Do You Think About Your Carbon Footprint?

The Day After Tomorrow or Hurricane Sandy? It’s hard to tell.

This morning, after I dutifully churned out 1294 words for the day, I had a couple of minutes to spare before my first class. My email informed me that I was one of 1000 participants selected to take a survey. No, I’m not special or anything — Michigan students were randomly chosen. The drawing for a $50 e-certificate from iTunes, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble piqued my interest and I decided to click on the link. The next 15 minutes and 20 or so questions proceeded to make me feel like a horrible human being.

Was I aware of the university’s ongoing efforts to protect the Huron River? No.

Did I set my thermostat 65 degrees or below in the winter months? Definitely not…can I blame bad circulation and extreme sensitivity to cold?

How often did I purchase grass-fed beef? Um, how do you know the difference?

How often do you purchase locally grown or processed foods? Oh, hey, I went to the farmer’s market a few weeks ago. And I buy from Trader Joe’s! They’re local, right? Uh-oh, I’m pretty sure my mustard was imported from France.

Do you use motion sensor outlet plugs? What the hell are those?

Needless to say, on my way to Spanish Linguistics lecture, I had plenty to ponder. Generally, I consider myself someone who’s concerned about the environment. I wholeheartedly believe global warming/climate change is real. Heck, look at the East Coast right now. Sometimes, though, I lose faith in humanity and it’s so hard to believe that me — just one person — could ever make a difference. I feel like for every pound of carbon I don’t produce, a hundred more pounds are emitted from building the next Apple knockoff store in China. How can I ever compete?

Yet all social movements were begun with a few lonely souls. Not to say that I’m striving for the Nobel Peace Prize or anything, but it’s a fact that individuals can make a difference. Upon further thought, I decided to adhere to the following rules throughout my lifetime:

  1. Never own a car. Well, I kind of already own a car. I guess my goal is not to use a car on a daily basis. I aspire to live in an area where I can either walk, bike, or take public transportation to school/work/grocery shopping.
  2. Never use air conditioning. I can’t stand the cold, but Americans are really babies about summer heat. No, it doesn’t make your company cool (in the figurative sense, of course) to set the thermostat at 65 degrees all summer long. Most buildings in Europe don’t even have AC installed.
  3. Buy organic, bio-based, local, and hormone-free products. Although they may be slightly more expensive, the health and environmental benefits far outweigh the additional cost.
  4. Plant my own garden. This is something I’ve always wanted to do anyway, but now I’m more motivated.
  5. Keep my own chicken coop. I don’t think I could eat a bird I’d killed myself, but fresh eggs sound delicious.
  6. Buy secondhand appliances and furniture. I love antique shops and flea markets anyway, but now I’ll also hit up Craiglist or Ebay for appliances. No wedding registry for me!
  7. Procreate at most twice. Overpopulation is a serious imminent problem and people should seriously consider the morality behind having more than two biological children. If you, like me, want a large family, go the Jolie-Pitt route.
  8. Instill love of nature in children. A real childhood is spent outdoors, without electronics or Internet. It always makes me sad how toddlers these days need technology to function.

How often do you think about the environment? Does it affect the daily lifestyle decisions you make? How are some ways you sacrifice for the global good?

Salut,

R

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106 thoughts on “Do You Think About Your Carbon Footprint?

  1. Oh, my, gosh…. I’m going crazy recycling and trying really, really hard to leave the least carbon footprint as possible. Don’t ever think you won;t count. There are so many of us already. We are just not aware of it. So, please, try.

      • Great post indeed. You are not alone thinking about these things and making these lists. I am sure lots of people all over the place are making choices to save the earth and making their own lives the more worth while living. I do agree with your points but missed some:
        1. What about not using a plane for small distances and better not use it at all?
        2. Use ‘green’ energy ( if possible…)
        3. Become member of a bank with a sustainable policy

        Good luck,

        Joost (Netherlands)

  2. Great post and I agree!! I don’t know all there is to know on this topic but I want to try my best in the most reasonable ways to take better care of our environment. Also, I think kids should grow up outdoors – it’s way more fun out there :)

  3. Buy less shit. That’s pretty much all you need to do. Buy used when possible. Don’t buy something new just because the thing it’s going ot replace isn’t BRAND new anymore. Use something until it breaks and can’t be repaired anymore. Don’t hoard; that’s such a spoiled Western activity.

