Ways to Lighten Our Carbon Footprint and Live More Sustainably
Along with the dire warnings comes cause for optimism regarding the climate crisis. Scientists agree it’s not too late to fend off calamitous effects of global warming if we act now. One of the challenges is that many people don’t believe they can make a difference. But the choices each of us make every day do make a difference. Our consumption habits release GHG emissions into Earth’s atmosphere so the less we buy and consume the better. Remembering to “reduce, reuse, recycle” will prompt us to ask: do we really need that new piece of technology? Does a particular item really need replacing? Can it be recycled effectively? The way we answer these questions will make a difference to the amount of toxic emissions that are released. We can also choose less harmful ways of consuming whether it’s when we’re eating, travelling, purchasing, heating, cooling, etc. The cumulative effects of the ways we each lessen our burden on the planet’s resources will determine the degree to which we’ll avoid catastrophe. The way climate breakdown works is that the more each of us do to lessen our carbon footprint the safer our future will be.
Below are some of the major ways in which we consume Earth’s resources and contribute to GHGs reaching our atmosphere. Each section contains suggestions for actions we can take to lighten our carbon footprints. The more of them we do, the more livable the future will be. The Resources section offers additional information and support.
Food and food waste
Eating less meat and dairy is the most effective way to lighten our carbon footprint. Animal agriculture is one of the biggest emitters of GHGs and a huge driver of deforestation and water pollution leading to biodiversity loss. And, we don’t need to wait for politicians or lawmakers or businesses to act, we can start today!
Food waste is another source of GHGs — from its production to disposal at landfill sites. And, Canada is one of the worst offenders. Studies show we waste anywhere from one-third to 58% of our food. And, over 60% of household food waste is avoidable. Some estimates say it can cost the average household from $600 — $1,100 a year.
What We Can Do
Adopt Meatless Mondays.
Set targets for gradually reducing the number of meals a week that include meat and dairy.
Sample delicious dairy-free options for ice cream, yoghurt, cheese (yes, really), and milk.
Try eating vegetarian or, to cut one’s carbon footprint in half, go vegan. Check out Resources for guides and kits to support the transition.
Calculating the carbon footprint of our food helps us make more informed choices. Check out the site under websites in Resources.
Prepare more meals at home (they’re half the carbon footprint of commercially-prepared food).
Choose locally-grown, organic produce to limit transportation emissions and pesticide-use.
Ask restaurants, schools, hospitals, and fast food companies for more plant-based food options or plant-based meat alternatives. If they know there’s a demand, they’ll respond.
REDUCE FOOD WASTE
Buy and store less food.
Avoid buying in bulk.
Store leftovers at the front of the fridge so they don’t get forgotten.
Reuse leftovers in soups, a stir fry or smoothies.
Buy imperfect-looking fruits and vegetables.
“Best before” dates refer to food quality e.g., taste and texture, not food safety i.e., expiry dates. Visit lovefoodhatewaste.ca for storage and consumption time limits to avoid throwing out food unnecessarily.
Transportation & energy
We can reduce our carbon footprint by decreasing our use of transportation dependent on fossil fuels, and choosing other forms of transport.
What We Can Do
Take fewer flights. Air travel is a significant contributor to GHG emissions. One estimate compared a domestic flight (in Europe), as producing 29 times the emissions of hi-speed electric rail. Check out the website under “Transportation and Energy” in Resources to calculate the carbon footprint of a trip.
When choosing to fly, pick the most direct route. Fewer connections mean fewer take-offs and landings — the most fuel-intensive parts of a flight.
Pack light. If everyone on a flight packed one less pair of shoes (= 1kg), it would be the equivalent of taking 10,500 cars off the road for a year. The lighter the aircraft the fewer emissions.
Plan to travel to places reachable by train or bus.
Carpool wherever possible.
Consolidate trips when running errands.
Bike or walk to a destination.
Where available, take public transit.
Buy an electric car or hybrid.
Regularly maintain gasoline-powered engines.
Open car windows first before using air conditioning.
Avoid idling engines.
Avoid speeding and unnecessary acceleration.
Use the least amount of air conditioning to maintain comfort at home.
Same as above when heating the home.
For more energy-saving tips in transportation and for the home click here: www.c2es.org/content/home-energy-use/
There is growing awareness of the enormous damage plastic is doing to ocean ecosystems, and marine and wild life. The impact on human health is less well understood and is a topic of ongoing research. However, helping to conquer our ubiquitous use of plastic is a huge step forward in limiting further harm.
What We Can Do
Ditch single-use plastic.
Buy a metal or glass water bottle.
Refuse a plastic bag if there are only a couple of items.
Reuse a plastic bag for trash.
Use biodegradable compost bags in household garbage cans.
Take refillable cups to the coffee shop.
Take refillable containers to the grocery store.
Say “no straw” when ordering drinks.
Don’t buy or use plastic plates or cutlery.
Buy products not wrapped in plastic and lobby for reusable packaging options.
Don’t buy, and especially don’t release, balloons. They can be deadly to both wildlife and marine life.
Buy goods made of materials other than plastic. They cost a little more but if we support the production of new materials, those businesses will grow and replace those that are more harmful to the environment. Prices will come down!
Pick up plastic in parks, on streets, beaches, nature trails, and in the ocean, rivers, streams and lakes.
Participate in community-led, outdoor clean-up efforts on beaches, harbours, parks etc.
Wildlife is facing catastrophic rates of loss and decline. And restoring ecosystems are effective at drawing CO2 out of the air. It’s estimated they could provide one-third of GHG mitigation between now and 2030.
What We Can Do
Protect and restore river banks and streams.
Protect natural forests.
Protect and restore coastal habitats.
Restore peaty soils.
Lobby to protect natural sea beds from trawling.
Plant sea and dune grasses.
Plant wild flowers to encourage pollinators.
Mow the lawn less often.
Pull up weeds to avoid using pesticides.
Volunteer with a local conservation group.
It’s easier to act if we know what needs to be done and how to do it. It also helps if there are resources to turn to for support and advice. There’s a wealth of useful sites on the internet but here’s a selection.
FOOD AND FOOD WASTE
To calculate the footprint of food, go to https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46459714.
“The Vegan Starter Kit” by Dr. Neal Barnard.
“Eat for the Planet; Saving the World One Bite at a Time”, Nil Zacharias and Gene Stone.
“The End of Meat” (iTunes).
What The Health; Cowspiracy; Mission Blue (Netflix).
4Ocean is an organization that uses donations to clean up oceans, protect marine life and restore underwater habitats like coral. 4ocean.com