Every year the growth, and non-growth, of a variety of areas of interest—such as the economy, the population, bird migrations, immigration, wildfires, utilities, stocks, violence, college rankings, China and the like—are subject to intense research and interpretation. Inevitably, the results are published far and wide just after the last drop of the New Year’s ball.
One such fast-developing aspect of our life is our carbon footprint (CO2e), the total greenhouse gas emissions that trap and release heat, causing global warming. GHG is caused, directly and indirectly, by individuals, events, organizations, services, places or products. As these emissions enter the atmosphere they give rise to extreme precipitation, acidification and the warming of the oceans. Think climate change.
While CO2 is the gas most commonly emitted by humans and their interactions, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases are also present in our carbon footprint. Methane, in fact, is the most damaging gas. Released for the most part by the coal, oil, and natural gas industries, and secondarily by livestock and food decomposition, it is more harmful to our environment as it traps heat better than CO2.
It’s not a new phenomenon; our climate began changing in the 1820s with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Human activities, including our reliance on fossil fuels (coal, the biggest culprit at 40 percent in 2022; oil, 32 percent; gas, 21 percent; and cement, 4 percent), energy usage and constant deforestation are among the main causes of these destructive greenhouse gas emissions.
At the United Nations Climate Change Summit last November, it was announced that in 2022 global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and land use increased by 0.8 percent, hitting a high of 40.5 billion tons. That number is up from 15.9 billion tons in 1959; 27.5 in 1990; and 30.3 in 2000; and slightly below the 2019 peak of 40.9 billion tons. This arguably smaller increase was driven by an increase in U.S., Indian and rest-of-the world emissions; China declined slightly and the European Union remained largely unchanged. Research shows that there has been a slight decline in land-use emissions, which somewhat counters the uptick in fossil fuel emissions.
The global situation might have been worse. Many European governments reacted to the war in Ukraine by moving away from the use of fossil fuels; in the U.S., Congress approved $370 billion for wind turbines, solar panels and nuclear plants, hydrogen fuels and electric vehicles.
We can help too. Reducing our individual CO2e will help our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, live healthy and long lives.
• Fly less. A sharp upsurge in air flight, part of the 2022 pandemic recovery, resulted in an upsurge in fossil fuel emissions.
• Walk, bike, carpool, use mass transportation. Gas combustion-based transportation is the top source of greenhouse gases. Going carless for a year saves 2.6 tons of CO2.
• Purchase an electric vehicle.
• Cut down on meat. Beef gives off more than six pounds of CO2 per serving. A vegetarian serving gives off less than half a pound.
• Turn down heat.
• Turn down water heater.
• Turn off lights.
• Switch to LED lights.
• Wash clothes in cold water.
• Keep refrigerator at 53-58 degrees Fahrenheit and freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Use Energy Star appliances.
• Buy what you need, not what you want.