“We’re running the most dangerous experiment in history right now, which is to see how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere can handle before there is an environmental catastrophe.”
Carbon Footprint: Causes, Effects & Solutions
The carbon footprint can be defined as the total emissions caused by individuals or organizations which is expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent.
The carbon footprint gives an indication of how much every entity contributes to the emission of CO2 and therefore to the global warming issue.
In the following, the causes, effects and solutions for the emission of CO2 are examined.
Causes for Carbon Dioxide Emissions
- Population growth and increase in consumption levels
- Increase in living standards
- Increase in energy consumption
- Industrial processes
- Waste disposal
- Lobbying problem
- Lack of education
Population growth and increase in consumption levels
One cause for the emission of CO2 is population growth.
Since the world population increases, there is an increasing demand for material things.
These things have to be produced by industries.
In this production process, large amounts of CO2 are emitted into the air.
Thus, population growth contributes to the emission of CO2 and the adverse consequences.
Increase in living standards
Not only does the total demand for goods increase due to population growth, it also increases due to the fact that people want to improve their lifestyle.
This is especially true for people in emerging markets who now aspire to similar lifestyles like people living in the Western world.
This implies a significant increase in individual consumption levels and also increases the carbon footprint since for the increased consumption, more products have to be manufactured which implies an increase in CO2 emissions.
Increase in energy consumption
Since our technology is dependent on electricity, electricity consumption levels have skyrocketed during the last decades.
Although we benefit from many advantages from technological progress, an increase in electricity consumption also implies an increase of greenhouse gases since for the generation of electricity, large amounts of coal are used and CO2 is released into the air through the combustion process.
Deforestation can be regarded as another cause for the emission of CO2.
Since trees are a natural storage space for CO2, cutting down forests leads to the release of large amounts of CO2 which in turn will contribute to the global warming problem in a serious way.
There are many companies that emit large quantities of CO2 in their production processes.
Since there are no binding worldwide CO2 emission regulations that can be taken seriously at the moment, companies have a big incentive to meet the demand for goods without worrying about their carbon footprint too much since the fines for violations of limits are quite low or even not existent.
Agriculture is another significant contributor to the emission of CO2.
In the production of meat, plenty of CO2 and other greenhouse gases like methane are released into the air.
This problem of CO2 emission related to meat production is likely to become even more severe in the future since many people that had been quite poor in the past, especially people in emerging markets, are now able to increase their income levels.
With these rising income levels, people are likely to consume more material things and also increase their consumption of meat.
Many cars and other vehicles are based on the combustion of fossil fuels.
In the combustion process, plenty of CO2 is released into the air.
In our current Western society, almost everyone has at least one car.
There are many households which even own two or more cars.
Even for small distances, people often use cars instead of walking or riding a bike.
This behavior is extremely harmful since it implies the emission of large amounts of CO2 and therefore significantly contributes to an increase in the carbon footprint.
On a global scale, the number of flights increased dramatically over the last decades.
Since our income levels have increased significantly over time, also our preference for fancy vacations has increased.
People want to have several vacations a year which often includes traveling by plane to remote countries.
Moreover, there are several business people using airplanes on a weekly basis.
This behavior implies a significant emission of CO2.
Ships can also be regarded as a cause for the emission of CO2 and therefore as a contributor to carbon footprint.
Many ships are used to carry large amounts of food and other goods over quite long distances.
This shipping of goods over large distances leads to the emission of large amounts of CO2 since most of the ships are run by fossil fuels.
In order to get rid of the vast amounts of waste that are produced on a worldwide scale each year, large amounts of waste are burned.
This combustion of waste also leads to an emission of harmful gases, including greenhouse gases like CO2.
Due to population growth and increasing worldwide consumption levels, the emissions that are due to waste disposal are likely to increase in the future since the total amount of waste is likely to increase as well.
When it comes to behaving eco-friendly, there are several conflicts of interest involved in decision-making processes.
For example, industries that rely on fossil fuels have a strong incentive to fight against the development of renewable energies since they fear that their industries will become obsolete in the future.
Therefore, the fossil fuel industry may lobby against CO2 reduction efforts which may also contribute to the CO2 emission problem.
Lack of education
As we have seen in the previous analysis, our consumption behavior has a significant impact on the emission of CO2.
However, many people may not even be aware of this fact due to a lack of education.
These people are likely to pay no attention at all to their consumption behavior since they simply do not know the consequences and the adverse effects that they can cause to our environmental system.
