How to lose emissions in 10 days

Am I willing to do what it takes to reduce my carbon footprint by 80% in the next year? It’s the biggest question my co-worker Tim came home with from his expedition to the North Pole. And it’s probably the most important question we need to ask ourselves in order to slow down climate change — before it’s too late.

Too often we are pointing fingers at politicians and companies, while forgetting we’re also responsible ourselves. Like any other revolution, results can only be achieved when we’re in this together. Sure, this is easier said than done. And sure, it’s still a topic that’s so far from home—until the next hurricane DOES happen to strike your roof, that is.

Truth be told, it doesn’t have to take much at all to reduce your carbon footprint. Heck, you might even be doing it already. Every trip you take on foot or by bike, every meal you take without red meats, and every private jet you never take… all of it minimizes your CO2 footprint. You may not be able to lose a guy in 10 days, but you sure can lose lots of emissions within this short amount of time. Here’s what you can do.

Day 1: Say no to that Whopper.

And cut your red meat consumption in half while you’re at it. About 33% of global CO2 emissions result from the production of food — and livestock production is the biggest culprit. The production of red meat takes up 28x more land, 11x more water than other meats, and — hold on tight — 48x more water than veggies. If everyone cuts their red meat consumption down to about 0.6 pounds / 270 grams a week, we’d be able to reduce food-related emissions by 29%! The steaks are high with this one.

Day 2: Take your legs for a walk or ride.

Now, you might start to think that this list is more about how to lose weight in 10 days, but bear with me. About 30% of global CO2 emissions are caused by transportation. Independent of any fossil fuels, walking and biking are naturally the least polluting forms of transportation. Cities are used to being designed around cars. But now, people are figuring out how to give the city back to its citizens. This has already resulted in more pedestrian and bike paths, as well as public gardens that are often a re-appropriation of former roads, train tracks, and tunnels. Some cities (Oslo being the most recent example) have even taken it a step further by introducing car-less districts.

Day 3: Consume less.

Seriously, this is not a weight loss manual. Simply buying less stuff is a good way to lower emissions. A suit made of wool may have a carbon impact equivalent to your home’s electricity use for a month. A single t-shirt may have caused emissions equal to two or three days’ typical power consumption. This may sound annoyingly hipster to your ears, but buying fewer and better things really does make a difference.

Day 4: Take Carpool Karaoke very seriously.

Especially the carpool part. Simply by giving someone else a ride (or hopping on one yourself), you’ll drastically reduce CO2 emissions. And let’s be honest, isn’t the car the best place for karaoke? Life is a highway. 

Day 5: Avoid traffic.

In the U.S., people spend on average 42 hours a year in traffic. That’s $1,400 spent idling away gas. Not only does this sound like a nightmare, but it also makes you waste unnecessary gas, time, and money. Use traffic apps and go a different way instead, or just wait it out and spend your time on the more important things in life. Time spent in traffic jams is time you’ll never get back. 

Day 6: Skip a flight.

Air travel by far is the biggest polluter of all transportation. A single return flight from London to New York contributes to almost a quarter of the average person’s annual emissions. If you’re a frequent flyer, you can choose to offset your flights, which only takes you a few bucks per trip. Ideally though, you should avoid any unnecessary flights that can easily be covered by a high-speed train. Think about it: you get to skip the lines at security, skip the lines before the gate, skip the line at the customs, and skip the lines at the luggage belt altogether. Now that’s what I’d call a first-class treatment…

Day 7: Give your apartment a break.

Turn off the lights you’re not using and when you’re leaving the room. Don’t set your thermostat too high or too low, and if possible, program it to turn off when you’re not home. In the long run, you also might want to purchase appliances that have the highest energy efficiency. Depending on your region of residency and the type of home you’re residing in, you can purchase solar panels to eliminate your electricity bill, and even earn money by selling your electricity back to the grid.

Day 8: Run your errands, responsibly.

Go grocery shopping with your own bag and hit the gym with a reusable bottle. Zero effort, zero emissions. 

Day 9: Go electric, in any sense.

90% of the world’s transportation are still running on fossil fuels. If you own a car, chances are high that it’s still (partially) powered by gasoline. Now, I’m not saying that you should swap your car for a Tesla today. You might not need to own a car at all. The price parity between internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric vehicles is still a few years away. For electric cars to fully reach their potential, they’ll need to be powered by 100% clean electricity and a seamless network of public charging infrastructure. Luckily, progress is being made. Wherever the industry will take us, electric cars — regardless of their production cycle or power consumption — will already emit 54% less CO2 than any of their gasoline counterparts. The race to zero emissions is real.

Day 10: Repeat the above, preferably till you die.

Offsetting your carbon footprint is by far the easiest and most immediate way to take ownership of your personal contribution to climate change. Am I willing to do what it takes to reduce my carbon footprint? Not if it involves me jumping off of cliffs. But if all it takes is to follow simple steps like the ones above, of course I can — and so can you.

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Sources: The Guardian, COTAP




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Vivian Zhou

Vivian wants to live in a car-free city, though she wouldn't mind city hopping with an electric car. On this blog, Vivian writes about the impact of electric cars, clean tech, and climate change on our daily lives.

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