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Are your New Year's resolutions sustainable?

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

5 simple things to reduce your carbon footprint - and exactly what that means.

You faithfully recycle. Your collection of reusable bags is impressive. And you’d never think of running the water while you brush your teeth. Together, that’s a start on the 3Rs – reuse, recycle, reduce – to help lower your impact on our global environmental crisis.

What other simple things could you commit to doing (and easily sustain) to help reduce your carbon footprint in 2020? And exactly what does that mean?


An A to Z read on the science behind climate change is the 2018 IPCC report – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It represents the work of 133 contributing authors from 40 countries who assessed 30,000 scientific papers on climate and the future of Earth.

The report explains the urgency of reducing global warming, beginning now. The globe is likely to warm by 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052, if it continues at the current rate. With that 1. rise comes related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth.

All of these effects are projected to grow with global warming of 1.5°C, according to the science, and increase further with a warming of 2°C. The most startling report revelation: what that half-degree difference means to the world as we know it.

“It may be the difference between a world with coral reefs and Arctic summer sea ice . . . and a world without them,” the report says about that half a degree. The expectation is a significantly less impact on biodiversity and ecosystems at 1.5°C warming. That means lower impact on terrestrial, freshwater and coastal ecosystems and fewer lost species. It means reducing the rise of ocean temperatures; reducing risks to marine biodiversity and fisheries; and the benefits we humans enjoy from them.

Bottom line: no time to waste! It will be a Herculean personal and collective challenge to keep global warming to a 1.5°C increase. In fact, the IPCC report says we’ll need to cut global emissions by about 45 percent by 2030 (compared to 2010 levels).

Be aware.

Understand the impact of your actions. Human activities are emitting some 40+ billion metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. The average carbon footprint in the U.S. is 16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world. In the UK it’s about 10 tons. Globally, the average is closer to four tons. According to The Nature Conservancy, for the best chance of avoiding a 2°C rise in global temperatures, the average global carbon footprint per year needs to drop under two tons by 2050.

What exactly is your carbon footprint? It’s a measurement of greenhouse gases produced by the activities in your daily life, i.e., burning fossil fuels. The gases trap heat in our atmosphere, causing the planet to warm up, which changes our climate.

Your carbon footprint, therefore, measures the amount of potential impact your life has on the environment every day. Very simply put, reduce the greenhouse gases produced by your lifestyle and you help slow climate change on Earth.

There are a number of carbon calculators to measure your approximate carbon footprint, some more robust than others. An example from The United Nations.


Once you know more about what you do, don’t do, could do to reduce your impact on our warming world, then you can take seriously a commitment to make meaningful changes – even one goal at a time.

Five Simple Sustainable New Year’s Resolutions

Plastics (and their microplastic offspring) not only pollute our oceans and present dangers to wildlife, but they begin as fossil fuels – oil, gas or coal. They are responsible for huge amounts of greenhouse gases during extraction, production and disposal, and cause all kinds of havoc despite even the most respectable recycling efforts. Want to know more? Check out this May 2019 report Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet by the Center for International Environmental Law.

Simple starters:

Seek out eco-friendly containers and packaging.

Have an alternative to single-use plastics, like those offered for produce.

Buy food in reusable glass containers.

Buy in bulk and bring your own containers.

Reuse the plastics you end up with – multiple times – and think creative storage in the kitchen, office or playroom.

Ordering take-out at home or the office? Tell them to omit the plastic utensils. Take out the real stuff: use, wash, repeat.

#2 Less is more

Buy less stuff! That translates to less manufacturing pollution, less transportation emissions, less packaging. And living in a smaller space (because you have less stuff) uses less electricity (our largest source of carbon emissions) and less energy for heating and cooling. Make an exception for this purchase – replace traditional incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (or LED lighting) and use up to 75 percent less energy.

#3 Have to haves

You aren’t going to give up your morning coffee, even if those beans have to travel thousands of miles for that favorite morning jolt. But you can carry a reusable cup, and ask for a “real” cup instead of a disposable one if you’re staying a while at a coffee shop. On other compromises, obviously you aren’t giving up your best ever electronics. You can, however, turn them off at night, most easily if they’re all plugged into one power strip and you just have to hit one goodnight switch.

#4 Buy local

Make purchases locally if and when you can, or at least closer to home. Buying only at big box stores or online relies on moving products around, most often by fossil-fueled transportation, which, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, accounts for 28 percent of the average Americans’ carbon emissions. If you have to drive to get to stores (rather than walking or public transportation), consider bundling your visits, making stops in one part of town this trip, another area next time. Can’t commit to shop locally all the time? How about every other week? Once a month and buy in bulk?

#5 Eat local

Eating more locally sourced foods certainly saves on packaging, shipping, refrigeration and transportation costs – think seasonal sensations. And if you shop at a local farmers’ market or purchase more environmentally friendly products at a nearby store (i.e., organic or sustainably grown), while it doesn’t always guarantee uniform standards, chances are it is grown, produced and packaged in a more sustainable, animal- and Earth-friendly way.

Need a little inspiration to make and sustain your New Year’s resolutions to reduce your personal carbon footprint?

“Nothing is impossible when you build on collective human intelligence,” says French climate scientist Valerie Masson-Delmotte, co-chair of the IPCC working group that examined physical science basis for the 2018 IPCC report.

This blog was originally published by The Oxygen Project January 1, 2020.

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