7 Ways Youth Can Reduce Their Ecological Footprints

Can One Person Make a Difference? YES!

Climate change is an urgent issue that requires immediate action. Life as we know it is not sustainable at the current rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. GHGs are released into the atmosphere by human activities, such as transportation, farming, and the use of electronics. Climate scientists have produced significant research demonstrating the risks of rising emissions, and concerned citizens are doing their best to encourage action.

Now, it’s up to us to make a difference. We must reduce our personal emissions and press the government to ensure that larger emitters do the same!

There’s a lot that we have the power to change. Ways to reduce emissions generally fall into three categories: (1) the way we live, (2) what we buy, and (3) how we participate in the community.

LIFESTYLE: The Way We Live

The way you live and the decisions you make in your home have an impact on the climate. A lot of these are what we refer to as “the basics,” but there is also the emerging issue of electronics. Consider the following suggestions on how to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions.

1. Cover the Basics: 

Continue to routinely practice the basics: reduce water use, compost and recycle properly, use active or communal transportation, and conserve electricity.

Water. Canadians use 329 litres of water per person, per day. The two largest contributors are bathing and showering (35%) and toilets (30%). Major waste reductions can be achieved by simply taking fewer, shorter showers, not running water unnecessarily, and washing your laundry in cold water.

Showers & toilets: Install low-flow shower heads as they cut the flow of water about 75%, reducing it to 22-37 litres per shower compared to regular shower heads that release 94-189 litres. If your parents are replacing a toilet, encourage them to choose a duo-flush toilet as this also uses significantly less water. Flushing a toilet requires 7 to 26 litres of water

Drinking water: It estimated that 7.5 litres of water go down the drain when running the water until it’s cold, that is enough to provide four people with enough drinking water for the day. Instead of letting the faucet run, fill a water jug and keep it refrigerated.

Laundry: Wash clothes in cold water and hang them to dry. Roughly 80-90% of the energy used by a washing machine goes into heating the water. Dryers, in turn, use ten times more energy than a washing machine. When possible, skip the dryer altogether.

Waste. Recycle and compost – and do it properly!

It is estimated that roughly 38% of Canadians do not compost. Many people believe food waste/compostable materials will decompose in the garbage not harming the environment. These compounds break down anaerobically (without oxygen) – when thrown in the garbage – emitting methane (CH4) which has 21 to 71 times the heat-trapping capabilities of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most commonly referenced GHG. As well, many Canadians are not recycling properly. Due to many non-recyclable items found in blue bins – such as containers that are not properly cleaned out – the sorting and transporting of these items to landfills are costing companies – and the tax-funded municipalities that employ them – upwards of a million dollars, which is questioning the sustainability of the blue box.

Check the waste management guidelines where you live and make sure you are sorting things correctly. Make sure to double-check occasionally as rules may be updated from time to time.

Transportation. Bus, walk, or bike whenever possible instead of using vehicles.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the Canadian transportation sector have risen by 42% since 1990, with more than half of these emissions coming from personal vehicles. As a result, transportation is the 2nd largest source of GHG emissions, next to the oil and gas sector. We need to reduce our transportation emissions. If active transportation or public transit really isn’t an option, carpool to reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

Electricity.

Have your parents ever insisted that you turn off the lights when you leave the room? Do it! There is no need to keep empty rooms lit up. And, as soon as you get good at turning off the lights, encourage your parents to replace conventional light bulbs with energy-efficient LEDs. Not only will this reduce emissions (LED bulbs use a fraction, 1/3 – 1/30, of the energy required by incandescent bulbs), it will prove more cost-efficient in the long term.

2. Reduce use of Electronics

While we’re on the topic of conserving electricity, here are some suggestions focused specifically on our use of electronics.

Unplug. We all know that it is a good idea to turn electronics off when not in use. But did you know that appliances and electronics plugged into an outlet continue to generate electricity? About one-quarter of the energy used by appliances or electronics are used when the device is on idle mode or “off,” so it is important to unplug cords and not simply turn electronics/appliances “off.”

Resist new gadgets. The production of consumer goods contributes to GHG emissions, and, of course, that includes smartphones. In fact, 85-95% of a smartphone’s carbon footprint is from production due to the energy-intensive nature of the metals and electronics used. This is only getting worse. Smartphone emissions globally are projected to increase from 17 megatons(mt) of carbon in 2010 to 125mt in 2020.  Although appealing to replace your cellphone every couple of years, consider the environmental impact this is having on the Earth.

Surf and stream consciously. According to 21st Century Tech, “more than 60,000 inquiries occur every second using Google Search. Each search produces 0.2 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) on average.” This pollution is produced by server farms which store data from billions of smart devices. By acquiring more devices and using more technology, these servers require significantly more power to run, as well as additional energy used to cool the machines, contributing to a rise in emissions.

Altogether, it is estimated that 300 megatons of carbon are emitted into the atmosphere by the internet. Streaming videos — from services like Netflix and others — accounts for 60% (2017) of internet traffic and is expected to increase to 80% by 2020.  Consider what you are watching before you download. You can even go as far as to plan your daily use and limit the amount of time you spend on your electronics. And, consider what media platforms you are using to stream videos. According to Greenpeace, Netflix is lagging behind others, such as Google and Apple, in investing in renewable energy.

3. Eat Less Meat

Farming and agriculture in Canada are another major contributor to a high per capita rate of greenhouse gas emissions. Most notably, GHG emissions associated with beef are four times those associated with chicken, and 18 times higher than for beans and lentils. Cattle releases high amounts of methane through digestion and manure, which as previously stated, has 21 to 71 times the heat-trapping capabilities compared to carbon dioxide.

