4 Main Reasons Why Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Is Important
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You’ve probably heard the term “carbon footprint”. And that this refers to our greenhouse gas emissions. But did you know that each one of us has our own carbon footprint? And why it is so important to reduce it?
Reducing your carbon footprint is important because it maintains mitigates the effects of climate change, which has a positive cascade effect on public health and plant and animal diversity. In addition, this boosts the global economy and leads to innovative, more environmental-friendly solutions.
Keep reading to learn how our carbon footprint impacts daily life and why and how we should strive to reduce it. You may be surprised to find out that reducing your carbon footprint can be as simple as changing a lightbulb.
Here Are the Benefits of Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
The carbon footprint is one of the ways we measure the effects of human-induced global climate change. It primarily focuses on the greenhouse gas emissions associated with consumption, but also includes other emissions such as methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons.
“Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gases and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period”Merriam Webster
Basically, it is the amount of carbon emitted by an activity or an organization. This includes greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fuel that we burn directly (e.g. heating a home, driving a car) and GHG emissions from manufacturing the products that we use (e.g. power plants, factories, and landfills).
Coal, oil, and natural gas are the top three highest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing your consumption of these, in turn, reduces your carbon footprint, which has huge impacts on environmental, economic, and public health.
|Impact of reducing your carbon footprint||Why is that important|
|Mitigates the Effects of Global Climate Change||Reducing GHG emissions slows the rate of temperature rise, sea-level rise, ice melting, and ocean acidification.|
|Improves Public Health||Reducing GHG emissions lessens the likelihood and severity of extreme weather events, improves air and water quality, maintains biodiversity, and supports a healthy food supply.|
|Boosts the Global Economy||Reducing GHG boosts the economy, especially when it becomes economically rewarding to innovate solutions that help protect our planet, fight climate change, and are based on clean energy.|
|Maintains Plant and Animal Diversity||Reducing GHG slows the effects of climate change, thereby reducing the adaptation pressure placed on plants and animals.|
One of the best ways we can aid in the fight against global climate change is to reduce our carbon footprint. Once we do this we can begin to reap the benefits of improved public health, a stable economy, and maintenance of biodiversity.
Reason #1: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Mitigates the Effects of Global Climate Change
Carbon emissions have devastating effects on the environment. Reducing your carbon footprint can mitigate these effects because the less GHG we emit, the less we contribute to global climate change.
- Increasing temperatures: Earth’s atmosphere has warmed 1.5℃ since 1880. This may not seem like a lot, but these degrees create regional and seasonal temperature extremes, reduce sea ice, intensify rainfall and drought severity, and change habitat ranges for plants and animals.
- Rising sea levels: Global sea levels have increased approximately 8-9 inches since 1880, displacing people living along coastlines and destroying coastal habitats. Roads, bridges, subways, water supplies, oil and gas wells, power plants, sewage treatment plants, and landfills remain at risk if sea level rise goes unchecked.
- Melting of sea ice: Since 1979 arctic sea ice has declined by 30%. Sea ice plays a major role in regulating the earth’s climate by reflecting sunlight into space and providing habitat for animal species. If all of the glaciers on Earth melted, sea levels would rise by approximately 70 feet, effectively flooding out every coastal city on the planet.
- Changing precipitation patterns: Extreme weather events (e.g., hurricanes, floods, droughts) are becoming more common and more intense. Storm-affected areas will experience increased precipitation and flooding whereas areas located further from storm tracks will experience decreased precipitation and droughts.
- Ocean Acidification: The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere, which decreases the pH (increases the acidity) of the ocean. In the past 200 years, the pH of oceans has decreased by 0.1 pH units, which translates to a 30% increase in acidity. Aquatic life unable to adjust to this rapid acidification will die off. A prime example of this is coral bleaching, where coral expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues as a result of changes in temperature, light, or nutrients.
Reducing your carbon footprint plays a role in mitigating each of the above side effects of global climate change. The more we reduce the amount of GHG emissions, the more we slow the rate of temperature rise, sea-level rise, ice melting, and ocean acidification. When these rates are slowed, the earth’s biodiversity does not have to struggle to adapt to temperature and pH changes. People will not be displaced due to the flooding of coastal areas. And icebergs will continue to provide climate regulation.
