This is Part 2 of an eco-conscious series. Yay! Read Part 1 here.
Implications, climate pledges, and carbon reductions.
If you read my last article, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about.
More carbon in the atmosphere is bad, sure, but why do we care so much?
Scientists have used a projection of a 2°C global temperature increase as the threshold for catastrophic heatwaves, droughts, water availability, extreme precipitation, and thus losses of biodiversity. A global temperature increase of 2°C does not seem like a lot.
It still snows where you live, so what’s the big problem?
The problem is that climate change means just that, changing climate—not weather—and more extreme climate events. The impacts won’t be spread evenly throughout the planet, and we are seeing the effects the most in the Arctic and the earth’s mid-latitudes.
The increased drought and heat in areas have and will continue to lead to increased catastrophic wildfires where there previously weren’t any. Even the Arctic has seen wildfires, and this year temperatures reached 38°C, the warmest it has seen in at least 12,000 years.
These facts aren’t here to scare you or to make you give up hope.
Being as informed as you can on this subject is what will get change initiated.
Grassroots organizations, the emboldened public, and the private sector are leading changes worldwide. The United States business community, while the federal government sits back, has become a great voice in the chorus for more action on climate change. Companies like Walmart and Target have even installed rooftop solar across America.
Additionally, Amazon, BestBuy, Brooks, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Uber, Verizon, JetBlue, Mercedes-Benz, and Rubicon (among others with a total of 31 companies) have all signed the Climate Pledge. This Pledge calls the companies that sign it to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2040.
To do this, they need to agree to these three principles:
1. Measure and report greenhouse gas emissions regularly.
2. Implement decarbonization strategies in line with the Paris Agreement.
3. Neutralize any remaining emissions with offsets.
So, to get at what we posed in the beginning:
What really is “net zero,” “carbon offsets,” or “carbon neutral?”
Net zero emissions means that any human-caused greenhouse gas emissions will be balanced out by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through carbon removal. To do this, you can restore forests (which are huge carbon sinks) or through direct air capture and storage technology.
Carbon offsets are very similar in that it’s a reduction in emissions in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Carbon neutral is essentially the same as both of these other terms, while zero carbon means that no carbon emissions are produced from a product or service by using 100 percent renewable energy.
It’s important to keep the heat on large corporations because just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions. So while it’s still key to keep our own actions in check, we can’t change the trajectory of the planet without holding these large companies responsible for their actions.
At the top of this list? Saudi Aramco, Chevron, Gazprom, ExxonMobile, and BP. All 20 of the top emitters are in the oil or coal industries.
Recently, a group of these oil companies joined a pledge to reduce the carbon intensity of oil and gas operations. However, it’s not time to celebrate. These companies just pledged to buy carbon offsets while not really changing any of their production or actual actions, which causes the most harm.
Besides these large oil and gas companies, others have also made their own pledges outside of the Climate Pledge. Google is by far the most dedicated large tech company to date. They have been carbon neutral since 2007 and pledge to be carbon-free by 2030.
Other major pledges include:
>> AT&T to be carbon neutral by 2035
>> Amazon to be carbon neutral by 2040
>> Microsoft to be carbon negative by 2030 and remove all CO2 ever emitted by 2050
>> Apple to be carbon neutral for supply chain and products by 2030
>> Walmart to be zero carbon by 2040
>> BP to be net-zero carbon by 2050
>> Shell to be net-zero carbon by 2050
>> Nike to be zero carbon by 2030
>> Facebook to be net-zero carbon by 2030
“We’re not going to offset our way out of this problem. We actually have to reduce emissions.” ~ Bill Weihl, executive director of ClimateVoice
Some ways that you can personally lower your carbon footprint:
>> Riding your bike to work, which produces 21 grams of CO2 emissions/km compared to 42 g/km.
>> Doing your laundry differently. By washing laundry at 30°C and drying them on a line, you use 0.6 kg CO2e. If you wash at 40°C but also dry on the line, it goes up to 0.7 kg CO2e. However, if you still wash at the same temperature but tumble dry in a vented dryer, it goes up to 2.4CO2e. Finally, if you wash at 60°C, and dry in a combined washer-dryer, your emissions are around 3.3kg CO2e.
>> Changing your light bulbs to LED. Over the course of a year, traditional incandescent bulbs create 4,500 pounds of CO2, while LEDs only create 451 pounds of CO2.
>> Finally, eating vegetarian is another great way to reduce emissions. A diet consisting of meats will produce about 3.3 tons of CO2e/person per year, while a no beef diet is reduced to 1.9 tons, vegetarian down to 1.7, and vegan down to 1.5.
If everyone in the United States reduced meat intake by just one day, 1.2 million tons of CO2 would be prevented. This is largely due to livestock farming, such as land clearing (cutting down trees and other vegetation which are carbon sinks), growing animal feed, farming livestock (which release methane), and processing and transporting the meat and dairy products.
Even though farming does replant plants in the soil, the soil is heavily tilled and fertilized and treated with pesticides, which all contribute to bad soil health. With healthy soil, you have billions of soil microbes, and the soil actually acts as a carbon sink. Simply the fact that soils are left bare and with a depleted soil microbe population means that CO2 is being released.
(If you want to try to calculate your carbon footprint, the Nature Conservancy has a carbon calculator.)
Being zero-waste, or reducing waste, is another great way to help with emissions.
You can avoid single-use items such as coffee cups, plastic bags, straws, et cetera. Waste is the largest by-product of human existence, and there is only a finite amount of space to put our garbage. There is no away.
Another way to reduce your personal emissions is by flying less.
Airplane travel to somewhere about 300 miles away generates about 184 kilograms of CO2 per person, while driving would generate only about 104 kilograms of CO2. This is a shorter trip, but longer trips follow the same trend of being more costly in terms of CO2 per person.
The journalist Pablo Päster found that a trip from San Francisco to Boston would generate about 1,300 kilograms of CO2 per person, while driving would only be about 930 kilograms for the vehicle. This means that if the car is full of people, then the carbon cost per person would be even less.
(There is a helpful tool made by the American Automobile Association where you can estimate the cost of your driving trip based on your car’s make and model.)
Of course, driving doesn’t always make sense, and you can purchase carbon offsets to balance the emissions.
However, as we stressed earlier, this doesn’t totally solve the problem, and we need to see advances in air travel emissions soon. The travel bug is hitting all of us during quarantine, and social media influencers aren’t helping that. It can feel daunting and rather unfair, comparing our small vacations to famous people who jet around the globe in private planes. It’s important to keep these people accountable, and luckily it’s not all up to us.
The political landscape is shifting in favor of the environment as grassroots pressures have been building. For example, Joe Biden, President-elect of the United States, has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement and reversed many executive orders passed by the Trump Administration that took away environmental protections.
Additionally, China has new goals to reach carbon neutrality by 2060.
This means that businesses will have to comply to fit in with national goals.
Let’s be the change, people.