    The rest of it, I’m pretty fortunate on. I don’t fly too often, I live close enough to work that I’m not going 35 miles on freeways anymore, and I HATE cold, so I always set my thermostat on 78 in the summer and leave it there. I do set it high in the winter, but I don’t live someplace that gets insanely cold, so I’m okay there thankfully. Heating things is much easier, cheaper, and simpler than making things artificially colder than they should be.

    Basically, the single most important thing is to just buy less crap of all kinds. No, seventeen pairs of recyclable hemp sandals in every color does not make you an environmentalist. Buying ONE PAIR OF SANDALS and wearing them until they die makes you an environmentalist.

    Sorry … I’ve just had some annoying exposure to more than a few “Ooh, these are organic? Great! Give me SIX BOXES of them so I can prove what a good progressive I am!” types … :-( The planet cries a little every time we use our credit cards.

    • Oh, I’m so with you on that. I should have added a #9: Buy less shit. And then #10: Waste less shit.

      I hate those self-proclaimed environmentalists who shop at Whole Foods and buy organic because it’s more “prestigious”, all the while driving their Hummers and hoarding high-heeled shoes.

      Don’t even get me started on what people do with electronics…the iPhone 5 just came out so I HAVE to buy it even though my iPhone 4 works perfectly fine.

    • While I’d have stated it differently, I agree with “buy less”. I’d expand on what you’re saying in that some things we purchase have a much higher carbon footprint than others.

      For example, you say you don’t fly “too often.” Just making up some numbers for discussion, let’s say you make one short trip a year and one long trip every five years, and that you take the most commonly taken flights within the united states, New York to Boston and Los Angeles to San Francisco, all rounds trips and economy. Using the co2list.org data, that’s about 550 Kg CO2 a year.

      If you drove instead of flying, you’d use 660. Another way to think about that would be that those flights are the same as driving 10 extra miles to work every day.

      • Hmm that’s interesting that flying would be environmentally friendly than driving. I supposed taking the train (only a feasible option in Europe, unfortunately) would be much better than both flying and driving.

        • I was surprised they were even *close* actually. I’d have guessed (before looking at the numbers) that driving from NY to LA would have been much much worse than flying.

          And I realised afterwards that I’d used the “average” figure for fuel when driving, when I should have used the “highway” numbers, so driving is actually a *little bit* better than flying.

          The train would definitely be best, though.

    • Yes! We don’t need more STUFF, something I learned from George Carlin.

      I’d add a couple more. Buying second hand does not mean that you own crap or that you look like a bum. You just have to be smart about it. I bought a lot of clothes second hand and no one knew. There are a few exceptions where this might not apply because it’s all about the label, (Virginia/DC area and New York, possibly San Francisco) But in LA or San Jose and many other places…all you have to do is dress well.

      My husband is very creative and can make things to fit his needs. An example of this is that all of his shelving in the garage is made from scrap wood. All nicely cut and sanded. You can’t tell it is scrap. He thinks he’s being cool by being frugal. I think he’s just really smart.

      And, I’d love to see the return of natural creativity…found in kids who play OUTSIDE!

      • People in New York can tell your clothes are second-hand?! But aren’t new clothes “second-hand” as soon as you’ve worn them once? Haha I hate clothing/accessories that prominently display their label. But I’m such a sucker for JCrew and Madewell when things are on sale…while slightly more pricey, their clothes last much longer than, say, Forever 21′s.

        Haha my boyfriend would love to do things like that! Although I’m usually the more environmentally conscious of the two us…

  4. I don’t own a car and walk as much as possible. It’s not so hot here in New Zealand so we don’t use air conditioning, but there are some countries where air con is really a life saver. I would LOVE to have chickens in our backyard one day. As for procreating, at most would be twice. I think these days in Western society, people are having less than 2 children per couple.

