Every one of us can play a part in acting against climate change. Understanding carbon and how it affects the atmosphere helps with strategizing our move towards sustainable living.
We often hear about carbon footprint, but what does that really mean? Why the fuss?
Carbon footprint simply refers to the amount of carbon that is released to the atmosphere due to a particular activity. Driving a car to the supermarket releases carbon dioxide, probably carbon monoxide, and other polluting fumes from the exhaust pipe to the air.
Burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas to produce electricity releases carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, soot and other noxious gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. They are called “greenhouse gases” because they stop heat from radiating from the earth’s atmosphere into space.
As a result countries worldwide have reported warming temperatures. 2015 was the planet’s warmest year since the 19th century, triggering heat waves, droughts, storms, hurricanes and flooding worldwide. And it is continuing to get warmer – that’s climate change.
Climate change affects all of us whether we live in the country or the city, both short and long term. The rough weather conditions mentioned have occurred in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. According to scientists, this will persist if we carry on with our polluting activities.
Climate change is not just about sweaty brows. It is about survival.
Apart from physical discomfort, health deterioration, damage to properties, relocation and disruption to work and living, climate change can be deadly during heat waves and flooding. And it will continue to upset the balance in nature particularly in food production and water supply.
Because of such unprecedented changes to the climate, more people will go without secured sources of drinking water and food. Climate refugees fleeing such conditions will cause greater migration issues, leading to worsening security, economic and political problems.
Is Carbon Bad?
Carbon is a natural element. It is found naturally in three crystalline forms: coal, graphite and diamond.
We need carbon for survival. As a non-metal, it is found in all organic compounds, including rocks (limestone) and dissolved in natural water. Humans are organic, carbon-based life forms. The atmosphere too has carbon in the form of carbon dioxide. The fuel we burn for power or warmth, are all made out of a mix of hydrogen and carbon compounds.
So carbon itself isn’t a baddie. Carbon becomes a problem though, when we burn too much of it. Our atmospheric carbon content has exceeded safe limits, and this is why, globally, we cannot ignore the fact that human related activities have escalated the carbon levels in the atmosphere.
We cannot run away from climate change effects. We can, however, help lessen the problems or mitigate the impacts with some lifestyle changes. This means reducing our carbon footprint.
The Carbon Culprits
Imagine life without power sources. Can we do without vehicles, the air-conditioner, heaters and many more?
Modern living has made us totally dependent on energy to be able to read at night, email a report or even put food on the table. Depending on where you live and the power supplier, the source of energy could be emitting tonnes of greenhouse gases.
Conventional power plants use coal, oil and gas to produce energy, which is pollution at source. The use of electric cars instead of fuel-powered ones helps prevent air pollution and reduce carbon emissions at the tailpipe, but not completely so, if the electricity used was generated by a fossil fuelled power plant.
In developed countries, the residential sector is often a top energy guzzler, followed by commercial, transport and industry sectors. Machinery and appliances used in buildings consume vast amounts of energy, which is why taking concrete steps to reduce your carbon footprint is a good idea.
The smart answer is renewable and clean energy sources, such as solar, wind and geothermal energy, which tackle the carbon culprit right from the start.
In April 2016, more than 175 countries have agreed to take steps to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to try to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Your country, in signing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change on 22 April, has pledged to reduce greenhouse gases emissions.
“The world is in a race against time,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his opening speech in Paris. “The era of consumption without consequences is over,” he said. ”We must intensify efforts to decarbonise our economies.”
The Three Strategies
Three strategies exist to help homes and businesses keep their carbon footprint down while maximizing returns that include social and environmental benefits.
Before choosing your strategy, be clear why you wish to save energy. Your motives for energy saving could be any or a combination of the following:
- Lowering power bills and saving money
- Reducing your carbon footprint and environmental impact
- Boosting the value and marketability of your house
- Raising the reputation of your business
- Improving the social and environmental conditions of communities
AVOIDANCE takes time to develop and involves breaking habits. Instead of overworking the radiator to stay warm, putting on extra layers of clothes saves energy. Most of the heat of the human body is lost through the head and exposed hands and feet, so putting on thicker socks and a woolen cap can keep you warm and put more dollars in your pocket!
Walking or cycling instead of driving to the supermarket or work is another example that will also keep you fit. Avoidance can be difficult and requires determination and will-power to switch to a different way of doing things.
CONSERVATION often involves thinking out of the box. Adding a layer of insulation to walls, upgrading from single to double window glazing and using heavy dark curtains and shady plants to help cool interiors are all effective in reducing greenhouse gases. Plants and trees take in carbon dioxide, acting as a carbon sink.
Conducting an energy audit will locate areas of hot or cold air leakages within your home. An auditor can be hired to do this who can pinpoint leaks and recommend ways to conserve energy by changing behavior or upgrading and retrofitting. Bear in mind that as energy costs go up over time, the upgrading ideas become more cost-effective. Upgrades with a payback period of 7-10 years are generally considered good investments.
Most incandescent or filament light bulbs lose 90% of energy through heat generation. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) typically use 70% less energy than incandescent lamps, hence dubbed as “energy saving”. But lasting even longer and consuming even lesser energy are light emitting diode (LED) lamps.
LEDs today cost only slightly more than CFLs and have 20,000-50,000 hour life span. That’s more than 20 years’ use at four hours daily.
So don’t think twice about buying energy efficient appliances, especially ones with good energy star ratings. This cuts down carbon emissions and slashes power bills too!
GENERATION of energy, the third – and most viable – strategy, requires investing in renewable energy such as solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate electricity. This fully or partially offsets energy consumption from the grid and can be used with a solar thermal system for hot water.
With today’s technological advances, sufficient energy can be generated even in cloudy conditions to heat and power almost any building, including sports stadiums.
In honoring our commitment to the environment and planet, we stepped forward and became the first carbon neutral sponsor of the FIFA World Cup™. Since then, we have left a positive legacy in the host countries of Africa and Brazil, as the joint solar legacy projects with FIFA such as the FIFA Football for Hope Centres and multiple solar-powered stadiums continue to serve the communities and environment.
And if wind conditions are suitable, installing a micro-turbine on the roof in combination with solar system can greatly reduce your carbon footprint.
So what are you waiting for? Start developing a strategy for action and get going towards more sustainable living.