I will state this on the beginning of every post because it is something we have to always take into consideration. And that is the privilege of a choice. There are a lot of people with disabilities, people living on a very tight budget, people with allergies, people in extremely poor communities or developing countries (where most of our waste ends up) that pay the cost of pollution, busy working parents that do not have time to make these changes. There are people that do not have the choice I have. I am speaking from the position of a privileged, white, European woman, living in safe Austrian mountains, with a budget, health and options big enough to be able to choose. Choosing to spend less and have less is different than being required to live on less.
The bigger your carbon footprint is, the bigger your moral duty, the bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility.
CO2? What´s that?
Man-made climate change, or global warming, is caused by the release of certain types of gas into the atmosphere. The dominant man-made greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2), which is emitted whenever we burn fossil fuels in homes, factories or power stations. But other greenhouse gases are also important. Methane (CH4), for example, which is emitted mainly by agriculture and landfill sites, is 25 times more potent per kilogram than CO2. Even more potent but emitted in smaller quantities are nitrous oxide (N2O), which is about 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and released mainly from industrial processes and farming, and refrigerant gases, which are typically several thousand times more potent than CO2. (the Guardian)
A carbon footprint is defined as: The total amount of greenhouse gases produced to, directly and indirectly, support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).
Calculate your carbon footprint
So where to begin? Here are some calculators to deepen your knowledge of where emissions come from and to get tips on what measures you can take to start the journey towards carbon neutrality.
The calculation will vary from page to page. Some calculators are more detailed than others, so I suggest you try more of them. And they don’t include emissions from constructing your house, from making your car, buying services or emissions from the building of roads and schools in your country.
- WWF calculator
- Spark sustainability definitely the best looking carbon calculator
This is my calculation, and it´s not as perfect as it looks. For instance, I didn´t fly in the past year, but I did take a few ferry rides, so for I just put a few hours of flying in instead, just because they don´t offer this option. And even if I eat plant-based, my food needs to be grown, cooled down, shipped, packed, I drink coffee,… Also, the bank we use, phone and internet provider and how much we use all those ads up. But I did get a better picture of the biggest chunk of our carbon donut and what I need to work on.
For instance, on WWF calculator my carbon footprint was a lot higher (5 tons) because we are only 2 people living in our apartment.
Here is my data; I live in an apartment building, 60m2, 2 people, heating mostly with old wood from family forest & fireplace, green electricity, led light bulbs, don´t own a car but still drive, didn´t fly in past 12 months, took some ferry rides, eat plant-based food, not all my food is local or package free, I hardly buy anything and when I do I try to buy it second hand.
The average carbon footprint of a person in the US is 15.7 tons. Austria and Slovenia are around 7 and 8 t, similar to Finnland or average EU footprint. Croatian are at around 4t. So we need to make some serious changes about how we travel, heat, eat ….You can check this Footprint Explorer and this List of countries, for more detailed average carbon footprint.
The worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 metric tons per person/year.
How can we lower our carbon footprint?
Now that we know where we are and where we need to go (2t/year), here are some ways you can lower your carbon footprint.
- Air travel A single return flight from London to New York contributes to 1,3 tons of CO2.
- The second most important lifestyle change is to eat less meat, particularly beef and lamb. Cows and sheep emit large quantities of methane, a powerful global warming gas. A vegan diet might make as much as a 20% difference to your overall carbon impact
- Living car-free (if your location allows that) saves around 3 tons of CO2 out of the air per year.
- Also, the distance and how you drive matters. Reducing the mileage of the average new car from 15,000 to 10,000 miles a year will save more than a tonne of CO2
- Heating. Poorly insulated housing requires large quantities of energy to heat. Turning the temperature down for 1C lowers energy consumption by 5%
- Electricity. Think about switching to a supplier that is working to provide 100% clean energy.
- Clothing consumption produces 1,5 tonnes of CO2 /household/year. The equivalent of driving 6000 cars
- Using reusable shopping bag every time you go to the store, saves 5 kg per year. This is not valid if you keep buying reusable bags.
- Manufacturing products produce an average 4-6 kg of CO2 for every kg of manufactured product.
- Shipping of products. A 2 kg package shipped by air across the country creates 5,5 kg of CO2 (1,5 kg if shipped by truck).
- Switching off lights can save up to 121 kg CO2 per year
- Air drying your clothes can save 200 kg CO2 per year
- Just using a mobile phone for 1 hour per day (needing a mobile provider, shipping, phone energy…) creates 1,2 tons of CO2 per year
- Avoiding food waste (e.g., saving leftovers and keeping things in the fridge) leads to a CO2 25% reduction
- eating seasonally (avoiding hothouses and air freight ) — 10%
- Buy from companies that support the switch to a low-carbon future. An increasing number of businesses committed to 100% renewable energy.
- This one is a tough one, but if you decide to have one fewer child you will save 60* tons per year (*potential emissions of your descendants, weighted by relatedness, divided by your life expectancy).
You can find more tips in my post from last year:
+ CoverPhoto by Jon Tyson