    Nurturing imagination and problem solving in children is something we should be pursuing as adults and guardians of the future.

    Some extras:
    Keep a worm farm and compost bin.
    Always recycle.
    Don’t print out every email.

    • Do you live in a large city? I find that in the suburbs of America, it’s really difficult to get around without a car.

      Yes, I agree that education is critically important. I remember watching “An Inconvenient Truth” in middle school and it really influenced me.

      What’s a worm farm?!

      • I live in a small city, but I’m just used to walking to work and walking to the shops to get my groceries. Once every 2 weeks I’ll catch a bus to go somewhere further afield. My husband has a company vehicle so we do use that occasionally (he uses it every day for work).

        A worm farm is great for your garden. It’s just a series of stacked bins with layers of organic matter, nesting matter and worms that you put your kitchen scraps into. The worms turn it into gardening gold. It’s very easy – even I can do it and it doesn’t take up much space. It’s about the size of a trash can.

  5. I completely agree. Although, I am already an environmentally-minded person (*assumes an air of self-importance*), I try to do more. But the main thing is to convince what I call “environmental heretics” to do their bit. They can be so maddening.

    great post btw;)

  6. What is interest especially with regards to the chicken, is that in my country experts from the developed world encourages town planners to ban chicken from certain neighbourhoods. People don’t like the smell. The property value will go down, they say. I don’t mean, a farm, I mean six or so free range birds.
    very thoughful your post.

    • Really? Where in the Caribbean do you live? I bet you have access to lots of fresh local fruit!

      The smell is a little bothersome, but if they’re kept in a pen it’s not too bad, right?

      “Developed world experts” have the worst ideas ever. They’re the ones who advocate ignoring the environment and focusing on economic growth first.

  7. Man…it’s funny how some of the simplest contributions that the average person can make to scaling back on waste aren’t nearly “common knowledge” enough.

    Even with an uncle who designs sustainable systems, even the things you mentioned weren’t really seriously in my consciousness…

    In the immortal words of the King of Pop…”I’m gonna make that change…It’s gonna feel GOOD, Chuuummonnnn!”

  8. I am worried about my carbon footprint to a point. I bought a house in San Diego that doesn’t have air conditioning. After this October, I am thinking about how I need air conditioning now!

  9. “Sometimes, though, I lose faith in humanity and it’s so hard to believe that me — just one person — could ever make a difference.”

    Of course one person makes a difference when we multiply that one person by thousands and millions.

    For example, I am one person and my wife is one person and we make a big difference. I’ve been a vegan since 1982, I drive a hybrid and use the car in such a way that I’m on the battery about 50% of the time, and when I go to town to see a movie , I walk a half hour one way and another half hour back. In fact, we set our thermostat at 64 degrees in the winter and 78 or higher in the summer, and because of that we maybe use the central air only a few times a year.

    Right now, the thermostat in my home office says it is 67 and there is no heat on and I have the window open in front of my computer. If I start to get cold, I put on more clothes to stay warm.

    I shop at farmers markets on Tuesday and Saturday. Even though I’m a vegan, I know all about the difference of corn fed versus grass fed organic beef (much healthier for our bodies if the cow was grass fed). In fact, Whole Foods Markets labels the grass fed organic beef and at both farmers markets there is a stand that sells it.

    We even have three large composting bins in our back yard and that compost is used in our vegetable garden and for all the flowering plants.

    • I’m really glad to hear your experience. It’s encouraging to know that many people are taking measures to reduce their carbon footprint.

      I don’t know if I have the self-discipline to become vegan, but I met a nutritionist this past summer who convinced me I was putting poison into my body every day. I try to eat as little meat as possible and consume more fruits/veggies and non-processed foods. However, our society + a college-student budget makes it hard to eat well.

      Thanks for sharing!

      • Rebecca,

        It’s all about choices.

        Although I have been a vegan for thirty years, I have read that it is okay to eat at least six ounces of meat a day (and no more) and if it is grass fed organic beef/meat, that is considered much healthier. According to the study and advice I have read, anything above six ounces of meat a day is too much.

