What will our world look like in 2050 if we do not reduce our carbon emissions by half? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, we will experience longer and hotter heat waves and the air quality will worsen. Mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets will melt faster, intensifying flooding in coastal areas. There will be a surge in extreme hurricanes, tropical storms, and crop-killing droughts, which will threaten food security.
Grim. But this is probably how our world would be like if we are unable to cut our carbon emissions 60 percent by 2050, the amount scientists deem necessary to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
The question is, what can we do to secure a better world for our future generations?
What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, use and end-of-life of a product or service. It includes CO2 and other gases like methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere, causing global warming.
An individual’s carbon footprint comes mainly from transportation, housing and food. In the United States and Europe, transportation is the largest contributor to carbon emissions. In 2018, 28.8% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States came from transport while in Europe, transport was responsible for 30% of total carbon dioxide emissions in 2019.
Modern transportation like cars, trucks and vans rely heavily on petroleum. Burning one gallon of gasoline creates 20 pounds (9kg) of CO2, which means on average, a vehicle contributes to 6-9 tons (5440-8100 kg) of CO2 emissions every year. Multiply the figure by the number of vehicles on the road, the final figure can be staggering, but easily ignored because of it’s invisible nature. So to put that in perspective, a mature tree can only process 48 pounds of CO2 per year, so for every gallon of gasoline used it takes two fully grown trees to absorb all those nasty emissions. This means more than 300 trees are needed to process all the emissions produced by just one car in a year. With the rate of deforestation, we can easily imagine the remaining CO2 is left to circulate our planet. It is therefore urgent to reduce our carbon footprint in the area of transportation by considering how one travels.
- Use Public Transport
The easiest and most obvious change is choosing to take a bus or train as your primary mode of transport. This puts fewer cars on the roads and cuts tailpipe emissions. A 20-miles (32km) round trip on public transport can reduce one’s carbon footprint by 4,800 pounds (2,177kg) annually. Download apps like transit and google maps to get you to your destination on public transport.
- Car Share
No one needs their car 100% of the time, and car sharing is a relatively new initiative that is solving that problem in multiple ways.
- Car sharing can help to reduce the number of cars manufactured – which saves natural resources and energy and reduces land needed for parking.
- Fractional car ownership is a new car-sharing model where people (typically 3-6) buy a car together and split the cost. A smart app is then made available to the drivers to organize cost sharing and the driving time. The concept of fractional car ownership is making huge strides in redesigning urban mobility.
- On Demand Car Rental that allows users to rent a vehicle from a shared fleet via an mobile application like zipcar, much like escooter hire. Signing up to the app gives the driver access to the car location and payment is all done within the app.
Carpooling has gone in and out of fashion since the invention of the automobile at the beginning of the 20th century for one reason or another but it’s even more important for it to regain popularity. Not only does it reduce your carbon emissions but you get the added bonus in time savings by gaining access to HOV lanes.
- Carpooling is another eco-friendly way to travel. A study conducted by the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) found that if daily commutersin the United States carpooled 20 days a month, it would reduce fuel consumption by 40-50 percent.
- Apps like Scoop, Waze and GoCarma provide an easy way to connect with others around you who share the same destination as the driver.
- Find out Ridesharing options from transport apps like Float Mobility that will help one decide the fastest, cheapest and greenest way to travel.
- When it’s back up and running, Uberpool is a great way to recut your carbon emissions and cost through sharing your rides with others heading in the same direction.
Photo by Josh Bean on Unsplash
- Bike and Walk
It is not just about recreation or keeping fit, biking and walking provide a host of environmental benefits: reduce carbon emissions, traffic congestion and demand on oil; and eliminate noise and the need to destroy habitats and open space for motorized transportation. In Singapore, gradual improvements have been made to the cycling infrastructures to create cycling routes for recreational and short commuting purposes, enabling cycling to be the main mode of commuting for some. In the United States, commuters can check out trail links for bicycle and pedestrian trails.
- Use Eco-driving
Adopt driving techniques that help reduce emissions and save money in a gasoline-powered car.
