by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 16th July, 2018
Time's running out, and every day, planet earth as we know it is fading away. Over the past few years there have been an unprecedented amount of natural disasters, droughts, floods, earthquakes and so on, and it's our fault. However, all hope is not lost. If we want to make a change, we have to start with ourselves, and really think about how we can start reducing out impact on the planet, for real this time. The first step to doing that is to educate ourselves about how our actions influence the planet, and what we can do to lessen that impact.
Some of the main contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions (the stuff that causes climate change) are: Agriculture, Industry, Transportation, Building and Deforestation. Whether you realize it or not, chances are you're contributing to the production of greenhouse gases in all of these areas, so your lifestyle really can have an impact.
The first step to changing your life is understanding what's wrong. What exactly is the impact of your daily life? Obviously, it will vary a lot between person to person, depending on where you live, what your job is and so on so forth, so for now, we'll just estimate. The largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions of the four main categories is agriculture, or in other words, the food that you eat. Farms emit around 6 billion tons of greenhouse gases every year, and the cows that are farmed in agriculture produce a lot of methane, a gas that is 30x more potent than carbon dioxide, so the impact of animal agriculture is staggering. In just one year of eating an average American diet, you will contribute 7,300 lbs. of carbon dioxide, use 401,500 gallons of water, 14,600 lbs. of grain and 10,950 square feet of forest.
Next up is Industry and Transport, or your energy usage from fossil fuels. The average person in America will use about 148 million BTU (British thermal units) every year or to put that in perspective - 15,370 lbs. of coal. That's enough energy to fly a plane from New York to Washington DC.
Finally, plastic and water consumption. Our overconsumption and treatment of water is having drastic effects on the planet, and our seemingly inescapable usage of plastics is polluting that water even further. The average American will use about 80-100 gallons of water everyday, and a majority of this goes to flushing away waste. Not only that, but the average American throws away 185 pounds of plastic per year, most of which ends up in landfills that go on to produce greenhouse gases, or in the oceans, which kills of wildlife and reduces biodiversity. So all in all, plastic is a big problem.
All of these habits are so ingrained in our day-to-day life that we just don't think about them. We live our lives without sparing a thought to the fact that the plastic bottle we're using could end up contributing to floods and extreme weather events. So let's talk about what we can do to improve the situation.
Most of us have cars, sometimes they're inescapable, especially if you live in a very rural area. However, there are ways you can reduce your impact. Using public transport or biking when possible is one way, as well as switching to a more eco-friendly vehicle. If you've got the means, switching to a car like a Toyota Prius, (which is powered by electricity as well as regular gas) can help you to reduce your transport gas emissions.
But what about when you want to go a bit further away than just your commute to work? You'll probably end up catching a plane, and unfortunately there really are no eco-friendly ways to fly through the air. Planes contribute huge amounts of pollutant greenhouse gases into the air, but sometimes catching a flight is just unavoidable. There are a few ways you can make your travel a little more eco friendly however. Upgrading to a non-stop flight will help to reduce fuel consumption, and flying with an airline that is committed to reducing their impact, such as British Airways, Virgin or Iberia, might give you some peace of mind, knowing that you've supported a (hopefully) greener future. Or just skip the flight altogether and opt for a slower method of travel. Train-hopping, coaches or just the standard road-trip are all much more environmentally friendly ways to travel.
Our diet is such a personal part of our life, it's understandable why it can be a sensitive topic to talk about. Unfortunately, though, what we eat is having a huge impact on the environment and making some small changes to how we eat and where we get our food can really help to combat climate change. Buying locally can help to reduce transport emissions caused by having to import a lot of our food from abroad. Buying organic can also help. The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are polluting rivers and other water sources, causing a reduction in biodiversity and potentially poisoning our own water supplies, so wherever you can, try and buy organic produce. Finally, reducing or cutting out meat and dairy from our diets can help to reduce the overall greenhouse gas emissions that the animal agriculture industry produces. Changing your diet is probably one of the easiest and cheapest ways you can help to save the planet.
Plastic is a complete epidemic at this point and as hard as we try, there really is no escaping it. It covers literally everything. However, recently the zero waste / low impact movement has been growing rapidly, with many people taking to social media to share the ways they are cutting plastic out of their lives. Swapping bottled shampoo for shampoo bars, switching to bamboo toothbrushes and only using reusable bottles and coffee cups can all make a difference in the long run, and will leave you with a lot less plastic to deal with. Ultimately, it's pretty much impossible to totally remove plastic from your life, so if we really want to see change, contacting your representatives and taking action to let companies know that you're not happy with their plastic usage can really help. For some companies such as Amazon, you can even contact them directly and ask them to stop including unnecessary packaging in your orders. If you're unsure where to start, start local. Petitioning your local coffee shop to start using compostable coffee cups might not seem like a big deal, but every action has a ripple effect.
Seeing all these statistics and reports of natural disasters on the news can leave us feeling a bit bleak and hopeless, but that really isn't the case. Every day, more companies and governments are taking action to reduce their impact on the planet, and more and more information comes out about how we can actually make a difference. There's a lot you can do to help save the planet, and all change starts at home, with the everyday actions of everyday people. Ultimately, it's up to us to work together with larger powers such as governments and corporations to make the big changes necessary to save our environment.