        And feeding cattle grass causes the meat to be more healthy than feeding them corn. It changes the type of fat in the meat. Corn fed cattle creates unhealthy fat but grass fed doesn’t. You know, all those good Omega fats.

        Our daughter is in her third year of Stanford, and I know she eats meat so I told her the same thing. There is a Trader Joes across the street from Stanford. She shops there all the time.

        I just checked and Trader Joe’s does sell organic, grass-fed ground beef. I’m sure it is frozen and the flyer found through the following link says it costs just $6.49 a pound. There are sixteen ounces in one pound so there are 2.6 servings in one pound. Buy two pounds and you have more than five servings.

        http://www.traderjoes.com/fearless-flyer/article.asp?article_id=650

        The same studies also recommend at least five, fist-sized servings of real fruit and vegetables a day too. Fruit juice and tomato sauce does not count as real fruit and vegies.

          • Jay, nobody said that eating healthy and environmentally conscious was cheap. It’s a matter of lifestyle choices, and if you care enough, then spending $3 more on beef each week is not a huge sacrifice.

  10. Do the math. It helps. You make a difference no matter what you do–for better or for worse. Think about what you are doing now to destroy the environment. Multiply that by the number of times per month or week you do that. Then multiply by the number of weeks or months you hope to live.

    Now imagine doing some of those things less. Multiply that. Subtract.

    You cannot “save” the environment single-handedly, but if you don’t think about your carbon footprint at all, you will certainly aid in destroying it.

    The real question is how bad do we want things to be?

    • Hmm it’d be really interesting to get some statistics on how people around the globe are watching their carbon footprint (kind of like watching carbs, haha) and what the quantitative impact has been on the environment.

      But I agree — everything we do counts towards something.

  11. I recycle everything I can – paper, glass, plastic bottles, cartboard packages, metals (like tin foil and food cans), clothes and electronics, and I put the biodegradable waste into a different bin that eventually goes to a compost.

    I’ve never owned a car and I don’t see myself needing one. I try to keep the thermostat low in the winter. I’ve got a big fleece poncho to help me keep warm. It’s not very stylish, but hey…

    I feel guilty for buying so much clothes and shoes. I recycle some of them, but still. Also, I’m using way too much electricity what with all the computers and gadgets. And my fresh ready-to-eat mangoes are imported from god knows where!

  12. as much as i could i really do my share to “take care of the environment”.. supermarkets in my area have already banned the use of plastic bags for grocery, fastfoods are using paperboxes for take home instead of styro.. through this lots of people would be aware and be conscious of taking good care of the environment.. my wish is for this ordinance to be effected country wide.

  13. Never own a car – CHECK
    Never use air conditioning – CHECK
    Buy organic, bio-based, local, and hormone-free products – CHECK
    Plant my own garden – Mom does
    Keep my own chicken coop – At one point, we did. My grandpa did. I had fresh eggs when I was young.

    My country’s carbon footprint is so low it is almost negligible. Cows and rice fields emit GHG but are we gonna tell farm animals to stop farting and people to stop planting rice? No. Of course, China and US are a different story. Citing a local professor, “Climate change has become a convenient excuse when there are other [environmental] issues that need to be addressed.” It’s not just about the carbon. I’m very concerned about the environment, just like you and I agree with the numerous points you have addressed. But there are many other environmental issues that begs just as much attention such as deforestation, pollution and waste mismanagement, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion and the like.

    Coral reefs are in danger – because of overfishing, fertilizer and other wastes. Not because of CO2.

    Cheers!

    • Where do you live? I feel that everyone’s carbon footprint is very much affected by the environment around them. If you live in America, it’s hard to be the only one without a car or without AC. If you live in the Congo, I’m sure that would be much easier.

      You’re absolutely right the climate change is only a small part of environmental issues.

  14. My carbon footprint is absolutely awful as we live overseas and frequently do long haul flights. But I still hope that the things I can control will make a difference, use the aircon as little as possible (we were in Singapore and it was needed at for part of everyday), switch lights off if we aren’t in the room, fly as little as possible not much but better than nothing.

