When it comes to reducing your carbon footprint it’s not what you do it’s what can you do. For some people it’s not a big expensive to install solar panels on their homes, whereas others don’t own a home. Every individual action counts. Once you’ve figured out what’s possible for you to do, you should celebrate it by telling as many people as possible. Since every individual action counts, the more individuals doing something to help the planet can make a large collective impact.
Social influence can drive change, says Diana Ivanova, a research fellow at the School of Earth and Environment at University of Leeds in England who reviewed emissions reduction options in April in Environmental Research Letters. If you see other people taking steps to shrink their carbon footprints, “you may feel more empowered to enact changes yourself.”
Researchers call this transmission of ideas and behaviors through a population “behavioral contagion.” That’s where individual action can be a potent force for change, says Robert Frank, a Cornell University economist. “Installing solar panels, buying an electric vehicle or adopting a more climate-friendly diet don’t just increase the likelihood of others taking similar steps, it also deepens one’s sense of identity as a climate advocate,” Frank writes in his 2020 book, Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work. Those actions can also encourage other meaningful actions, like supporting candidates who favor climate-protecting legislation.
Carbon emissions continue to drop due to the economic slowdown and are on track for an 8% reduction for 2020. This is good news for the planet as it gets a brief break from all the waste we’re dumping into the atmosphere. Still, it has revealed that individual actions alone won’t do enough to avert climate catastrophe, we need to work together and enforce the creation of a carbon-neutral economy. Individual transportation solutions (like cars) use is down substantially yet we’re still going to blow past the carbon output budget for 2020, where then can we cut back on emissions? Look to manufacturing and our sources of energy.
“I think the main issue is that people focus way, way too much on people’s personal footprints, and whether they fly or not, without really dealing with the structural things that really cause carbon dioxide levels to go up,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist and the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City.
Transportation makes up a little over 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. (In the United States, it makes up around 28 percent.) That’s a significant chunk, but it also means that even if all travel were completely carbon-free (imagine a renewable-powered, electrified train system, combined with personal EVs and battery-powered airplanes), there’d still be another 80 percent of fossil fuel emissions billowing into the skies.
In order to avert climate catastrophe we’re going to have to make boring changes to our built infrastructure. Politicians find it hard to argue for these sorts of enhancements because voters don’t get to see a ribbon cutting ceremony; however changes to infrastructure can make a massive difference. In the USA alone enhancing electrical transmission over power lines can reduce carbon emissions comparable to the entire chemical industry. And power lines are boring. As we find ways to use power lines (and other existing infrastructure) we need to encourage and reward politicians who want to improve them to save our planet.
Technical losses are the simplest to address through the deployment of more advanced technologies and by upgrading existing infrastructure, both for long-distance transmission of power and distribution at the local level. Improvements in transmission can be made, for example, by replacing inefficient wires, using superconductors that reduce resistance in wires, and thus lost energy, and controlling power flow and high-voltage direct current.
Similarly, improvements in distribution can be achieved by better managing the load and distribution of power, as well as how distribution lines are configured. Innovation, such as adopting digital technologies for routing power flows, can also play a role.
Solutions for nontechnical losses are more challenging and may only partially cut associated emissions. The causes of high losses are diverse and can originate in, for example, extreme events, such as the hurricanes that struck Haiti and Puerto Rico in recent years, or war, or a combination of weak governance, corruption and poverty, as seen in India. For either type of losses, countries with large shares of fossil fuel generation and the most inefficient grid infrastructure can cut the greatest emissions and reap the largest environmental benefits from reducing transmission and distribution losses.
Forests make for naturally wonderful carbon sinks and thanks to a myriad of efforts we should see reforestation efforts grow over the next few years. This is all good to witness and we can all help by planting a tree. There are ways to tend to a forest for maximum carbon capture which scientists are hoping to perfect. It’s one thing to have a forest and it’s an even better thing to have a resilient high-quality forest which attracts a diversity of animals.
There are a number of ways that we can ensure new forests are resilient to these impacts. First, having a diversity of species with a wide variety of traits in the forest landscape reduces the risk that a single event will wipe out large parts of the ecosystem. This is because tree species have different resistances and vulnerabilities.
For example, pests and diseases are likely to migrate as the climate changes. In a single-species plantation, that could wipe out the whole forest. But with many different species in the area, parts of the forest will be resilient.
We should also plant and introduce species that are adapted to the future climatic conditions projected for the area. For example, if climate models project a drier climate with increased droughts, then including native species with tolerance to drought would increase the chances of that forest staying resilient, and therefore maintaining its carbon store for longer.
A team has started a Kickstarter campaign to label a product’s carbon footprint so consumers can make better decisions about which brand to buy. The labels are meant to bring attention to the additional cost of wasteful production and a bunch of brands have already joined the initiative.
Of course the best way to help the environment is to follow the first R and reduce your consumption in the first place.
Solutions to seriously mitigate climate change exist, but they are not free. You know what is free right now? Emitting greenhouse gases. Let’s change that.
By joining Certified Climate Neutral, businesses can choose to pay for all of their carbon emissions and accelerate the implementation of low-carbon technologies. Becoming Climate Neutral Certified is so affordable, immediate, and measurably impactful that it should be the minimum standard for what it means to be a sustainable business.