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A Carbon Footprint? Green Junction by Julie Peller Ph.D.
A carbon footprint is described as the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted by a person, process, product, or organization. While calculating a carbon footprint can be determined on different levels and can be rather complex, on a personal level, it measures how much our lifestyles contribute to GHG emissions. People with higher carbon footprints usually have the means to acquire many goods, travel frequently, and invest in the fossil fuel sector.
A recent study concluded that the richest 10% of households in the United States are responsible for 40% of the US GHG emissions. The study analyzed the consumption of goods and how people earn wages and invest parts of their income. The study identified the 0.1% of “super-emitters” who were associated with “extremely high” GHG emissions. Carbon emissions from the “super-emitters” were equal to an entire lifetime of emissions from those in the poorest 10% of the population. The lowest economic sector of people around the world is most subject to the harmful effects of climate change, often termed climate injustice.
Current economic structures continue to enable individuals to profit from investments in fossil fuels, the main drivers of climate change. One economist who commented on the study suggested that policies that regulate or tax GHG pollution are required to reduce investments and, as a result, significantly decrease reliance/burning of fossil fuels.
A recent article by Justine Toh, entitled “The world is burning. Who can convince the comfortable classes of the radical sacrifices needed?” reflected on this predicament. He wrote, "The climate crisis calls for a radical rethink of our cushy, carbon-heavy lives and our collective willingness to make sacrifices for future generations.” He admits the difficulty of these sacrifices, but suggests, “When it comes to giving up things, we need to start somewhere and do something. Deciding to do without some creature comforts might yet change both us and our world.” Next week’s column will address some specifics of carbon footprints.
Julie Peller, Ph.D., is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ). Julie has been writing a weekly column for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.