Taking steps towards reducing carbon footprint

Hailee Munno, Feature Editor

Reduce, reuse, recycle.  The saying has been ingrained in the brains of elementary students for as long as anyone can remember. Though the importance of this is not to be underestimated, the climate crisis calls for even more interventions. 

Feeling discouraged when it comes to climate change is common, though in order to make change, everybody needs to do their part. 

“People just think of themselves as a single person on the planet,” environmental science teacher Jason Kelner said. “One out of almost 8 billion probably thinks ‘how am I supposed to make a difference?’ or ‘I am not going to be around in 100 years’. A lot of it has to do with the fact that people aren’t thinking so much about the future.” 

Opting for alternatives to gas-fueled cars such as biking, using public transportation or using rideshare services, cuts down on the amount of cars on the road. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. 

“We can decrease our personal contributions to the crisis, and there are many ways to do that, from opting for taking public transit rather than an Uber,” Communications Director at the Illinois Environmental Council.Tucker Barry said. 

Many strides have been made to reduce gas-fueled cars as the main source of transportation. Companies such as  Tesla have worked to make electric cars the new normal. 

According to Tesla’s 2020 impact report, “We are designing and manufacturing a complete energy and transportation ecosystem. We not only develop the technology behind this ecosystem, but we also focus heavily on the affordability of our products that comprise it. This is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes economic sense.” 

There are plenty of not-so obvious, small changes any average person can make to their everyday lives to kickstart change. 

“The easiest thing for the average person to do is to change their diet little by little,” Kelner said. “Reduce beef intake and processed food intake. Beef agriculture is a huge contributor to a variety of environmental  issues.” 

The production of meat, and especially beef consumption, releases harmful greenhouse gases such as methane, CO2 and nitrous oxide. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, the meat industry contributes about 14.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to climate change next to fossil fuels. The reduction of  meat consumption could significantly reduce the amount of methane emissions. 

“The worst thing you can do is consume a lot of beef in your diet,” Environmental Club President junior Trent Barma said.“Reducing the amount of beef you buy is the number one thing an average person can do as one gram of beef emits 221 grams of carbon dioxide.” 

Another major contributor to climate change is the use of palm oil. Palm oil, an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm trees, can be found in almost every processed snack, soap and even most makeup products.

 “Try and buy as many products as you can that don’t contain palm oil,” biology teacher Rachel Kieft said.  “Palm oil and beef are the biggest contributors to rainforest destruction.  What you buy and where you spend your money matters.” 

The production of palm oil leads to devastation in tropical forests and causes significant habitat loss to animals indigenous to those forests. According to the BBC, palm oil is responsible for eight  percent of global deforestation.

“Processed foods contain massive amounts of palm oil which require lots of land and intensive agriculture methods, not to mention clear cutting and burning the land before even starting the palm oil plantations,” Kelner said. 

Individuals making these small changes in everyday life will create a domino effect and real change can be made. More importantly, change needs to be made on a global level. 

“The truth is, individual actions aren’t responsible for the climate crisis, and there is no one thing any one person can do to solve it,” Barry said. “We need real systemic change and a thoughtful transition away from using fossil fuels to tackle this problem. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be reducing our personal contributions to climate change as we push for policy changes and accountability for fossil fuel industries.” 

The response to the climate crisis has been slow, considering there have been years of warnings against climate change. 

“As a nation, in my opinion, we have not done a great job overall,” Kieft said.  “We are starting to make progress but not nearly quick enough.” 

The U.S. slowly has been making strides to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and use clean energy sources. 

“While governing bodies have been slow to action, we are finally seeing momentum of support for climate action increasing,” Barry said. “Just recently Illinois passed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act– a bill that does our part to tackle the climate crisis here in Illinois by moving our state to a 100% clean energy future. And, Congress is debating President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, a bill that would be a once-in-a-generation investment in the tools we need to confront the climate crisis at the federal level. Internationally, leaders from around the world are convening in Scotland at COP26 to determine how, and if, our world can come together to make the changes that science demands in order to protect our planet.” 

People globally are taking climate change seriously and beginning to talk about taking action before it is too late. 

“I think as a nation, many of us are aware of the issue of climate change; however, it becomes a bit like background noise when you only hear about the doom and gloom,” Kelner said. “I think when people see concrete results, they are more likely to take action, which is why the issue of climate change goes in one ear and out the other for so many people. I think the best thing we can do as a nation is to continue to educate people about specific results that could play out if we work together. It might take some sort of large-scale shortage of coal, oil or cows to make people really care.” 

Climate change is a global-reaching issue. It is no longer just a “what if.”, Long-term effects are already being seen. 

“No doubt, some of the changes needed to address climate are big, but we should look at them as opportunities to build a healthier, more sustainable world for everyone,” Barry said. “It’s not just an opportunity to literally survive on this planet, it’s an opportunity to improve the health and wellbeing of everyone living here, plants and animals included. The clean energy future is also an opportunity to correct long standing injustices and underinvestments in communities of color who currently bear the brunt of the negative impacts of the climate crisis.”