    • I’m sure there are many things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint despite flying frequently! What are you in Singapore for? I hear they’re fairly environmentally conscious over there.

  15. Individuals’ footprints can make a small impact on the overall picture, but actions by governments and polluting companies will be the main influence on our environment.

    We try by growing many of our vegetables and try to be careful with our use of electricity. And then we see the pollution pouring out of factories and wonder what effect we have had on the problem.

    On July 1st this year, the Australian Prime Minister (Julia Gillard) introduced a carbon tax designed to reduce pollution.

    Some believe it will work, and some don’t. This seems to depend which political party you support.

    Those who don’t support it blame all our (existing and future) problems on the carbon tax.

    I’m a freelance cartoonist and have done a few cartoons on the carbon tax this year.

    Cheers

    Mick

    • I think a carbon tax is a great idea. Whenever the gas prices go up, I complain, but ultimately I think it’s good that people are forced to be conservative for financial reasons. Especially now that I’m not driving (living on campus), carbon tax the hell out of those gas prices!

  16. I don’t know about this. The last time I looked at my footprint was on a sandy beach and I didn’t see any carbon. Maybe it’s invisible. I best go fill up my gas-guzzling SUV so I can drive somewhere where I can make footprints. I’ll let you all know if I find any carbon in any of those footprints.

  17. Good for you. Most of your resolutions seem sound, and if that’s how you want to live, more power to you.

    But procreate only twice? Are you serious? Have you ever really studied macroeconomics or any social science? Humans are not going to overpopulate the earth by having too many kids, and it’s not “irresponsible” to have a gaggle of babies. Birth rates are falling in most developed countries because of economic and social factors, and the same will happen in developing countries eventually. Humans balance themselves out, without having to consciously limit the size of their families. The problems the world faces are not overpopulation but poor food distribution and production problems in areas with growing populations, but those issues can be solved in other ways.

    Anyway, feel free to do what you want, but don’t make it sound like people who have more than two kids are killing the Earth. That’s just ridiculous.

    • While I’m not an expert in macroeconomics or social sciences by any means, I’d bet that you aren’t either. Birth rates may be dropping in developed countries, but our world population is skyrocketing.

      While poverty and famine may not be related to overpopulation, global warming certainly is. In 1970, when worldwide greenhouse gases began to surpass the sustainable capacity of the atmosphere, the world population was 3.7 billion. Today, world population is at 6.9 billion. You do the math.

      People who are having more than two kids may not be killing the earth, but they are certainly contributing to it much more than those who have two children or fewer.

      My sources:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/18/opinion/18iht-edwesting.html

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090418075752.htm

    • Over-population is a huge problem on the planet and it is leading us towards extinction (no exaggeration). A study reported by CBC News here in Canada stated that we are gobbling up resources much faster than the planet can regenerate them, and that by 2030, we will need two planets in order to sustain life. You need to read Daniel Quinn (Ishmael and The Story of B).

    • Wow that is absolutely mind-blowing that someone can just claim to have received a Noble Prize and nobody will fact-check them on it. Unfortunately, this is a blow to the credibility of climate researchers…

  18. Wow, great post. I do my best to not leave a massive carbon footprint…it is sad that so many people don’t care. Celebs like Michael Jackson make a great public face for people to follow but now someone else needs to really step up. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  19. Great post. It gives me hope when I find others who share my concerns and lifestyle choices. I am with you on all 8 of your points. A couple more suggestions … be a minimalist and drink water from an outdoor spring (if you can find one nearby). Cheers!

    • Thank you for your kind words. It’s been amazing to get all the feedback on this post — I’ve learned so much and I feel more encouraged that there are likeminded people out there. :)

      Agreed on minimalism and outdoor spring. Cheers to you too!

  20. I don’t even drive, which drives certain members of my family crazy. But I see it as saving a lot of money on insurance, upkeep of the car, and registration fees every year. I am not really fond of air conditioning, because it always is colder than it’s set for.