Reason #2: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Improves Public Health
Degradation of air quality as a result of carbon emissions is a serious issue. In 2009, the U.S. government declared CO2, CH4, N2O, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) threats to the public health and welfare of current and future generations.
|Public Health Category||Health Impact|
|Asthma, Respiratory Allergies, and Airway Diseases||Increased concentration of pollen, mold spores, dust, and particulate matter amplify allergies and respiratory conditions such as chest pain, throat irritation, coughing, and lung inflammation.|
|Cancer||Depletion of stratospheric ozone leads to increased UV exposure; Carcinogenic chemicals are released into the environment as a result of flooding and increased temperatures; Declining air quality increases the risk of lung cancer.|
|Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke||Extreme cold and heat; increased ozone formation, particulate matter, stress, and anxiety cause heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.|
|Effects of Heat||Increased temperatures can cause heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heatstroke, and death.|
|Foodborne Diseases and Nutrition||Floods, droughts, and wildfires can contaminate crops and fisheries with metals, chemicals, and toxicants released into the environment; Increased temperatures can damage and destroy crops.|
|Human Developmental Effects||Increases in weeds and pests, increases in pesticide use which can cause developmental effects; Foodborne illnesses and food insecurity leads to malnutrition.|
|Mental Health and Stress-Related Disorders||Extreme weather events cause stress, especially when they cause the displacement of people.|
|Vectorborne and Zoonotic Diseases||Changes in temperature and precipitation influences pathogen-host interactions, changes pathogen incubation times, and alters predator-prey relationships.|
|Waterborne Diseases||Droughts, changes in water pH, floods can cause an increase in pathogens and increase the risk of waterborne disease.|
So, how can you help mitigate these effects? By reducing your carbon footprint! Reducing carbon emissions lessens the likelihood and severity of extreme weather events, improves air and water quality, maintains biodiversity, and supports a healthy food supply.
Reason #3: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Boosts the Global Economy
Although we cannot place a definite price tag on the economic cost of carbon emissions, the number is predicted to be quite large. A study in the journal Nature found that every 1 trillion tons of CO2 translates to a gross domestic product (GDP) loss of nearly half a percent. If we pursue all available climate change mitigation measures, the total global economic cost would be 240-420 billion per year by 2030. This may seem like a lot, but that number is projected to be less than 1% of the forecasted GDP in 2030. The benefits of mitigation would far outweigh the costs of implementation.
The healthcare sector would reap huge economic benefits from a reduced carbon footprint. In 2017, there were 1.2 million air pollution-related deaths in China, which represented 13.2% of the country’s GDP. Similarly, there were 23,000 deaths in the United Kingdom in the same year, representing 7.1% of the country’s GDP. The number of deaths related to air pollution is predicted to continue to increase through 2060. Reducing carbon emissions would reduce the number of air pollution-related deaths, thereby easing pressure on healthcare systems.
One way to motivate people to reduce their carbon footprint is to establish carbon taxes. A carbon tax is a fee imposed on the burning of carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas). When the price of the tax is set high enough, it acts as a monetary disincentive that motivates a switch to alternative energy sources. By charging companies and people for using carbon-based fuel, it becomes more economically rewarding to use energy alternatives than it is to burn carbon-based fuel.
Reducing your carbon footprint is expensive, but it costs us more to do nothing than it does to take action now. The strain placed on healthcare systems due to air pollution and
Carbon taxes are one way in which we can instigate the switch from carbon-based fuel to alternative energy sources.
Reason #4: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Maintains Plant and Animal Diversity
Climate change is one of the biggest threats to the long-term survival of the planet’s plant and animal populations. It disrupts the ecological balance between plant and animal species by increasing competition and forcing relocation. Although these populations have evolved to adapt to changes in the past, they are unable to keep up with the current rate of rapid climate change. And when they cannot adapt, they face extinction.
- Plants: Are more susceptible to the effects of climate change because unlike animals, they cannot migrate as easily. They can only survive, compete and reproduce in specific climate ranges to which they are evolutionarily and physiologically adapted.
