WHAT IS A CARBON FOOTPRINT?
We all have a carbon footprint, the size of which correlates to the amount of greenhouse gases that our actions, choices, and purchases cause to be released into the atmosphere. It’s these gases that are causing global warming, spurring unpredictable weather changes, accelerating biodiversity loss, and threatening livelihoods across the world.
Generally, a carbon footprint is calculated by taking all of your emissions over the last calendar year into account. This captures everything from how long your showers are to how often you catch a flight. The emissions you’re indirectly responsible for are also included, such as the fossil fuels used to transport your food or manufacture your smartphone.
The average emissions of Australian citizens are quite high, at about average carbon footprint of 22.4 tonnes per person. But if we hope to avoid the worst effects of global warming, each of us should aim to limit our carbon footprints to 2 tonnes.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT
The entire world as we know it is at stake in combating climate change. The symptoms of this global emergency are already all too evident - from forest fires to droughts, rising temperatures and rapidly acidifying oceans.
On the surface, the actions we take every day are harmless, and it can be hard to locate the cause of these terrible events in our seemingly inconsequential behaviours.
But the truth is that all of us play a part in this impending catastrophe. Those of us in high income countries with high emitting lifestyles bear a degree of responsibility for what is happening in the world - because around 72% of all emissions come from household consumption.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing - if our actions are causing climate change, our actions can divert it, too. If all of us work together, the changes we make to our behaviours today can change the course of the future.
By thinking about your carbon footprint - and how to minimize it - you can be part of the solution, not the problem. Here are some of the biggest culprits in Australians’ oversized carbon footprints, and what you can do to counter these high-emitting ways of living.
Australia’s transport sector is responsible for a sizable 18% of the country’s emissions, and with the exception of covid in 2020, this figure is climbing higher every year.
The sheer size of the country means that in many cases driving is the only way to get from A to B. But in the event that you can take public transport, cycle, or walk to your destination, doing so - even just once a week - will go a long way towards cutting down your carbon footprint.
Ditching your car could also be easier on your wallet, and help you live a more active and healthy lifestyle. In times where driving is necessary, consider carpooling with friends or colleagues to effectively split your emissions.
If you can’t ditch your car and you can afford it, you could consider switching out your petrol or diesel fuelled car for an electric vehicle (EV). Driving an electric car for a year can save as much as two - three tonnes of emissions each year. It’s an excellent option for those who have the money to purchase an EV and have a cleaner carbon footprint when it comes to their transport options. That being said, it may be a while until it's possible for everybody to drive an EV. Projections for Australia suggest that we will only have 50% of new cars as EVs in 2030 - and it will take a while for them to filter down through the second-hand market. For most of us it will still be a few years until we can all go electric.
If you can’t transition to an EV, or limit your usage of your petrol or diesel car, you can still be proactive in reducing your carbon footprint by offsetting the emissions from your car. Purchasing a car sticker from Go Neutral retires the same amount of carbon that the average Australian car emits in a year - 3.2 tonnes. We fund Australian-based projects, so you can play a pivotal role in protecting the natural world that we all depend on, as well as supporting local farmers. Find out more here.
Flying is also an extremely carbon intensive form of travel, and Australians have some of the world’s highest rates of both long and short distance flights. To keep your carbon footprint as small as possible, try to limit how much you fly where you can. For example, research holiday destinations that are closer to you rather than abroad - or if you fly regularly for work, choose to offset your flights or see if you can do any of your meetings over Zoom instead.
When it comes to the environment, what we put on our plate matters. From the way it’s produced, to the plastic it’s wrapped in, emissions stemming from food are a major cause of the climate crisis. While the way we eat is often influenced by a lot of factors - our budgets, spare time, traditions, and diets - there are many ways we can ensure our meals put less of a strain on the planet.
You might consider going vegan, but you don’t have to give up all animal products to make a difference. Even going vegetarian for one meal a week is a huge step in the right direction, and might introduce you to new and enjoyable kinds of cooking.
Food that has been transported from foreign countries has had a long, energy intensive journey - the shorter the distance between the farm and your plate, the better for the environment. As well as saving emissions, by shopping from small businesses in your area you can help spur job creation and rejuvenate your local economy.
Whatever you eat, try to plan your meals ahead and freeze your leftovers to cut down on food waste. Any food that is sent to rot in a landfill produces methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more damaging than carbon.
All of your possessions and purchases, from the shoes you wear to your television, come at a cost to our natural world. The manufacturing process of many household goods involves the extraction of fossil fuels, while the fuel used to transport products across our globalised world enacts an even greater cost.
Many of us participate in our culture of disposability and environmental damage by buying things that aren’t meant to last or throwing them away before their time. To help counter this, think hard about the purchases you make - before buying anything, ask yourself if it is truly something you need.
As just one example, fast fashion is one of the biggest culprits in consumption based pollution - the fashion industry is responsible for more CO2 than aviation and shipping combined, with 100 billion items of clothing made every year. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself if a new piece of clothing is something you will wear at least 30 times.
The rental and resale sectors for fashion and other industries are growing as consumers increasingly recognise the environmental cost of buying new. When you do need something, investigate whether you can rent instead of buy, or try shopping second hand to give old treasures a new life.
As the mercury rises and we struggle to stay cool in scorching summers, we tend to blast the air conditioning in our homes. But our attempts to artificially control the temperature are in fact only making the problem worse - heating, air conditioning, ventilation, and refrigeration make up around 11.5% of Australia’s emissions.
For a more sustainable way of coping with hot weather, try renovating your home with what’s known as green retrofitting. This means adding new technologies to your house such as shading systems or insulation, which will help keep it hot or cool when needed while cutting down your household's carbon footprint. If this isn’t an option, try to limit the level of air conditioning or heating you use - setting the temperature just one degree lower can make a big difference.
Beyond the weather, other simple fixes you can make are to turn off appliances that are left on standby and switch off the lights when you leave a room. Take short showers and wash your clothes at the lowest temperature that is still effective, then leave them to air dry in the sun rather than using a dryer.
If you can, install solar panels on your property. Using clean energy to power your home will vastly reduce your personal emissions and has the added bonus of saving you money on your energy bills.
WHEN YOU CAN’T REDUCE
To stand a chance of halting climate change, many of us will need to drastically cut our emissions.
None of us will be able to totally eliminate our carbon footprints, and we might even struggle to drive our emissions down to the recommended level. But we don’t need to let this make us feel hopeless or guilty - there are other climate action steps we can take.
By offsetting your carbon footprint, you can directly fund projects such as the restoration of native forests that naturally remove carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the ground. Supporting these initiatives means you can effectively balance out the emissions that result from your lifestyle. Find out more about our projects here.
Taking responsibility for your emissions by offsetting is one of many ways you can reduce your carbon footprint, and the more people that do so, the better chance we have of combating the climate crisis.
Our everyday actions are taking a toll on the planet, but we can make better and more informed choices every day. When we do, we take a step towards a future where our natural world thrives and the planet is secured for future generations.
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