  21. I’ll echo what some others have said here. Don’t think about what you can do to minimize the impact after you’ve already consumed. Recycle? Well what about consuming in a way that produces little or no trash in the first place? Buy used…repurpose. It seems that everyone these days says “Oh I recycle everything!” Sadly, if you look at what it takes to recycle and recreate something new…there is still a LOT of resources that go into that. Use your noggin before the fact, not after. :) Great post. Appreciated.

    • I agree — there are many ways to be eco-friendly before the purchase. Buy from stores that use minimal packaging, etc. I wonder if it’s more environmental to buy online and get items shipped or to buy in store? With the former, there’s more transportation/packaging involved. With the latter though, there’s the energy that goes into running a physical store.

  22. This is something in the forefront of my mind at the moment and my goals are somewhat similar to yours. It’s good to see that more people are reaching these conclusions.
    I am currently investigating waste & recycling, but too in depth for a post. I dare say once finished, I will make a brief post about it; meanwhile, I ramble on about any thing and everything. Thanks for sharing!

  23. I can not live without air conditioning… and I will pay that money… sorry ..it is awfully hot here in the San Fernando Valley.. I agree, all movements begin with a few lonely souls., but realize that what you suggest here is not new …. sometimes it is the little things that we do in general that can make a big difference… I am esoteric in my perspective on this subject. I feel that nature can,take care of herself. Yet, as human caretakers, we can make a difference by understanding our relationship with nature. It’s physicality is important but what about it’s spirituality… for me this is the first place to start. Ask nature what nature wants first!! What the does nature have to say about all of this??

    • Oh, of course I know I’m not suggesting anything new, but sometimes it feels like I’m the only one making these changes. Clearly, though, from the feedback here, many more people are doing more than me!

      Nature wants us to never have invented electricity…

  24. No, I don’t care about my “carbon footprint.” Average temperatures fell from 1880 to 1910, rose from 1910 to 1940, stayed flat from 1940 to 1978, rose from 1978 to 1997, and have stayed flat from 1998 to now. This pattern doesn’t show a clear and catastrophic trend. (See: UCAR: How Much Has Global Temperature Risen in the Last 100 Years? and Daily Mail: Global Warming Stopped 16 Years Ago

    While the science suggests that it’s possible that human activity is responsible for much of the warming of 1978-1997, (about 0.6 deg. C since 1978) we are still toward the low end of global temperature for the past 65 million years. (See: The Big Picture The temperature 50 million years ago was 12 degrees above the current average temperature.

    There is no solid evidence that another degree of warming over the next century will be catastrophic, assuming that warming, in fact, resumes. (Greenland temperatures were 1-2 degrees warmer during the time of the Minoans and later during the time of the Romans.)

    The improvements in human life that fossil fuels have made possible are very much worth whatever small climate changes they may have caused, and may continue to cause until we run out of fossil fuels and/or discover a more efficient energy technology.

    If individuals like you want to change your own lifestyle out of environmental guilt, that’s not my concern. But there is no justification for laws and governmental regulations on general carbon emissions. This is not a morally proper cause for the use of coercion. Government coercion will not help “green energy” become practical, but will only serve to destroy countries’ economic well-being.

    By the way, if environmentalists are so afraid of the release of more CO2, they should be pushing hard to enable nuclear power. Unlike solar and wind, this is an economically feasible power source that can be implemented now. A little radioactive waste safely buried in the ground should be insignificant compared to the disasters that warming alarmists like Al Gore have been predicting.

    • While global temperature hasn’t risen as drastically as some have predicted, climate change/environmental issues encompasses much, much more than simply temperature. For example, global sea level is 6 inches higher than in 1900.

      If you don’t believe climate change is real, then apparently the entire world’s scientists and governments are advocating the greatest conspiracy of all time…

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change

      The only thing I agree with you on is the need to enable nuclear power.

  25. Great post! To add to what you have already said, we can also try to buy less.. Most of the time we buy things that we don’t even need.. We must learn to differentiate between our needs n wants.. Because the more we buy, the more they make – thereby consuming more resources and energy.. We can always exchange books, games n CDs with our friends when we are done with them, instead of buying altogether new ones.. We MUST reuse n recycle as much as possible..

    More importantly, we should instill these values in the next generation.. Every little bit we do is essential..

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