Your carbon footprint
Have you been wondering what all this talk about carbon emissions relates to? Did you think that maybe people were whispering about your farting or cheesy feet? Well prepare to be enlightened, friend...
What is my carbon footprint?
Your carbon footprint relates to how much damage you alone are doing to our poor planet Earth. It measures the impact that human activities have on the environment and it does this by looking at the amount of greenhouse gases we produce, in units of carbon dioxide (CO2).
It is made up of two parts: a 'primary footprint', which is measured by how many fossil fuels (such as coal and oil) you burn from carrying out everyday activities such as cooking, heating your home or using methods of transport like cars and aeroplanes; and a 'secondary footprint', which measures the more indirect CO2 emissions we're responsible for, which includes the whole lifecycle of all the products we use, from their manufacture to their breakdown.
Why should I care?
If we don't start treating this planet a little better it's going to commit suicide on us, and frankly nobody wants that to happen. If you make even the smallest changes to your lifestyle, the size of your carbon footprint could shrink significantly for the better. In many cases, making these changes could even save you money. Thought that would get your attention.
So how do I calculate it?
You'll need to know a few basic numbers first, such as how much your annual electricity and gas bills are, and the mileage on your car. You can make a guesstimate though, as it is just a simple guide to show you where you are going wrong and what changes you could make to your lifestyle that would prevent the planet from conking out.
Then, find an online carbon footprint calculator and see how your figures add up.
How do I make it all better?
You'll be pleased to know that reducing the size of your carbon footprint can be done with a bit of common sense and a minimal amount of effort.
- Use public transport or share car journeys: Rather than all four of your mates driving their own cars to the beach, work or a night out, why not give each other lifts? Alternatively, just get the bus or cycle. It's cheaper and so easy!
- Work from home one day a week: If you don't live within walking distance to work, why not see if your boss will let you work from home once a week?
- Sign up to renewable energy: If your electricity comes from a renewable source, such as wind power, the carbon emissions created as a result of powering all your electrical appliances will be reduced to zero. Impartial services like uSwitch can help you choose the best source of renewable energy for your home;
- Got gas powering your home? Eat fewer beans. OK, seriously, try solar power to heat your water and your annual bills could drop by 70%;
- Turn it off: You'll save cash and the Earth by turning off that light, TV, PC, DVD player or mobile phone charger when you've finished using it;
- Turn it down: Just turning the temperature of your central heating and water heating down by two degrees will make a huge difference to your CO2 emissions, and you won't even notice a chill. Turn it down more, wear an extra layer, and you're really making a difference;
- Replace it: Simply replacing one normal 100-Watt bulb with one 18-Watt low energy bulb will save you about £12 a year;
- Just use what you need: Only switch on your dishwasher or washing machine for full loads, and don't boil an entire kettle of water if you're only having one cup of coffee. Simple, eh?
- Buy local and seasonal produce: Supermarkets and mass consumerism have got us consuming exotic produce from far-flung places. That means a lot of flights and shipping, which enlarges your carbon footprint. Buy local food and booze and encourage your favourite shops, pubs and restaurants to source and sell local and organic produce where possible. You could even try growing or brewing your own...
- Buy less packaging: Avoid products that use lots of packaging and recycle as much as possible, since each layer of packaging produces yet more carbon emissions for its production and destruction;
- Fly less: Yes, we know this one sucks and isn't always practical. But if you at least avoid taking internal UK flights and instead use the train or coach, you can make a significant change to your carbon footprint fairly easily.
Don't get overwhelmed by all the steps you could be taking to minimize your carbon footprint. Instead, start with a few and see how you go - you'll be surprised how soon they become second nature. Then you can give yourself a big pat on the back. When you are ready, there are all sorts of changes you can make to your home such as getting a wood burner, installing solar panels and insulating the house that will improve matters even more.
There are also various 'green' schemes offering to offset your carbon emissions if you travel a lot and can't avoid doing so. These enable you to contribute to environmentally-friendly projects such as tree-planting. However, the jury is still out as to whether these actually work and aren't just clever money-making schemes for 'ethical' upstarts.
Article produced by the Choose Action Alliance.
Written by Susie Wild
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