Climate change is one of the most urgent and complex challenges of our time. It is caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuels and deforestation. These GHGs trap heat and cause the Earth’s temperature to rise, leading to a variety of negative impacts on the environment, human health, and society.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we need to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. To achieve this goal, we need to reduce our GHG emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.
But what does this mean for us as individuals? How can we contribute to this global effort and make a difference with our everyday actions? In this blog post, we will share some of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint and live more sustainably.
What is a carbon footprint?
Your carbon footprint is the amount of GHGs that you produce as a result of your lifestyle choices. It includes the emissions from the energy you use, the food you eat, the products you buy, the transportation you take, and the waste you generate.
You can calculate your carbon footprint using online tools such as carbonfootprint.com or EPA’s carbon footprint calculator. These tools will ask you questions about your habits and activities and estimate how much carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) you emit per year. CO2e is a unit that measures the global warming potential of different GHGs.
The average American has a carbon footprint of 16 tons of CO2e per year, which is the highest in the world and far above the global average of 4 tons. To reach the 1.5°C target, we need to reduce our carbon footprint to 2.1 tons by 2050.
How to reduce your carbon footprint and live more sustainably
There are many ways to reduce your carbon footprint and live more sustainably. Some of them may require significant changes in your lifestyle, while others are simple and easy to implement. Here are some of the top tips that you can start with:
- Eat low on the food chain. Animal products, especially beef and lamb, have a high carbon footprint because they require a lot of land, water, and feed, and they emit methane, a potent GHG. By eating more plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, you can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 8 pounds per day. You can also join Meatless Mondays
or try a vegan or vegetarian diet.
- Choose organic and local foods that are in season. Food production and transportation account for a large share of GHG emissions. By choosing organic foods, you can avoid the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that contribute to soil degradation and water pollution. By choosing local foods that are in season, you can reduce the distance and energy required to transport them from the farm to your plate. You can also support your local farmers and economy.
- Buy foodstuffs in bulk when possible using your own reusable container. Packaging and processing of food products add to their carbon footprint and generate a lot of waste. By buying foodstuffs in bulk, you can save money and reduce the amount of plastic and paper that you use. You can also bring your own reusable containers, such as a glass jar or a cloth bag, to avoid using disposable bags and containers.
- Reduce your food waste by planning meals ahead of time, freezing the excess, and reusing leftovers. About a third of the food produced in the world is wasted, which means a lot of GHG emissions and resources are wasted as well. By planning your meals ahead of time, you can buy only what you need and avoid impulse purchases. By freezing the excess food, you can preserve it for later use and prevent spoilage. By reusing leftovers, you can create new dishes and avoid throwing away edible food.
- Compost your food waste if possible. If you have a garden or a backyard, you can compost your food waste and turn it into a natural fertilizer for your plants. Composting reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfills, where it decomposes anaerobically and produces methane. Composting also enriches the soil and helps retain moisture and nutrients. You can also join a community composting program or use a worm bin or a bokashi bucket if you live in an apartment.