How to reduce your ‘carbon footprint’ and make a difference to our environment

Image by suburbanbloke

About a week ago I created a ‘fun quizz’ to assess your level of environmental literacy. Today we will focus on a few things you can do to contribute in the reduction of carbon emissions. Before we get started, let’s see why this is a worthwhile goal.
The cause for reducing carbon emissions: Climate change

According to ‘Nature Magazine’, a prominent & well respected scientific publication, “climate change is caused by the emission of heat-trapping gases – mostly carbon dioxide (CO2) – from vehicles, industry, power plants and deforestation. As these gases build up, they act like a thick blanket, overheating the planet, changing our climate, and threatening our health, economy and natural environment.” (see full article here). The threats they talk about are not imaginary: We have all started to live through the impact of some of these. Have you noticed an increase in the number and violence of natural disasters in the last few years? So have many others, and the link to Climate Change has been clearly established .

If you’re A NIMBYer who thinks that climate change won’t impact you, think again (NIMBY: Not-In-My-Back-yard). Earth’s climate system is global, and the changes are far-reaching. C’mon – you say – surely this will affect only polar bears and people in poor countries, right? Wrong. Some of the expected impacts of climate change include:

  • Temperatures will rise. You may have noticed that every summer seems to get hotter. It is not your imagination; and the impact is far more significant than simply needing to cool yourself a little bit more every day. Rising temperatures can have significant disruptions in agriculture (food availability & prices), rising storm activity (remember Katrina?), and increase in heat-related illnesses (malaria & heat-stroke, among others)
  • More species of wildlife will either become extinct, or be threatened to extinction. A recent report highlighted that a quarter of existing species in our planet will become extinct by 2050 if we don’t change current levels of carbon emissions. If this happened, it would impact a lot more than simply he number of animals you can visit at your local zoo. Reduced biodiversity will affect our planet in ways we can not even imagine. For example, some pests that are controlled by natural predators may be able to roam more freely and have a significant impact in our food supplies.
  • Ocean levels will rise. This may not seem too drastic or important to you; but do you realise that over 70% of human activity happens by coastal areas? A rise in the sea levels of a meter will wipe out a good portion of our civilised world. Just in Australia, over 700,000 buildings have been estimated as being at risk of the effects of rising sea levels (The 7:30 Report, ABC. Full transcript of the program can be found here). Similar estimates exist for North & South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The reality is that ocean-views have long been considered by humans as a highly desirable feature of their living habitat, and this has in turn influenced the way we built our cities.
Table 1 - Dwellings at risk of rising sea levels in Australia

    I’m convinced, but can I really do anything to make things better?

    The good news is that it doesn’t take deep pockets or a University diploma to become more caring to the environment in this regard. Almost every aspect of your everyday life has an impact on the CO2 emissions that are put into the atmosphere, and most of the time we are totally ignorant to this fact. The time to change that has come!

    Before we get to the ‘how to’, you may want to have a reality check about what your specific impact to the environment is with regards to carbon emissions. I suggest you go to Nature Magazine’s ‘Carbon Footprint’ calculator, and assess yourself. (Calculator can be found here) When you’re ready, come back and learn how you can reduce your current footprint.

    Gone and back? Let’s move on to the “juicy bit” of this article: How To reduce your carbon footprint. Below are five simple suggestions that you can easily turn into habits. All you have to do is put them into practice for a whole month. As Steve Pavlina illustrates in his blog, practicing anything for 30 days on a row will turn any practice into a well established habit. Go crazy!

    1. Develop the habit of living in darkness

    How many lights do you typically have turned on at night throughout your house? If you’re like most people, you will have too many – your bedroom, your living area, your kitchen, your bathroom, your garage. Just think whether you really need all of them on at the same time. Do you?

    In case you answered ‘Yes’, let;s examine a simpe example and see if your answer remains vaid. I’d like you to think about the time you spent cooking and having dinner yesterday (probably 20 to 60 minutes). How many of the other rooms did you go to during this time period? Even if you did go to another room, for how long did you stay before you returned to the kitchen or dining area? Obviously, you need to consider other members of the family, but you can apply the same logic to their activities. My guess is that there were various areas of the house that remained lit without a real need for it.

    Learn to ‘live in darkness’ – or at least in semi-darkness. Turn lights on as you need them, and get into the habit of turning them off as you leave the room. Worried that this will shorten the life of lightbulbs, and hurt your pocket? Change your light bulbs for the environmentally friendly type and you will prolong their life. In the process, you will also put some additional money in your pocket from both the increase in the life of light bulbs (less money spent over a year in light bulb), and from the reduction in electricity consumption (lower electricity bills).

