-gases-and-the-climate.php
Greenhouse gas emissions - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas_emissions