If you're reading this, it probably means that you're concerned about the state of our planet. You might even be looking for radical ways to reduce your carbon footprint, with good reason: Rising global temperatures, plastic trash filling our oceans, and diminishing natural resources all contribute to many people's desire to reduce their carbon footprint in an effort to save the planet. But are driving hybrid vehicles and buying reusable grocery bags enough? Some research done on the matter shows if you really want to have an impact, it may be time to make some significant lifestyle changes.
First, what exactly is a carbon footprint? In scientific terms, as stated on the Time for Change website, a carbon footprint is the "total amount of greenhouse gases produced to support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2)." But like, what does that even mean? In layman's terms, it means that everything you do (whether it be driving, heating or cooling your home, eating, or even shopping) emits a certain amount of greenhouse gases, primarily CO2. So your individual carbon footprint, or that of your family's, is the total amount of those gases released by all the things you do as you're out there living your life.
And though CO2 in and of itself isn't bad, as explained on the Sciencing website, as it is a "natural part of the life cycle," experts say we now have an imbalance where there is too much CO2 in our environment. It is this imbalance that has become dangerous. As Kimberly Nicholas, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Sustainability Science and Director of Ph.D. Studies at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies) states in email to Romper, "For all of humanity, for all of time, we have a carbon budget to avoid dangerous climate change, and very little of it is left. This means that people alive today have to make the transformations to enable today’s emissions to go down fast."
There are numerous ways you can reduce your carbon footprint with small, everyday changes, according to HuffPo, such as unplugging your appliances when they're not in use, buying locally, and washing your clothing in cold water, but in order to truly make up for the disparity in greenhouse gases being emitted into our environment, some experts are now saying substantial life-changes may be the most impactful way to save our planet. The five ideas below are radical, to be sure, but they're also going to give the planet we love the most bang for its buck when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint and getting mama Earth back in balance.
1. Have Fewer Children
I told you these ideas were radical. Nicholas, along with climate change expert Seth Wynes, compiled and compared 39 different academic studies and carbon calculators in an effort to find what the most "high impact personal choices" were in terms of reducing one's carbon footprint. What they found was that the number one decision a person can make in order to reduce their carbon footprint is to have one fewer children.
Nicholas states, "Having a child is an enormous decision in every respect — personally, professionally, financially. Our research shows it is also by far the biggest long-term choice we make in terms of the climate. Put simply, in countries with high emissions rates, adding more people adds a lot more carbon to the atmosphere — and their children will add more still. What this says to me is that, if kids today grow up at the same high emissions rates as their parents, they will be inheriting a world of dangerous climate change... " It's a tough pill to swallow for many people, but it makes sense nonetheless. The bigger the family, (in most cases) the bigger the footprint.
2. Change Your Diet
Eating less meat (or even eliminating meat altogether) has been discussed for a while now when it comes to a person's overall health. But what you may not know is that the meat industry itself is one of the highest carbon producing industries in the world. In a comprehensive analysis regarding the relationship between food and climate change, The New York Times reported that the meat and dairy industry accounts for about 14.5 percent of the world's greenhouse gases each year, which they say is "roughly the same amount as the emissions from all the cars, trucks, airplanes and ships combined in the world today."
The problem isn't the meat per se, it's the way the meat is produced. As outlined on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) website, everything from the way crops are fertilized to the feeding practices of the animals, and even the "manure management" of their waste contributes to the high amount of greenhouse gases put into the atmosphere.
Until better practices are put into place in this industry, eating less meat and dairy, or buying local, grass-fed and sustainably produced meat and dairy products, really can make a big impact on your carbon footprint.
3. Stop Buying Fast Fashion
The fashion industry, as reported by the United Nations, contributes to around 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, consuming more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined. Much of that is do to the manufacturing and distribution of what's known as "fast fashion."
In an email to Romper, dress designer Christy Dawn defined "fast fashion" as "When I walk into a store and see a row of twenty or thirty identical shirts, all priced super low, in a chain store that’s in hundreds or thousands of locations all across the world. It’s a mass production of goods that are made quickly and with cost-savings in mind." But those cost-savings come at a price, Dawn notes. Not only in the quality of the merchandise, but also in the quality of life for the people making it, and the environmental impact.
Dawn, who founded an eponymous line of sustainable and ethically made dresses in downtown Los Angeles, began her journey by reducing her own carbon footprint. She says, "I tried to buy less in general, and instead of purchasing five $40 dresses, maybe I’d save up that money until I had $200 to spend on a dress that was produced in a sustainable, ethical fashion. Owning less reduces our carbon footprint in so many ways, from the fuel of shipping a dress, to the cardboard it is shipped in, to the emissions in the factory that produces it, to the toll it takes on our Earth to produce all the raw materials."
Simply put, that deal you think you're getting on an inexpensive top is actually a really crummy deal for the environment.
4. Drive Responsibly (Or Not At All)
If you live in a city like Los Angeles (where I dwell), the thought of living without a car is nearly impossible. And while getting rid of your car altogether is a big way to reduce your carbon footprint, if you just can't feasibly do that, it turns out how you drive can help lower your impact as well.
As noted by the U.S. Department of Energy's fuel economy website, aggressive driving (defined as speeding and rapid acceleration and braking) can actually lower your gas mileage by up to 40 percent. Lower gas mileage means more fuel. More fuel means higher carbon footprint. So basically, when you drive like a jerk, not only do you upset everyone around you, you also upset the environment.
5. Avoid Air Travel
This one pains me because I love to travel. But what Nicholas and Wynes found in their research is that, as Nicholas says, "Flying is especially damaging to the climate, and every flight avoided is a meaningful climate action. Our research showed that one roundtrip flight the distance of New York to London pollutes 1.6 tons [of CO2]. To put this in perspective, she explains, "You would have to recycle comprehensively for eight years, or not eat meat for two years, to equal the emissions from that one flight."
The world recently saw this play out as 16-year-old climate activist (and all around bad ass), Greta Thunberg refused to fly to the UN climate summits, and instead, as covered by The New York Times, sailed on an emissions-free yacht instead.
People, we are supposed to be the grown-ups here, but once again, it's the children and young adults who are leading the way. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to my first sailing lesson.