7 Ways To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint And Help Slow Climate Change

By Avril Treasure

A girl poses outside a graffitied garage.

We all know that the earth is heating up and that’s causing our climate to change, which is having a direct and negative impact on our environment, the entire ecosystem and society as a whole. Extreme weather conditions such as drought, storms and heat waves, the increase in the temperature of the ocean and the melting of glaciers—which leads to rising sea levels and floods—is all a result of global warming, with experts stating that it poses the greatest ever threat to humanity.

It’s pretty scary stuff, to say the least.

So, why is the earth warming up? Essentially there is an overabundance of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. These gasses allow sunlight to pass through, but trap the additional heat that the sunlight brings in. One of these greenhouse gases—and the main contributor to global warming and climate change—is carbon dioxide.

While we desperately need global policy and action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions—and especially we need the big organisations to get on board—there are things that the everyday person can do to help.

If we all reduce our carbon footprint—which is the amount of greenhouse gas that’s released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of an individual, organisation or community—we can hopefully slow our climate from warming and causing irreversible damage.

From growing your own vegetables to cutting down on single-use plastics, slashing your food waste and walking more, here are seven ways to help reduce your carbon footprint.

A woman walks while pushing her bike.

Drive Less, Walk More

One of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities is from the burning of fossil fuels for transportation. Fossil fuels are made from decomposing plants and animals, which are found in the earth’s crust and are burned for energy—coal, oil and petroleum are some examples. So, every time you drive to your mate’s place, your car burns a certain amount of fuel, and this generates greenhouse gases. To put it in a simple equation: More cars = more greenhouse gas = global warming. The answer? Drive less! If you’re able to, walk to work instead of taking your car. If that’s not an option, ride a bike or take public transport. If you need to drive, try and share a car with colleagues. Plus, driving less is not only better for the environment; it’s better for our mental and physical health, too.

Grow Your Own Produce

Growing your own fruit and vegetables reduces your carbon footprint as it cuts out all the production and transportation emissions that usually occur when you buy your produce from the supermarket. What’s more, growing a veggie garden is a deeply satisfying and rewarding thing to do. And homegrown fruit and vegetables somehow taste better. Maybe it’s the lack of hormones or pesticides, or the additional love you give to your plants, but there are few things better in life than a perfectly ripe home grown tomato salad or a juicy peach picked straight from the tree. If you’re living in a flat, plant some parsley, mint and basil by the window in the kitchen or grow citrus, blueberries and chillies in pots outside. Alternatively, head along to one of Auckland's great urban farms and community gardens to lend a hand, or grown your own. Plants absorb carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis, so there’s even more reason to head outside and put your gardening gloves on. And when you do need to buy fresh produce, try to choose seasonal, organic and locally grown food.

A man shops for new second hand threads.

Stop Buying Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is a term coined for the mass production of inexpensive, poor quality and disposable clothing. And while clothes are increasingly becoming cheaper, fashion trends are accelerating, which creates an incentive for people to keep on buying more clothes. One of the major problems with fast fashion—alongside exploiting overseas workers and the amount of plastic and chemicals that end up in the sea and fresh water—is that research has shown that people are not donating or recycling their clothes, and instead it ends up in landfill taking hundreds of years to decompose. In other words, fast fashion has an enormous carbon footprint for both its production and disposal. Instead of purchasing fast fashion garments, opt to support sustainable and local businesses, buy from op shops—here are the best in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Hamilton, re-purpose your old clothing or follow these Instagram sellers. Or, go against the grain and capitalism and realise for now, you have everything you need.

Use Less Electricity 

Cutting down on our electricity use is another obvious but guaranteed way to reduce our carbon footprint. While it may take some small adjustments, the end results are less carbon emissions and a cheaper power bill. Make sure to switch off the lights when you’re not in a room, use the clothes line to dry your clothes as opposed to the dryer and limit use of the heat pump. Another important thing to note is that chargers continually draw power from a socket even when your device isn’t attached. The solution is to leave your electronics unplugged and out of the power socket at all times, unless you’re actually using them. If you are able to afford it, solar power is another great option, too. Fingers crossed one day soon the whole world will move to renewable energy, but in the meantime, switch off your lights.

Organic farm seedlings.

Reduce Your Food Waste

It’s no secret that food waste is a huge problem globally that’s causing our climate to change. One third of all food produced around the world is wasted and 8% of greenhouse gases that are heating the planet are caused by food waste. As when we waste food, we also waste all the energy and water it took to grow, process, package and transport the food we eat. Also, when food ends up in landfill it rots and produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s stronger than carbon dioxide. It’s estimated that New Zealand households throw out over 157,000 tonnes of food every year, which costs us roughly $1.17 billion to buy. Luckily, there are a bunch of ways to help reduce your food wastage. Firstly, plan your week ahead and only buy what you need. Use your freezer to store meals instead of throwing your leftovers in the bin. Try to use up your leftovers and produce before you head out for your next shop. And get creative in the kitchen with your old fruit and vegetables. While they may be past their prime to eat fresh, wilting cabbage can be used as sauerkraut, apples can be turned into a cake, carrots and onions can be boiled up for soups and stocks, and stale bread makes great breadcrumbs.

Eat Less Meat

The most effective action that you can take to combat climate change and reduce your carbon footprint is by cutting down your consumption of meat. Animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of global warming (more so than all of transports combined) due to greenhouse gas emissions, and in particular, the methane emissions from cows, as well as pollution and deforestation. While eliminating all animal products is the obvious answer, it may not be viable for all, so scientists and researchers have said that globally there needs to be a shift to a ‘flexitarian’ diet to halt the temperature increase of the Earth—which is eating less meat and animal products. Plus, research has shown that eating a mostly plant-based diet is linked to lower rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, while also promoting a healthy gut and metabolism. The good news is plant-based meals are delicious and there are so many great recipes out there for you to try. Dip your toe in the water with a trip to one of Auckland's best vegetarian and vegan restaurants, vegan and vegetarian fare in Dunedin and Hawke's Bay.

A woman walks with a reusable bag.

Cut Down Or Eliminate Single-Use Plastic

Scientists have warned that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea unless we collectively take action. Studies have also shown that an estimated 8.5m tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year, which has a devastating impact on marine life. Not only is plastic pollution one of the earth’s most pressing environmental issues—plastic also has a huge carbon footprint. Almost all plastics are made from chemicals that come from the production of planet-warming fuels such as gas, oil and coal, and every stage of the production of plastic emits greenhouse gases. Single-use plastics account for more than 40% of the plastic produced every year, with many of these products only used for a few hours. Yet the plastic continues to exist in the environment for hundreds of years as it does not biodegrade. Therefore, cutting down on single use plastics is a key way to help reduce your carbon footprint. There are many ways how—say ‘no’ to straws, use a keep cup for your morning coffee, bring your shopping bags with you, use reusable beeswax to keep your produce fresh and bring a water bottle with you when you head out. And remember to recycle all the plastic that you do use. 

For all the latest news in the world of sustainability, head here.

Image credit: Supplied, Good Vibrations Images, Alisa Anton, Clem Onojeghuo, Joshua Lanzarini, Ivan Grener.

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