Every day brings new dire warnings about global warming. Greenhouse gases affect our atmosphere’s energy balance by keeping heat within the earth’s atmosphere, preventing it from radiating away from the planet. According to the University of Georgia, our atmosphere’s CO2 concentration has increased by 36 percent since the Industrial Revolution. Industry creates plenty of carbon emissions. However, individuals and families also leave their own carbon footprint on our environment.
Assess Your Personal Footprint
Humans are part of the global ecosystem. Nature provides us with our foods, our fuels, and so much more. Unfortunately, what we give back is not so wholesome. To help estimate individual “footprints,” we can use the tools that now exist online:
- EcoGuru uses questions to assess your practices and make suggestions on how to decrease your footprint, complete with a to-do list of positive actions.
- The Nature Conservancy’s footprint calculator estimates the tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases created by your lifestyle, and then offers the option of offsetting your footprint with donations to forest preservation.
- Earth Day Network Carbon Footprint Calculator provides a state-specific tool for calculating personal environmental impact.
The “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” Rule
Revisit the RRR rule through creative and lesser-known techniques to reduce your carbon footprint. The site 50WaystoHelp.com contains some great ideas, including:
- Eat at least one vegetarian meal each week, and you will save water and land, while reducing carbon emissions.
- Be neat when you eat and use only one napkin rather than three (or four or five) grabbed from a dispenser.
- Use logistics planning for your daily errands. Rather than drive hither and yon for your needs, think of your route to do your errands as though you had to walk to each location. Likely, you would find the best, most efficient path. Apply that approach to car errands.
- Save a tree and pay your bills using your computer. You will also help reduce greenhouse gases because the Internet requires no mail trucks for delivery, and reduce landfills because there is no paper needed.
- Use a cardboard match, not a lighter, because cardboard matches are made of recycled paper, whereas lighters contain both plastic and butane, both fossil fuel products.
The Farms That Feed Us Impact the Environment
Sometimes decreasing an ecological footprint starts with the foods we eat. As mentioned above, eating a diet with more plant-based foods has a positive impact on global warming issues. The poultry industry generates CO2, mostly from the use of fossil fuels in machinery, electricity, and furnaces. Additionally, poultry manure emits both methane and nitrous oxide.
Additionally, meat production leaves a significant footprint on the environment. A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report submits that the process of providing the meat we eat results in greater greenhouse gas production (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) than transportation or industry.
However, what about agriculture, specifically growing fruits and vegetables? Claiming a “Down to earth approach to global warming,” the Rodale Institute states:
“Recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture.’ These practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.”
Rodale advocates the use of regenerative organic agriculture practices that improve rather than destroy resources.
At the same time, the earth faces global food insecurity, making many weigh the long-term benefits of organic practices against the need to feed people now. The unfortunate truth is that stopping global warming will likely be a gradual process. Additionally, it takes time for producers to implement more environmentally friendly practices while not decreasing production.
Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change
Many growers embrace the changes needed, and the agricultural operations of Gilberto Salazar Escoboza are an example of how growers are making the move to lighter footprints on the ecology. One of Salazar’s techniques, integrated pest management, requires determining the pest threat and then treating it in the most ecologically sound manner. The result is fewer pesticide and herbicide applications. Not only are pesticide and herbicides of concern, the machinery required to apply them consume fossil fuels and discharge CO2.
Ecological footprints are not the only thing to consider in good agricultural practices, however. A grower concerned with the health of the soil is admirable. A grower who takes to heart the well-being of workers is exemplary. An increasing number of agriculturalists, Gilberto Salazar included, treat their human resources with the care and attention they deserve. Social responsibility must become a part of the ecological equation, since all people are integral parts of our environment. Steps can be as simple as providing accessible hygienic facilities and proper work environments. Those like Salazar, who take it a few steps further, set a realistic ideal for other growers to follow:
- “Dignified” work facilities
- Proper health and hygiene facilities
- Encouragement and provision of educational opportunities for both workers and their families
- A commitment to creating healthy societies
- Promotion of positive and productive leisure activities
Never forget that people are a part of the earth’s ecosystem. Improving the way you live your life, including eating more fruits and vegetables and reducing car use, is of course imperative in reducing your carbon footprint—but kindness and understanding also go a long way in promoting a healthy planet.