Periods of natural climate change have occurred for millennia, but human industry since the 20th-century has contributed to change at an unprecedented rate, primarily due to our increased consumption of fossil fuels. (A fossil fuel is a natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed from the remains of living organisms).
The effects of this change can be seen in the increase of the planet’s surface temperature, the warming and acidification of the oceans, the rise of sea levels and the retreat of glaciers. Changes are happening at such an accelerated rate that plants and animals are hardly able to adapt quickly enough. For reference, adaptation occurs over several generations and the current rate of climate change is far too fast.
I’m sure that you know all this.
What you might not know is that you have the power to do something to help reverse the tides of climate change. We all do.
The term carbon footprint refers to the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the consumption of fossil fuels by a person or organization. The changes outlined below might seem small, but if each of us commits to reducing our carbon footprint in tangible ways, that can add up to big change—change that has the power to positively affect the planet. Here’s how:
1. Unplug electronics when not in use
We all know to turn the lights off when we leave the room—that’s Energy Conservation 101. But did you know about something called home idle load, or ghost energy? Ghost energy refers to the electricity being continuously used in our homes, even when we’re not there. This kind of passive energy use accounts for more than 30% of household electricity consumption!
Reducing your use of electricity is a clear way to also reduce your carbon footprint, and home idle load is a great place to start. Prevent the silent sap of ghost energy by:
- Unplugging electronics such as your cellphone and game consoles when not in use
- Using a timer-switch that stops electric consumption from devices not in use
- Replacing old, inefficient appliances that must remain running (i.e. refrigerators) with newer, more energy-efficient models
2. Eat less meat
Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to go vegetarian. A simple reduction in the amount of meat you eat can have a tangible effect on your carbon footprint. In fact, eating just one less burger a week is the equivalent of taking your car off the road for about 515 kilometres! Consider taking the Meatless Monday pledge—committing to meatless meals just one day of the week.
How does farmed meat affect the environment you ask? It has to do with deforestation to make way for livestock (less trees means less ability for the planet to process carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), methane emissions from fertilizer use and the animals themselves (I’ll let you use your imagination to figure that one out), and agricultural runoff polluting our streams and rivers. Not to mention the food and water resources needed to feed our, well, future food.
3. Buy local
Meals are another way in which we can reduce our carbon footprints. By buying fresh, local foods, not only are we supporting local growers and grocers, but also reducing the distance that our food has to travel from production to our plates.
To put it simply, locally-grown fruits, vegetables and fresh meats don’t have to travel hundreds of miles by truck or get on a plane to the grocery store. And it really is that simple: less travel means less use of fossil fuels in transportation, which means a win-win way to reduce your carbon footprint…and put money back into your community, to boot.
4. Take care of your clothes
When it comes to our carbon footprints, so many of us wear them on our sleeves. Fast fashion is the trend of quickly and cheaply producing new clothing collections inspired by celebrities and designers. But fast fashion is also a disaster for the environment.
Fast fashion relies on synthetic materials such as polyester, which, when washed in washing machines, shed microfibers that pass into our waterways in the form of microplastics. These are often consumed by animals low in the food chain, and eventually make their way into the stomachs of apex predators—like us.
So what can you do? As a consumer, you have the power to put your money where your mouth is. Consider clothing brands that use recycled materials.
But the best way to reduce the environmental impact of your clothing is to keep your clothes on the hanger for longer—to buy high-quality, long-lasting pieces that you can repair or upcycle rather than discard—and resist the temptation of constantly buying new stuff.
5. Share what you know
The final and most powerful way you can help fight climate change is to share what you know and to talk about the changes you’re making to your habits with your family and friends.
You may be just one person making what seem like small choices for the health of the planet, but by serving as a good example and passing on what you know, there’s no telling how big of an impact you could have.
- Meatless Monday Infographic, https://www.meatlessmonday.com/earth-day-2015/
- Fast Fashion, https://phys.org/news/2019-01-fast-fashion-environment-workers-society.html
- Foodland Ontario Logo, http://www.foodland.gov.on.ca/media/
- “About Meatless Monday.” Earth Day Network, www.earthday.org/take-action/about-meatless-monday/
- “Climate Change Evidence: How Do We Know?” Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet, NASA, 5 Feb. 2019, www.climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
- Environment.” Meatless Monday, www.meatlessmonday.com/research/environment/
- Holth, Jesse. “7 Instant Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 6 June 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/7-instant-ways-to-reduce-your-carbon-footprint_us_59321992e4b00573ab57a383
- Milman, Oliver. “Why Eating Less Meat Is the Best Thing You Can Do for the Planet in 2019.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 Dec. 2018, www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/21/lifestyle-change-eat-less-meat-climate-change
- Perry, Patsy. “The Environmental Costs of Fast Fashion.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 8 Jan. 2018, www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/environment-costs-fast-fashion-pollution-waste-sustainability-a8139386.html