- Go easy on the gas and brakes. Hard acceleration and braking can waste fuel and lower mileage.
- Avoid idling. Idling can consume a quarter to half a gallon of fuel in an hour, so turn off the engine when the car is parked.
- Service your car regularly. A well-maintained vehicle can also reduce emissions, improve gas mileage and fuel economy by 4 percent. Hence, have tires inflated, and oil and air filter cleaned out regularly.
For more tips on efficient driving, one can refer to fuel economy website.
- Fly Less
While the recent Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a catastrophic hand on air travel, there are temporary environmental silver linings – it is estimated that 10% of the reduction in global CO2 is due to the decline in air transport operations during the pandemic. When travelling returns, one can consider the following tips to reduce carbon footprints in air travel:
- Choose direct flights where possible. Jet fuel is a high-carbon energy source, with take-off and landing being the most fuel-intensive parts of a flight. Hence, the more connections one makes, the higher the carbon footprint.
- Travel Light. The heavier an aircraft, the more fuel it consumes. Cargo and baggage are the largest contributors to an aircraft’s weight. Each traveller can make a huge difference in fuel consumption by travelling light. Weight reduction means fewer CO2 emissions from the aircraft. In fact, if all passengers packed one less pair of shoes, or reduce barrage weight by roughly 2 lbs/1kg, the aircraft’s fuel savings would be the same as taking 10,500 cars off the road for an entire year!
- Consider a Stay-cation
- Go Green on Grocery Trips
For groceries, the last-mile problem which refers to how food makes the final leg from farm to the table, is where a lot of carbon emissions can occur. It is estimated that car trips to grocery stores can contribute significantly to carbon emissions: over 17 million metric tons of CO2 .This figure could be higher if families make more than one car trip to the grocery store in a week. To reduce our carbon footprints from car trips to grocery stores, we can:
- Plan ahead and consolidate grocery trips from the same retailer to reduce the need for multiple round trips to different grocery stores.
- Get groceries delivered from a local and nearby brick-and-mortar store. Getting our food to share a ride with other orders can potentially reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Also, if a delivery truck is already making numerous trips in our neighbourhood, grocery delivery might be a greener option.
- Eco-online shopping
With cities under lockdown and the Covid-19 coronavirus still raging in many places, more people are turning to online shopping. Contrary to traditional belief, online shopping might not be as green as we think. Here are some ways we can reduce our carbon footprint when shopping online:
- Picking the slowest shipping option. Do you really need your latest purchase the same day? When shippers prioritize speed over efficiency, purchases may not be consolidated, leading to more separate packages, more packaging waste and more vehicles on the roads to fulfill orders speedily. Selecting slower shipping options allows retailers to pack delivery vehicles to full capacity and choose the most efficient routes, resulting in lower carbon emissions.
- Buying local will reduce carbon emissions as air freight produces ten times more carbon emissions from road shipping.
- Consolidate your order, this will allow companies to deliver in fewer packages and also reduce the number of deliveries needed. Connect with friends and combine orders or start a list of create a single bigger order at the end of a month.
- Avoiding unnecessary returns. More retailers are dangling free returns to attract more buyers. Though it comes at no cost to buyers, it imposes a hefty cost on the environment if returned items do not go back to a local store or to the closest fulfilment centre. At least 20% of the returns end up in landfills because they cannot be resold, releasing more CO2 to the environment.
- Buying less. The most obvious and sensible option might be to avoid impulse purchases and accumulate items that we might never use.
What canTransportation Look Like in 2050?
We look forward to a real transport revolution: where transport oil consumption is totally eliminated; where planes run on biofuels; where no single car ownership exists; where carpooling and on-demand car sharing will dominate urban commutes. Commuters can book their vehicles that fit their commutes with minimal fuss, resulting in less demand for urban parking spaces. Air quality will also improve as a result of reduced carbon emissions. Quixotic? Maybe not, if we play our part reduce our transport footprints now.
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It sounds doable if we can get the public on board; right now with the USA so polarized we’ll have to look to government and certain business interests (like Elon Musk and Bezos) to start the movement and get it in high gear. George Marshall