Since attaining Homo sapiens (aka “wise man”) status some 130,000–200,000 years ago, humans didn’t even start producing air pollution until the last two thousand years.
The First Industrial Revolution (late-1700s to mid-1800s) gave rise to coal-fired power, emissions from oil and gas production began in the late 1800s, and then the Second Industrial Revolution utilized technology to produce goods on a mass scale through the early 1900s. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that humankind succeeded in emitting more pollution into the Earth’s atmosphere than ever before.
Today in the U.S., sulphur dioxide and the burning of coal is a leading cause of toxic mercury emissions in the atmosphere. In just over a century, from 1900-2016, global carbon dioxide emissions increased from 2 billion tons to a staggering 36 billion. As greenhouse gases continue to warm the Earth’s oceans, deplete the atmosphere, and cause severe droughts and catastrophic weather, today’s climate crisis is a global wakeup call to begin cutting back on carbon emissions now before it’s too late.
Air travel alone accounts for 2.5 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. The holidays—as wonderful as they may be—can also often prove wasteful, from how your holiday feast was sourced to where your gifts were made. Consider how far these goods had to travel before they got to the dining room table or Christmas tree—or how how far you had to travel to get there. Every choice you make, every product you purchase, every time you drive your car or take another mode of transportation, you’re contributing to the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere.
But rather than despair, why not take action?
There are many small shifts you can make to reduce your carbon footprint—the amount of CO2 emissions you’re personally responsible for—this holiday season and beyond. Can you make a resolution for 2020 to start wasting less and saving more?
Here are a few tips to start reducing your carbon footprint right now.
The future of commerce is small. Supporting small businesses reduces transportation costs and often cuts out the middleman, stimulating the local economy as a bonus. Small businesses employ over 77 million Americans, and many small enterprises have certified green statuses like B Corp, USDA Organic, or Fair Trade. The coffee roasting company Equal Exchange, for instance, works to improve the food system by making business practices more equitable for hardworking farmers.
Buy Local (and “Ugly”)
As old agricultural practices are dying, the future of farming is local. Buying produce from your local farmers market or enrolling in a CSA reduces packaging and transportation costs and cuts out the distributor, which puts more money back in the pockets of farmers. You can also join the “ugly produce” movement through companies like the Baltimore-based Hungry Harvest, which saves less than perfect-looking food from the landfill. Hungry Harvest reaches metropolitan cities like Raleigh, Detroit, New York City, Miami, among others, and encourages farmers, growers, and grocers to divert their suboptimal produce toward its program, which also distributes to underserved communities to fight hunger.
Eat Less Meat
Livestock production is a main contributor to climate change and drives deforestation. The journal Scientific Reports found that if everyone in the U.S. reduced their consumption of animal products by 25 percent, we’d save 82 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Or if American reduced their meat consumption by just 10 percent, we would save upwards of 7.8 trillion gallons of water.
The way we produce, consume, and discard food is no longer sustainable. The 2019 UN climate change report warned that the present global food supply chain puts the planet at risk for massive deforestation and biodiversity loss, which will accelerate climate change. Unsustainable food production also creates exorbitant amounts of food waste. Nearly one third of all food produced globally ends up in the landfill. According to the UN report, we are throwing away $1 trillion worth of food each year, which equates to about half of Africa’s GDP. At present, if food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest carbon emitter after the U.S. and China. How might you make a conscious effort to waste less food, at home, at work, and when you travel?
Compost Organic Waste and Recycle Properly
Composting your food waste saves water and conserves what’s left of our landfill space. Many large cities implement composting programs into their regular sanitation pickups. Other cities have private composting companies, like CompostNow, which serves parts of the Southeast. And as for all that pesky inorganic material like plastic, make sure it hits the recycle bin—but be sure to sort it properly. Despite that 75 percent of the population recycles, only 9 percent of recycled plastic actually gets recycled. You might consider setting aside any questionable plastic waste items and dropping them off at a specialty recycling center.
Better Yet, Go Plastic-Free (Or At Least Cut Back)
Aside from polluting our oceans and endangering sea life, NPR reports that plastic’s carbon footprint is significant. The emissions generated from producing and incinerating plastic could create 56 gigatons of carbon between 2019 and 2050. Swap disposable plastic straws (or skip them altogether) for reusable stainless steel ones. Stop using plastic bags and bring your own reusable ones whenever you can. Choose boxes over bottles, and buy food in bulk when it makes sense. Bring your own to-go containers to a restaurant that you know is notorious for packing food in styrofoam and plastic, and don’t forget your mug the next time you grab a coffee to go.
We admire companies with environmental impact missions. If you’re curious how your business could offset its carbon footprint, let’s start a conversation.