By Tom Walmsley
The term ‘carbon footprint’ means the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organisation, or community. The footprint, or impact, of releasing this gas adds to the ‘greenhouse gases’ trapped in the earth’s atmosphere, which are driving global warming and climate change.
Transport has, until recently, has been the main producer of carbon dioxide. However, carbon dioxide is released during the manufacture and transport of most goods and foods too. Globally we are experiencing both an increase in consumption in most cultures, and a growing population. However the progressive shift of people and activities into urban areas means that most of the population now lives in cities. Cities require 67% of the total global energy consumption and produce more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions. They hold the key to the future but how do we shape the trends to benefit the planet and the people?
The majority of people think that climate change will affect the developing world or maybe other parts of their country. Very few think it will affect their neighbourhood or themselves. Yet we need to change our shared social practices which underpin consumption, for example, shopping at supermarkets rather than sourcing food locally. Social scientists, such as Dale Southerton and Andy Gouldson, say that social practices cannot be explained by individual choices because habits are cultural not personal. For example, hotels often run air conditioning to attract Americans and to maintain their star rating, even when they know that the customers don’t end up using it.
The challenge is to guide existing patterns and trends in more sustainable directions, mainly by reducing our food and energy needs. This obviously requires coordinated policies, each of which affects a suite of social practices. Perhaps even more importantly, we need better narratives in the media to bring the issues back into the emotional realm. George Marshal described climate change as a cognitive versus emotional problem, because we talk about it a cognitive way, with numbers and statistics, and yet it requires an emotional response for there to be a change in behaviour.
To feed the need for a better narrative you can find out how the world has changed around you since your birth on the BBC’s website. See how much the sea has risen and tectonic plates have moved, how many earthquakes and volcanoes have erupted, as well as what impact you have had on the planet in your lifetime; from how much fuel and food you’ve used, to the species we’ve discovered and endangered. Click here.
You can however stick to the numbers game and measure you own environmental footprint! Measuring yours takes less than 5 minutes thanks to WWF. click here.
If you want to liven up your learning about these topics here is a good family game: Energy Star Game
Possibly the easiest way to reduce your footprint this Christmas is to think of suitable people to give this WildTime Voucher, which enables you to pledge time spent playing outdoors.
See more photos of environmental themes here