How should we reduce our carbon footprint?

Written by Nicholas Li | Edited by Faith Lee

These days, ways to reduce carbon footprint are all over the media, whether in serious newspapers like the ‘The New York Times’ or on social media platforms like ‘Instagram’. There have been countless articles on ‘Stop global warming!’, so many that even the extremely high-circulation ‘Xiao Hua’ magazine decided to look into it.

Everyone knows that in most parts of the world, in order to cater to human needs, we use a lot of materials that harm the wild. Chinese International School and many other places are currently trying to reduce our carbon footprint and make the world more eco-friendly.

But, what is carbon footprint? One’s carbon footprint is defined as the amount of greenhouse gas such as carbon dioxide that is emitted by one’s activities. Activities all over the world such as driving cars, heating or cooling can release carbon dioxide into the air all around us. This affects the environment around us in a terrible way. Scientists estimate a 70 percent increase of energy-oriented carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 vs. today. Global temperature is also expected to rise by 1.5-degree Celsius per year which is the highest on the record, and there will be an increase in extreme weather all over the world.

Global warming also is causing icebergs to melt, but scientists are trying to slow down the process by causing awareness. One example is NASA launching the new ICESat-2. This is a satellite helping NASA to measure the changes of the planet’s ice. Also, this satellite is used to measure rain clouds and measure mountains. This satellite will even help scientists to see a clearer picture of the earth’s surface and with all the data captured by the satellite, scientists are hoping to increase awareness amongst the broader audience.

Ways to reduce global warming is an essential question scientists are trying to figure out. It is also a question that every one of us should care about.  Many human activities cause the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) such as burning fossil fuels, oil, coal, and natural gas to generate electricity, heating our homes, eating imported food and even buying fast fashion. As civilization advances, human beings have ever higher demand for material goods, but there are many ways to reduce the amount of global warming we have caused.

All types of transportation emit carbon dioxide and it is harming the environment. One way that we could help reduce carbon footprint is to walk or ride a bicycle rather than take a vehicle such as public transportation or your own car. The average car emits 6 tons of carbon dioxide (Co2) per year, meaning that there are on average 6.09 billion tons of are released by vehicles every year. According to the ‘World Resources Institute’, there are 9.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide that are released into the atmosphere every year. This Co2 is definitely affecting the environment. Even though the ocean absorbs 26% of all carbon dioxide, most of it still gets into the air system. This could cause many unwanted consequences, including ‘acid rain’. The theory of ‘acid rain’ is that when enough Co2 gets into the water vapor present in the clouds and mix together with rain particles, it would cause rain to become more acidic, forming the molecule of Sulphuric Acid (H2SO4). Rainwater is slightly acidic, at the pH of 5.7 because of the natural carbon emissions, but as more Sulphur Trioxide gets into the air, the rain becomes more acidic, at the pH of 3 or 4. This would make it dangerous for people to go out during the rain, in order to preserve their health.

Another way to reduce one’s carbon footprint is to eat less imported goods and more local produce. Eating imported goods is one of those things that people don’t think of as a threat to the environment, but in reality, 83% of all Co2 emissions come from food production, which consists of growing and storing food. Storing and transporting food cause a lot of carbon emission because cold storage and cold chains consume electricity.  Many hong kong people love to eat imported beef but do you know that a cow on overage releases between 70 and 120 kg of Methane per year? Methane is a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide (CO2). But the negative effect on the climate of Methane is 23 times higher than the effect of CO2. Therefore the release of about 100 kg Methane per year for each cow is equivalent to about 2’300 kg CO2 per year!   Therefore eating less imported goods and more local produce is benefiting the environment and one’s health. Real foods are more nutritious, contain fewer calories and are more filling than most processed foods. Real foods include; apples, bananas, broccoli, salmon, whole eggs and unprocessed meat.

One other way that we could reduce our carbon footprint, is that we could unplug your devices when we’re not using them. Electronics alone produce a lot of Co2. Usually, we go into a room and turn on the lights. We usually don’t take much notice in it and take it for granted. But somewhere, people are burning fossil fuels to create electricity. If we turn off the lights after we leave the room, and shut off the air conditioner, then fewer fossil fuels are burnt, therefore releasing less carbon dioxide.

To reduce one’s carbon footprint, one should also say no to fast fashion. Fast fashion produces clothing in a much shorter cycle vs. conventional clothing.  We all know that textile production is one of the most polluting industries and it relies on a lot of materials. Let us take a look at shirts. There is a 50% chance that your shirt is made with cotton. Cotton can only be grown in specific environments, such as tropical or sub-tropical climates. These are countries such as China or India. Cotton production is affected by soil degradation, climate change, and water scarcity. It takes about 20,000 liters of water to make a single T-shirt and a pair of jeans, putting pressure on local rivers. Farmers that produce the materials to make clothing have been poor users of pesticides, endangering soil quality and affecting local waterways.  Another reason fast fashion causes more harm to the environment is the transportation related to it. All the global supply chain related to fast fashion is causing a significant increase in carbon footprint.

Everyone should buy clothes that actually feel good and will bring us more happiness. In economics, there’s a term used to measure how much happiness a product can give a person, and it is called ‘utils’. Sometimes, buying more ‘slow fashion’ may give u more ‘utils’ of happiness, so it’s worth spending a little more money in order to conserve energy. Everyone should buy clothes that he or she would wear and cherish for a longer period so that we can reduce the amount of climate change we cause.

Another way to reduce carbon footprint is to buy less IKEA furniture.  IKEA is arguably the most famous furniture shop in Hong Kong. IKEA uses an immense amount of cotton. While manufacturing, they burn 45,454.54 metric tons of carbon each year, so they in turn produce up to 46,000 Co2 per year. Shipping furniture also creates a lot of Co2, especially since IKEA’s products are shipped to many places around the world. But to their credit, IKEA is getting more eco-friendly and is reducing the amount of carbon they emit. They are cutting down and using more sustainable materials.

The future looks dark for us if we continue the path of endless consumption without reducing, reusing and recycling. The future can be so much brighter if every one of us pull our weight. Obviously, global warming will not stop immediately, but gradually, the atmosphere will get cleaner and the process of global warming can slow down. Human health can be restored. Future generations can get the experience of witnessing the amazing animals and plants you have seen and studied. Recycling is not difficult.  Riding a bicycle instead of taking a car is not difficult. Eating more local produce and buying less fast fashion are also not difficult. We can all help, one by one, but it has to start with you.


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