From heating our homes to fuelling our cars and buying food, our carbon footprint is ever-increasing. The average surface temperature of the Earth has risen by around 0.6C over the past 100 years, driven by extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Earth is heating up at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years and it is likely human-induced – and with it comes increased risk of rising sea levels, flooding, droughts, food and water shortages and diseases.
On World Environment Day, marked on 5 June, the United Nations is calling for positive action to curb our carbon emissions. Even small changes make all the difference in reducing our carbon footprints and here are some easy ways to start.
Try and go meat-free for a couple of days a week. Around 18% of greenhouse gases are caused by global meat production, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. A 2014 study of British people's diets by the University of Oxford found meat-rich diets (defined as more than 100g per day) resulted in 7.2kg of carbon dioxide emissions. Vegetarian and fish-eating diets caused about 3.8kg of CO2 per day, while vegan diets produced only 2.9kg.
Recycling is essential in reducing our carbon footprint. Landfill from commercial and industrial waste generates 2.3 MtCO2e – million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – every year. According to the Carbon Trust, around 11.2 billion tonnes of solid waste is collected each year worldwide and the decay of this waste contributed to around 5% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
A study by the Energy Saving Trust in 2013 found 95% of Brits boiled their kettles every day, with 40% boiling water five times a day or more – but three-quarters overfill them and waste a total of £68m each year. Boiling excess water wastes energy, time and carbon, so only boil the amount you need.
On your bike
It is time to dig your bicycle out of the garage. Not only does cycling reduce your carbon footprint, but the health benefits are such that if one in 10 UK journeys were made by bike, the NHS would save £250m ($372m) a year, according to Cambridge University research.
Unplug electrical appliances
Appliances use electricity even when they are switched off, as many have a standby function that allows them to be turned on again quickly. Switch your appliances off at the plug to save energy.
LED light bulbs
Change a couple of light bulbs in the rooms you use most – the kitchen, lounge, bathroom and bedroom – can make a big difference. Switching from normal light bulbs to LEDs use a fraction of the energy of a regular incandescent bulb and last 10 years or more.
Plant a tree
Trees provide oxygen while consuming carbon dioxide. According to the Urban Forestry Network, one young tree absorbs 13lb of carbon dioxide every year, which will increased to around 48lb as it matures.
Turn down the heating
Easier said than done in the UK but turning down the thermostat can help the environment. Carbon Footprint reports that turning down your central heating slightly – by 1C – will help reduce your heating bill by around 8%.
For every minute you cut down during your shower, you will save around 10 litres of water – saving the planet and reducing your water bill.
Get the train or bus
Getting public transport drastically reduces CO2 emissions, but if that is not possible, just changing your driving style can also make an impact. Speeding and unnecessary acceleration reducse mileage by 33%, increasing your carbon footprint while wasting fuel and money.