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How to reduce my carbon footprint?

Margaux Seiller
More and more studies show that CO2 emissions in the atmosphere are constantly increasing. For the third consecutive year, new heat records have been reached and the temperatures for the upcoming years look much worse. Climate skeptics attribute this to a natural cycle in the Earth where our planet would transition between hot and cold periods.They pretend to disassociate the impact of human actions from global warming.

In fact, the Earth’s history has shown that there has been an alternation between periods of high CO2 concentration and periods of low CO2 concentration. But the current reality is quite different. Since 1950, we have seen a CO2 increase well above the maximum historical level. In the past, when periods with a high concentration of CO2 took place, the change was gradual, allowing nature to adapt and compensate. As a result, this has not impacted species so severely, which unfortunately is the case today. During the last century, the Earth has been warming much faster than expected. It warms up so quickly that species cannot adapt to the changes in temperature and thus disappear. We are witnessing the sixth mass extinction of species in human history.

CO2 emissions have a direct negative impact on the environment. For this reason, the Paris Agreement has the objective to reduce global CO2 emissions by 20 billion tonnes per year to keep global warming below 2°C. Our lifestyles are also to blame. If humans were to modify their ways of living by implementing new habits that take into account climate change, it would be possible to limit each inhabitant’s carbon footprint and protect the future of our planet. There are many tips and trends that we can follow to protect the planet.

Many of these actions are now part of our daily habits. Today we turn off the lights when we leave a room, we use low-energy light bulbs, and we take showers rather than baths. Even at work, energy savings have become an essential part of society. Companies are lowering the temperature in offices, encouraging web conferencing rather than business trips, reducing paper use, and installing code printers to discourage employees from printing documents that they will not read. They even replace individual garbage cans and install communal bins to familiarize their employees with recycling practices. All these actions encourage us to reduce our carbon footprint without significantly changing our lifestyles. These are simple habits that we can easily implement.   

Are there any actions we can question, and which can help us implement more drastic steps to reduce our emissions?

All the actions described below require a real willingness to change because they directly impact our daily lives. However, doable alternatives exist that can encourage us to change.

1.    Change your diet.
It is advisable to limit its meat consumption. Today an average French consumes 1.5 kg of meat per week, whereas nutritionists recommend eating only 500 grams. In order to reach our necessary protein intake, we can alternatively eat many vegetables, which besides having health-benefits, can also reduce our personal carbon footprint.

2.    Change your relationship to technology and the Internet.
In our ultra-connected world, it is difficult not to check our phones or computers for more than 5 minutes. Nevertheless, the general damage caused by technology gives us an incentive to limit the use of this.
The annual production of technological equipment results in 608 million tonnes of greenhouse gases produced each year. In addition, we have a bad habit of leaving all our appliances on sleep-mode rather than turning them off. This is very energy consuming. Turning off our devices when we are not using them is a quick and effective way to reduce our carbon emissions. Furthermore, it is advisable to reduce sending emails with attachments. When you know that an email with an attachment consumes as much energy as a light bulb that is on for 24 hours or that 100 professional mailboxes represent 13 round trips from Paris to New York, this encourages you to take action. Finally, optimizing your searches on the Internet also helps reduce your emissions. On average each person in France carries out 2.6 searches on the Internet per day. This means 9.9 kg of CO2 equivalent per year and per user.

3.    Change your consumption habits
In our daily lives, we also have consumption choices. It is up to us to limit the purchase of imported goods and to favour second-hand and local products. We must support short supply-chains and local products to limit CO2 emissions. These choices can be made in the food sector, by choosing seasonal products that are grown near us.  This can also be applied in the clothing industry by buying clothes from local establishments rather than large retail stores because the production and transport of new clothes is highly polluting. You can also sell the clothes that you don't use anymore to create a longer product life cycle. In addition, we can change our lifestyles and reduce the use of basic services (e.g. renting a car). This would enable us to achieve a low-carbon economy where we would gradually reduce the share of fossil energy and replace it with clean energy.

4.    Changing our transportation habits
Transportation has become more accessible as air travel to the other side of the world is no longer reserved for the elite. However, air travel is extremely energy-intensive. The Swedish "flygskam" movement is gaining momentum and spreading throughout Europe. More and more citizens are following this movement. This movement can be translated to English as flight-shaming when there is the possibility of taking the train or another less polluting mean of transportation.  After increased awareness of the effect of the transport sector on the environment, which is the 3rd most polluting sector after oil and fashion, the Swedes, who have joined the movement, favour more responsible modes of transport such as trains for most of their short journeys. This action is already having an impact on the Swedish air traffic, and airlines are adapting their efforts to follow their customers' desire to preserve the environment. For example, more environmentally friendly aircraft that consume less kerosene. 
However, we cannot avoid to take long-haul flights. So we need to offset the CO2 emissions of flights. More and more companies propose this offsetting service to their clients. It is up to you to take action and add a small amount of money to offset your journey.

5. Choose carbon balanced product.
There are already ethical ways to consume more sustainably. For example, you can choose products that last longer than average to offset the CO2 emissions released when the product was produced. If you don't use a product anymore, you can join the circular economy movement by giving it to another person instead of throwing it out.
Carbon Balancing is when the carbon impacts of a product, or service, have been estimated and an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide is either prevented from being released into, or is absorbed from, the atmosphere. Nowadays, you see more and more the possibility to offset the carbon emissions linked to your purchase. The amount to add is calculated with an algorithm that can take into account your shipping address, the way the package will be delivered to you (a plane, a truck, a bike,...) or the time you spent on the internet looking and choosing your purchase. Carbon offsetting should become a natural instinct. Although it is usually a few cents more, this contribution can have a huge impact.

It is essential to change our behaviour to preserve the environment. Reducing our emissions is not enough because we still have to face the residual emissions. The residual emissions come from activities that have emissions, which we cannot eliminate or reduce. The question then arises as to how to act with these residual emissions. By 2050, France's objective is to be carbon neutral. After this reduction phase, it is necessary to find out how to finance projects that will increase carbon sinks in order to achieve this carbon neutrality. Voluntary carbon offsetting is gradually emerging as the solution; however, this goes hand in hand with a maximum reduction strategy. It also has the advantage of having a direct impact on the UN's sustainable development goals, in particular goal 13, which is climate action. 
Article written by Margaux Seiller