By: Dr. Brian Huber
A note from our editor and founder, Lis Huber:
Other than editing my contributors' work and formatting the weekly emails, I typically stay hands-off when it comes to the articles my contributors write. Therefore, I'm seemingly an invisible force behind what The Adult Dish is and stands for. But today's article is bigger than a weekly email, it's bigger than a guideblog post on how to become a responsible, functional adult. It's about our planet, and what we MUST do to change the devastating route it's headed for.
I remember as a kid, I would lay down under the night sky and feel overwhelmed by and in awe of how much is out there. Despite being able to see the spattering of dots above us, it's hard to imagine that there are whole other planets hanging out in space millions of miles away from us. But we know it's true. Science has not only proved it, it has taken us there. Men have walked on the moon. An International Space Station orbits our Earth. A robot has given us live footage of Mars. Outer space exists: outside of our culture, outside of our country, outside of our world.
Things are no different when it comes to climate change. Forget politics. I don't know when and why it became about what side of the political spectrum we're on, but climate change is bigger than that and influenced by each and every one of us. It's time for us to drop the bickering siblings act and work together towards fixing the planet we all are currently working so hard to wreck. Want to know what the climate change discord is really about? 1) Greed - companies don't want to put monetary effort into making safer environmental choices because they want to keep that money for themselves. Not terribly surprising news, as humans (especially powerful ones) have always been greedy. However, all of those companies (big and small) as well as the economy are going to be screwed if investments in environmentally-friendly methods aren't made ASAP. Like buying health insurance; wouldn't you rather spend a little money now to avoid spending way more later? That's what these big companies should be doing and what those who represent us should be advocating for, but instead they are blinded by the here-and-now of greed. 2) Fear - people are naturally afraid of the unknown, so we hesitate to believe in its existence until it's already too late. However, take a look around you. California's worst ever wildfire outbreak occurred last month, resulting in the displacement of over 50,000 people and death of at least 56. Guess what is a huge contributing factor to these wildfires? The fact California has warmed significantly in the last 100 years! And this is only one of the many natural disasters that have intensified because of climate change. At this point, the devastating effects of climate change are not an unknown, they're a reality that we will all face if significant action isn't taken.
In a way, I understand the hesitation to change. Even when we have undeniable proof right in front of our eyes, it's hard for us to look outside of our small little worlds, especially when it comes to catastrophic disaster. We don't allow our brains to conceptualize the terrorism that occurs every single day in countries thousands of miles away from us. We turn off the news when we hear about yet another mass shooting in a different state. And, as the bystander effect through the Kitty Genovese case shows, we even ignore signs of distress from right outside our doors to maintain the balance and false feeling of normality in our lives. However, though climate change is a whole lot bigger than us, we must accept that it will be affecting every single one of us. Do you want to plan for your future like you currently do by saving for retirement or preparing for your upcoming wedding? Do something every day to reduce your carbon footprint. Who knows, if enough of us actually put a minimal amount of effort into this, we could possibly make a change for the better.
Now on to the Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint article by Research Geologist, ancient climate change specialist, and my dad, Dr. Brian Huber.
The potential impact of future global climate warming is one of the biggest challenges of our times. Since 1988 reports from the International Panel on Climate Change have consistently stated that increasing rates of atmospheric and oceanic heating demonstrate that Earth is warming as a direct result of heat-trapping gases released by the burning of fossil fuels. But if seeing is believing, take a look at photographic and mapped evidence for the shrinking of mountain glaciers in Glacier National Park, and as well as those elsewhere in the world.
You might think that as the world population grows, there is nothing we can do to reduce our voracious appetite for fossil fuels. You might also think that it's too little, too late, when considering recent articles that have indicated we have less than 10 years to shape up in order to save our planet from the disasters associated with climate change. But you’re wrong! Choices that you make on how you live your life every day, and your involvement with community decision-making, can result in a huge reduction in your “carbon footprint.” And, the more people around the world that make a conscious effort to reduce their carbon footprint, the better our chances are of making a positive difference.
What is a carbon footprint?
This term refers to the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels. There are online resources readily available to you called “carbon footprint calculators” that can tell you both how big your carbon footprint is and what you can do to reduce it. A simple search on Google will provide links to these resources, or you can check out my two favorite here and here.
Daily adjustments you can make:
Sometimes these daily habits are hard to change, but once a new habit is formed, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to maintain.
Additional home improvements you can make:
Several additional home improvements can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Though they may have an upfront cost, most of them will actually save you money over time as you will be paying less on your utility bills, so it's worth the effort in more ways than one. Among the simplest improvements to consider are:
A bigger home improvement project that you can consider is adding solar panels to your roof in order to generate solar electric and/or solar hot water heating. This is a big investment, so you will want to look into any tax incentives that can help defray the cost, as well as find out if your electric company has a policy of purchasing kilowatts produced from your panels. Of course, before doing anything, you’ll want make sure that your roof can even accommodate solar panels that would be capable of generating electricity or heat efficiently (e.g., minimal shading during peak daylight hours).
Other options to consider
There are many other simple things that you can do to further reduce your carbon footprint. For example, you can eat less meat (growing livestock requires a high energy investment), avoid single use plastics such as bottled water, plastic storage bags and plastic shopping bags (bring your own reusable bag!), buy products made of recycled material, and use hand tools such as a rake or snow shovel to avoid using power tools.
Finally, becoming active in community planning and helping promote more funding for building bike paths, adding bike lanes, increasing public transportation, and reducing the number of streetlights is crucial to building cleaner communities that decrease the amount of carbon-based fuel usage. By making small daily adjustments that become new habits and by encouraging friends, family, and communities to do the same, you can be amazed at what a big impact you have on bringing about a greener world!
Dr. Brian Huber is a Research Geologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Much of his research has focused on reconstructing Earth’s temperature history during the past 115 million years by analyzing the shell chemistry of microscopic marine organisms called foraminifera.