What is more, farmers around the world have cut millions of square kilometres of forest to cultivate land to raise cows, pigs, and chickens; 80% of tropical deforestation is due to agriculture. This is a double-whammy for greenhouse emissions. Trees use carbon dioxide to produce oxygen for us – when they are cut down, the stored carbon is released into the atmosphere and trees are no longer around to absorb carbon dioxide.

By adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet — or simply reducing your meat intake by incorporating more fruits, vegetables, and legumes — you can reduce GHG emissions.

CONSUMER: What We Buy

The production of consumer goods, and the materials used to package them creates pollution. So, what we buy matters. As a consumer, there are ways you can limit purchases and have a positive influence on the environment. Follow these tips and reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by being a considerate shopper.

4. Think Before You Spend

Reduce and Refuse. Do you really need it? Consider your purchases. Do not buy unnecessary items. Take care of your products so they last longer. This will reduce your ecological footprint by limiting your personal waste and avoiding the need to replace items. By investing in quality products that are reusable you will reduce output into landfills that are already crowded.

Before shopping write down items/products you need and do not wander from this list to avoid impulse buys. And remember the fourth “R,” refuse. Refuse items you don’t need, such as straws, plastic cutlery, condiment packs, and grocery bags — since you brought your own.

Consider the contents and the wrapping. Also, consider the ingredients of your products and whether they are ecologically friendly. Coal is found in various products such as rubber bands, paper clips, baking powder, some soaps and shampoos, as well as some candies. Some skin care products and medicines, as well as plastics, are made from crude oil. Both crude oil and coal release harmful greenhouse gasses into the environment through their mining, refining, and transportation.

Before buying a product consider the packaging and whether it is packaged sensibly (in cardboard, for example) or enveloped in unnecessary plastic. Consider whether the material is recyclable, compostable, or reusable. For example, some chain restaurants (such as Freshii, Mad Radish, and Green Rebel)  compostable take-out containers. And remember local shops that use products that are not harmful to the environment.

5. Invest in Sustainable Fashion

Fashion uses a lot of energy and resources. Water use alone is a major issue: 7570 litres of water is needed to make one pair of jeans — that’s 1/3 of an Olympic swimming pool for one pair of jean! That same 7570 litres could provide three people for a years worth of drinking water (and 1.1 billion people currently lack fresh water).

There are a few ways of being an eco-friendly fashionista. Buy fewer, quality items, and wear your clothes for more than a single season. Purchase second-hand from a local thrift shop, or coordinate clothing swaps among friends by creating a Facebook or Whatsapp group where you can post your items and see what others want to share. Support environmentally-friendly companies, such as PACT apparel, Alternative Clothing, People Tree, Encircled and Everlane, among many others. These companies use fabrics that require less water to produce, materials that don’t shed pollutants in the laundry, and put a priority on environmental practices and labour rights. When you’re finished with your clothes, donate them instead of throwing them away — but remember donation bins want quality items, not your broken or damaged products. For items that are too worn to be donated, seek out fabric recycling options. All of these options will save you money while benefitting the environment.

ADVOCACY & ENGAGEMENT: How We Participate in Community

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

You can make a difference too.

6. Get Involved in Local Environmental Action

There are a lot of research groups and organizations that will help you get involved and make a difference in the environment. Organizations such as Earth Rangers, Environmental Youth Alliance, and Sustainable Youth Canada provide youth tools and a platform to raise awareness around environmental issues. Others, like Citizens for Public Justice, offer campaigns — like Give it up for the Earth! — and resources that you can share with your school or faith community. You can help raise awareness about climate change and make a positive contribution to environmental action.

We have witnessed the impact of advocacy on environmental change through the work of Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg. In the category of “go big or go home,” there is a growing youth-led movement taking the world by storm. Inspired by her actions, students in Europe, Australia, the U.S. and Canada are striking from school to emphasize the message that “adults are jeopardizing our future” by failing to take adequate action on climate change. By rallying together, these youth have created a strong voice of concern for the environment. Register to get involved and demand the government of Canada increase climate ambition.

7. Educate and Advocate

The scale of the climate crisis may seem daunting, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. In addition to the personal actions noted above, remember that as a Canadian citizen, your voice matters in the push for climate action from the government.

One of the only effective and substantial ways to ensure reduced emissions from the oil and gas sector is for government regulation, and incentives to transition away from this GHG intensive energy source in Canada. By voicing your concern for the emissions produced and your support for a cleaner economy you are advocating for a healthy climate and a greener future for all.

As the next generation, this is your Earth. Take the opportunity to educate others on climate change and GHG emissions. You can start by educating the adults in your life on these simple steps on how to reduce your own ecological footprint. It can be as simple as a conversation at the dinner table. Regardless, take the time to educate the people around you.

You can also write a letter to your Member of Parliament, or a company, like Netflix, who’s policies and practices you would like to see improved. Using the information shared here, you can start a petition using change.org (or a similar platform) as a means to encourage change.

Yes! You can make a difference!

As a global community, we are facing a major climate crisis. Fortunately, we all have the power to be a part of the change we want to see, and that includes YOU!

Your actions and your voice matters. Today’s adults – parents, teachers, religious leaders, and politicians – cannot deny that you and your peers will carry the burden if significant action is not taken to address climate change. Changes to the way we live, what we buy, and how we participate in the community.

Be the change!

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