The solution to global warming is a fascinating paradox. It is both unbelievably complex yet remarkably simple. It is too large a problem for any one government to solve however every individual has a role to play. In stripping away all the political rhetoric, our climate is warming due to the amount of carbon that mankind spews into the atmosphere every day. We do this by burning fossil fuels (ie oil and gas made from the decomposition of million-year-old plants and animals), which releases more 'greenhouse' gas into the atmosphere than can be absorbed. This gas traps the heat from the sun, thus warming the air. The warm air melts glaciers, which causes an unnatural release of fresh water into the ocean and disrupting natural currents. A change in ocean currents wreaks havoc on our weather patterns, thus resulting in global warming.
The Developed Countries burn more fossil fuel, therefore are a larger contributor to the issue than Developing Countries. The solution is simple - every individual needs to a) be aware and then b) reduce activities that cause the burning of fossil fuels. Simple right? Wrong. In order to lessen our reliance on fossil fuels, westerners need a better understanding of how our consumption habits impact on the environment. Fortunately, there is a quick-and-dirty way to correlate consumption with global warming - the carbon footprint.
The Carbon Footprint
Everybody has a 'carbon footprint'. It is a measure of how much greenhouse gas (methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide) is produced as a direct result of your consumption habits. Within the US, the average carbon footprint per household is 48 tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is approximately 5 times the global average. 5 times! The major contributors to this include:
- Driving a car - burning gasoline is the largest single contributor per household. Consider walking/biking more within your neighborhood, taking transit, buying a hybrid (which is what I did) or carpool to work if possible.
- Flying - the second largest category. When I heard of this, I started doing more online video conferencing when possible.
- Household consumption - utilities such as electricity, natural gas, water and garbage are the third largest factor in the average carbon footprint. Turn down your thermostat, turn lights off and recycle where possible. Support alternative energy sources (wind, solar, geothermal).
- Diet - a local vegetarian diet is the most sustainable diet. Red meat is hard on the environment given the amount of food and water required to raise the animal, then gas spent on getting the steak from the farm to your plate.
The good news is that collectively we hold the solution to Global Warming. I highly recommend Al Gore's "Our Choice", which was his follow-up to the movie "An Inconvenient Truth". In this book Gore provides a sense of optimism by reminding the reader that these problems can be solved with more mindful consumption.
If you have any hints on reducing your carbon footprint, please use the comments box below. It is important that we all take whatever steps we can to solve this problem together.