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Green Junction by Julie Peller, Ph.D.
How big is your footprint?
There are numerous ways to lower a personal carbon footprint. The University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Systems created a factsheet on carbon footprints. It indicates that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the US are primarily from transportation (~27%), energy (electricity and heating) (~29%), other types of fuel combustion (~12%), manufacturing (~10%) and agriculture (~9%).
A household's food GHGs account for 10-20% of its carbon footprint and are much higher for diets high in meats, followed by dairy products. About 43% of energy used in a home is for heating and cooling, followed by refrigerators and washers/dryers. Energy consumed by electronic devices, even on standby, can account for 5-10% of energy used in the home. In the US and other countries that rely heavily on cars, transportation is a significant percentage of one's personal carbon footprint. In 2020, cars and trucks emitted roughly 16% of the US GHGs; overall, transportation is responsible for nearly 30%.
The ecological footprint is another broader indicator of humanity's impact on the earth. According to the Global Footprint Network, the environmental footprint "comprehensively compares human demand on nature against nature's capacity to regenerate."
The bottom line is that many ways exist to reduce personal ecological/carbon footprints, especially for those living in high material and energy consumption countries. Reducing energy at home can include modifications of energy type/efficiency/insulation (i.e., solar panels, heat pumps, electric vehicles), water use, extent of heating and cooling, and use of appliances and devices, which should be turned off when not in use. Reducing your ecological footprint means buying less, producing less garbage, and preserving nature (i.e., no pesticides, other harmful chemicals, preserving forests, etc.).
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.