    2. Have shorter, colder showers

    We westerners have developed the habit of staying under a hot, steaming shower for far longer than we need to. Unfortunately, this practice negatively and unnecessarily impacts our level of carbon emmisions. Heating water requires burning of a fuel (either gas at your hot-water tank, or carbon at the power electricity plant), which creates CO2 emissions of Either way, your hot shower creates green-house emissions.

    TO change this habit, you don’t need to freeze in the shower every morning. One way to improve the situation is to change the way you calibrate your shower’s temperature. Instead of blasting the hot water until it’s boiling and then gently opening the cold water to arrive to the desired temperature, try to do it the other way around. Turn the shower on by first opening the cold-water tap, then slowly heating it by turning the hot-water tap. Stop at the first moment the temperature is comfortable. And stay in the shower for no more than 3 minutes.

    If you are like me, you will also live in a city where there are water restrictions. Adopting the habit of colder, shorter showers will not only reduce carbon emissions , it will also contribute to saving on your water consumption.

    3. Use public transport to get to work

    The majority of people prefer to drive to work rather than taking a bus or the train. It usually has to do with control: There’s a perception that when taking the bus & Train you are too dependent on others to arrive to work on time. And there’s always the risk of not having a seat and being inconvenienced by having to stand throughout the trip. The ultimate excuse, however, is that most people are not within walking distance to their nearest train station / bus stop, whereas our cars are usually garaged a few steps from our doorsteps.

    If you share at least some of these reasons, you may want to think again. Worried about a trip standing on a bus? Buy yourself a cheap MP3 player, download some interesting podcasts, and do some stretches on your trip. You will not only save on petrol and parking, but you will educate yourself and improve your health.

    Similarly, not being near a train station or bus stop is not a good excuse to drive to work every day. You can always drive a short distance to a station or bus stop, park there for the whole day (usually for free), and enjoy a stress-free ride.

    Make the change. Find out alternative public transport and save, avoid the stress of peak-hoir traffic, and help the environment.

    4. Assess energy-efficiency when purchasing appliances

    There are 2 ways in which you can help the environment when it comes to energy efficient appliances: the cheaper way and the more expensive way.

    The more expensive way is to identify your ‘worst offenders’ at home, and immediately replace them with appliances that are at the top of the energy efficiency scale. Make sure you do your research before you hit the footpath and heading to the shops. There is a collection of links at the end of this article suggesting where to go to research appliances and get an idea of their energy efficiency.

    The less expensive way is to do the same but only when an appliance breaks down and requires replacing. Don’t be fooled by thinking that you will spend more money with energy efficient goods: In the long run, they will save you a bucket of cash from the lower electricity bill, even if they require a slightly higher cash outlay.

    5.Minimise your reliance on heaters and air-conditionings

    It is absolutely evident that heaters and A/C units are ultra-convenient: If you don’t like the current temperature at home, all you need to do is crank up or down the thermostat of your chosen climate control appliance.

    The problem with these is that they have trained us to chase the ‘perfect’ temperature at home. In the process, you close your home shut to avoid heat or cold escaping. But have you ever stopped to consider if it is hot enough to warrant use of the air conditioner? Or whether it is cold enough to turn the heater?

    Before our homes were ‘enhanced’ with these appliances, we relied on other means to adjust our temperature at home. Too hot? Open the windows and let the breeze in. Too cold? Go to your closet and pull a nice, warm jumper. Too cold in the middle of the night? Invest in a good doona, and you will never again need the heater on.

    Stop wasting electricity and your money. Start exercising some discretion when you decide to touch the heater or A/C at home. Even better – put a note on the controls to remind you to ‘THINK BEFORE TOUCHING’, or hide the remote controls to these appliances. Having to walk to the unit itself should help you remember to think twice about whether using it is really necessary.

    Make a difference starting today!

    We have just given you 5 ideas on how to reduce your carbon-emissions footprint in the planet. Choose one, and start today. Once you turn it into a habit, choose the next one, and apply for a while month. It will take you less than half a year to adjust your habits and make a real difference to the environment.

    Don’t like our ideas? Look for some others’ in the web. The resources section below has plenty of web sites with literally hundreds of ideas to help us in the journey to a more sustainable lifestyle.
    Links & References

    Nature Magazine:
    Steve Pavlina’s web

    CO2 Footprint calculator:
    Article on climate change:
    ABC Article on sea level rise:
    Turning practices into habits:

    Additional Resources

    Reading Energy Labels:
    Choosing energy efficient products:
    Choice Magazine:


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