- Animals: Can adapt more easily to climate change than plants, but they would still be hit hard by climate change. Endemic, those species living in one exclusive area, would be hit the hardest and would be the most likely to go extinct because they cannot survive anywhere else.
We should care about maintaining plant and animal populations because healthy ecosystems have been linked with cleaner air, water, and food. Protecting forest habitats increases carbon sequestration and defends against erosion. Protecting agricultural land ensures a robust, secure, and prosperous food system. Protecting aquatic ecosystems ensures a readily available supply of fresh water. Lastly, protecting biodiversity protects human health because many plants and animals are used in modern medicines.
Reducing your carbon footprint can slow the effects of climate change, thereby reducing the adaptation pressure placed on plants and animals.
What Are the Main Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
You don’t have to make drastic changes in your lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint. Actions that may seem small can have a big impact because those small changes add up! You can reduce your carbon footprint in three main areas of your life: household, travel, and lifestyle.
Reduce your household footprint:
- Wash with cold water: Washing clothes in cold water could reduce carbon emissions by up to 11 million tons. Approximately 90% of the energy is used to heat the water, so switching to cold saves also saves energy.
- Replace incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs: Fluorescent bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescent ones, saving energy and thus reducing electricity demand and greenhouse gas emissions.
Reduce your travel footprint:
- Fly less: Aviation accounts for around 1.9% of global GHG emissions and 2.5% of CO2. Air crafts run on jet gasoline, which is converted to CO2 when burned.
- Walk or bike when possible: The most efficient ways of traveling are walking, bicycling, or taking the train. Using a bike instead of a car can reduce carbon emissions by 75%. These forms of transportation also provide lower levels of air pollution.
Reduce your lifestyle footprint:
- Switch to Renewable Energy Sources: The six most common types of renewable energy are solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass energy. They are a substitute for fossil fuels (e.g., coal and oil) that can reduce the effects of global warming by limiting global GHGs and other pollutants.
- Recycle: Recycling uses less energy and deposits less waste in landfills. Less manufacturing and transportation energy costs means less GHG emissions generated. Less waste in landfills means less CH4 is generated.
- Switch from single-use to sustainable products: Reusing products avoids resource extraction, reduces energy use, reduces waste generation, and can prevent littering.
- Eat less meat and dairy: Meat and dairy account for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with beef and lamb being the most carbon-intensive. Globally, we consume much more meat than is considered sustainable, and switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet could reduce emissions.
- Take shorter showers: Approximately 1.2 trillion gallons of water are used each year in the United States just for showering purposes, and showering takes up about 17% of residential water usage. The amount of water consumed and the energy cost of that consumption are directly related. The less water we use the less energy we use. And the less energy we use, the less of a negative impact we have on the environment.
Important Legislation to Reduce Our Global Carbon Footprint
The Paris Climate Agreement is perhaps the most well-known piece of legally binding, international climate mitigation legislation. It was adopted by 196 countries in Paris on December 12, 2015, and entered into law on November 4, 2016. Its goal is to limit global warming to below 2 degrees celsius (C), preferably to 1.5C, compared to pre-industrial levels. Every 5 years, member countries submit nationally determined contributions (NDCs) which outline their plans for climate action.
This is a significant piece of legislation because it unites countries under a common cause, mitigating climate change. By standing together in the face of a global climate crisis, these countries can share resources, wealth, and ideas that could prove vital in meeting the 1.5C goal.
We should care about reducing our carbon footprint because our planet’s future quite literally depends on it. Reducing your carbon footprint is important because it mitigates the effects of global climate change, improves public health, boosts the global economy, and maintains biodiversity. When we cut carbon emissions we help ensure cleaner air, water, and food for our generation and for generations yet to come.
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- National Aeronautics and Space Administration, U.S.A.: How does climate change affect precipitation?
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- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: What is coral bleaching?
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- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Cancer
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Effects of Heat
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Foodborne Diseases and Nutrition
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Human Developmental Effects
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Mental Health and Stress-Related Disorders
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Vectorborne and Zoonotic Diseases
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