CO2 and why you should decrease your carbon footprint
Carbon footprint is a term that describes the number of greenhouse gases (primarily used for carbon dioxide – CO2) released in the atmosphere as a result of human activity.
This can be used to broadly measure the effects that a person, family, organisation, or even a nation, has on the environment. Usually measured in tons of CO2 emitted per year, this number can be supplemented by various CO2-equivalent gases, like methane, nitrous oxide and others.
Why You Need to Care about your Carbon Footprint
To better understand the implications for the environment, let’s have a look at how radiation in our atmosphere works.
Earth’s atmosphere contains various radiatively active gases, also referred to as greenhouse gases. The primary greenhouse gases are
- water vapour
- carbon dioxide
- nitrous oxide
These gases absorb and emit radiant energy, increasing the average surface temperature of our planet and creating the greenhouse effect that serves to increase the temperature. Scientists have estimated that, without the help of this effect, we would be looking at an average surface temperature of about −18 °C, instead of our current average of 15 °C.
So, if we need it to survive, why is the greenhouse effect always painted in a negative light? Well, the greenhouse effect in and of itself isn’t a bad thing; it’s what our industries have done with it that’s given it a bad rap.
According to the United States National Research Council, ‘… there is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities.’ Beyond that, scientists have concluded that our current levels of technological capability mean our effect on the situation is considered largely irreversible.
As industry has advanced, things like fossil combustion, aerosols, cement manufacture, land use, ozone depletion and deforestation have greatly contributed to the worldwide increase of carbon dioxide levels. Since the mid-18th Century and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution period, the carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has seen an increase of more than 40%, going from 280 parts per million (PPM) in 1750 to a staggering 410 PPM in 2018.
Nature has a plethora of ’built-in’ carbon sinks, but they can’t really keep up with the rapid increases caused by our activities.
Research published in 1981 showed a rise in global temperature of 0.2°C between the mid-1960s and 1980, leading to a warming effect amounting to 0.4°C during the century. The research adds that this temperature increase is considered to be consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect due to measured increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Scientists from NASA go on to point out that recent rises in CO2 show a constant relationship with fossil-fuel burning which can be ’… well accounted for based on the simple premise that about 60 per cent of fossil fuel emissions stay in the air.’
Today, the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are higher than they have been at any point in the last 800,000 years!
But wait, there’s more!
More than 35% of the CO2 that we release in the atmosphere finds its way into the oceans, rivers and lakes, ultimately leading to ocean acidification.
Carbon dioxide also dissolves into the ocean, a bit like the fizz in a can of soda. This interaction with the water creates carbonic acid and lowers the ocean’s acidity (pH). Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, our oceans have dropped from 8.21 to 8.10 pH. That might not seem like much, but a 1-unit drop in pH equals a tenfold increase of acidity.
A mere change of 0.1 pH increases overall acidity by roughly 30%! The rise in acidity prevents marine life from efficiently extracting calcium from the water, which in turn hinders its ability to construct solid shells and skeletons. As a result, the entire marine ecosystem suffers.
How to reduce your own carbon footprint
Coincidently, reducing your carbon footprint goes hand in hand with most of the healthy living and wellness tips that you’ve found on my blog. By adopting a cleaner, more minimalistic lifestyle and distancing yourself from dangerous toxins and chemicals, you’re already working towards reducing the amount of CO2 you’re releasing into the atmosphere!
Here are a few tips on what you can do to reduce your own carbon footprint:
- Go for minimalist packaging – try to avoid plastic and paper packaging, opting for reusable cloth bags and glass jars instead. I covered my approach to minimalism in an article you can read here.
- Recycle as much as possible – regardless of what you do, you will produce waste. But if the average person recycled half their household waste, they would save about 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide annually!
- Less heat and less air conditioning – if you haven’t already done it, consider insulating your home. Not only will this greatly decrease your heating costs, but it will also allow you to keep the heating lower – a mere 2 degrees can make a difference of about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year!
- Choose the right light bulbs – going for greener light bulb alternatives can not only save you money (as they last longer than the average ones) but also save energy and reduce your carbon footprint.
- Walk more – try to limit your driving whenever possible. Less driving equals fewer emissions. Not only does that reduce your carbon footprint and save you money, but walking is also great for your physical health!
- Buy energy-efficient appliances – most modern home appliance manufacturers offer energy-efficient models. From light bulbs all the way up to ovens and fridges, you have myriad opportunities to reduce your carbon footprint.
- Remember that things have an ‘Off’ switch for a reason – small things like turning off the lights when you aren’t in a room can greatly contribute to reducing your carbon footprint. You should also turn off your TV and computer whenever you’re not actively using them. This is especially important to do before going to bed, as you want electronics turned off to get the most out of your sleep.
- Plant some trees – If you can plant a tree, grab your shovel and get to digging! Trees are one of nature’s prime ways to deal with CO2 – your average tree can absorb about one ton of carbon dioxide during its lifespan.
These are just a few of the numerous ways, both big and small, in which you can participate in reducing the global CO2 emissions. Reducing your carbon footprint can be as easy as introducing a couple of small, healthier changes in your day-to-day life.
What are your biggest motivations for going green? Have you implemented any of these tips in your daily life yet? Did we miss anything important? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!