Effects of the Emission of CO2
- Global warming
- Air pollution
- Acid rain
- Effects on humans
- Effects on animals
- Effects on plants
- Effects on aquatic life
- Effects on the whole environmental system
One major effect of the excessive emission of CO2 is global warming.
Global warming has severe negative effects on our environmental system and poses a danger to many animals, plants and also for many people who are at risk of losing their homes.
Moreover, global warming may also lead to an increase in the migration problem since the livelihood of many people will be destroyed due to rising sea levels.
These people will strive to find alternative living spaces and move to countries that are not that much affected by climate change.
The emission of CO2 contributes to global warming to a significant extent since CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
Another effect related to the emission of CO2 is air pollution.
Through industrial processes and also through our daily use of cars, we emit large amounts of harmful gases into the air, including CO2 which increases our carbon footprint.
Acid rain can also be caused by CO2 emission.
The acidity level of rain increases with the amount of CO2 released into the air.
Thus, the emission of CO2 can contribute to the acid rain problem to a certain extent.
Effects on humans
The emission of CO2 has vast adverse consequences for humanity due to the implied increase in global warming.
Global warming will destroy many living spaces and will force many people to leave their homes.
Many homes will even be destroyed since they simply will get flooded due to an increase in sea levels.
Moreover, many people will also suffer from severe water shortages.
Especially in areas where water already is scarce at this point in time, the people who are living in those areas will have great difficulties to maintain their livelihood since they will simply run out of water.
They will also no longer be able to raise cattle in those areas due to water shortages which also result in food shortages since the production of crops also needs significant amounts of water.
Therefore, the emission of CO2 and the resulting consequences have a huge adverse impact on humanity.
Effects on animals
The emission of CO2 also imposes great negative effects on animals.
Many animals will suffer from global warming and the resulting changes in their natural environment.
Animals are usually quite sensitive to these changes.
Therefore, they will be in danger of becoming extinct or are at least likely to suffer from a vast decline in population.
Since our environmental system is highly connected, a change in population of one species could have a significant impact on the development of many other species since the ratio between predator and prey has been altered.
Effects on plants
There are also negative effects on plants from the excessive emission of CO2.
On the one hand, CO2 contributes to acid rain which in turn can hurt many plant species since plants are usually quite sensitive to changes in acidity levels and therefore may die off.
On the other hand, due to global warming, many plants that currently have optimal growth conditions will suffer from adverse consequences when the air temperature increases.
Thus, the emission of CO2 and the implied effects can also affect plant life to a certain extent.
Effects on aquatic life
Aquatic life can also be affected by CO2 emissions in a dramatic way.
Since the emission of CO2 contributes to global warming, it poses big negative externalities to aquatic animals and plants.
An increase in air temperature will also cause an increase in water temperatures.
This will likely lead to a decrease in oxygen levels, which in turn may lead to the death of many fishes and other water animals.
Moreover, with an increase in water temperature, the growth of algae is enhanced which in turn also leads to lower oxygen levels.
Effects on the global environmental system
The emission of CO2 into the atmosphere is not a local problem, but rather has severe effects on the whole environmental system since it contributes to global warming.
Global warming will hurt many parts of our planet, especially many people who do not even contribute too much to it.
The sad part about global warming is that it will likely affect poor people with low consumption levels much more than rich people that have contributed much more to the problem to their high consumption levels since these rich people have the opportunity to move to countries that are not affected too much by global warming.
Therefore, the people who are actually not responsible will carry most of the burden regarding the global warming issue.
Solutions to the CO2 Emission Problem
- Switch from cars to alternative transport facilities
- Switch from conventional to electric cars
- Avoid commuting
- Save energy
- Buy local food
- Reduce meat consumption
- Organic gardening
- Reduce consumption
- Recycle and reuse
- Convince others
Switch from cars to alternative transport facilities
One measure in order to reduce CO2 emissions is to switch from private cars to public transport.
Cars are a big source of CO2 emission and the emission of CO2 per capita is much higher compared to public transport.
Even better would be a switch from cars to bicycles or other forms of transport that do not emit CO2 at all.
Moreover, walking short distances instead of using cars would further mitigate the problem of CO2 emission and will therefore reduce the individual carbon footprint.
Switch from conventional to electric cars
Another measure against the excessive emission of carbon dioxide is to switch from conventional to electric cars.
There is still much work in progress related to the development of electric cars.
However, in the near future, they may display a good alternative to conventional cars.
By switching to electric cars, we could reduce the emission of CO2 to a large extent and therefore also mitigate the implied adverse consequences.
Commuting also contributes to the CO2 emission problem.
There are many people living in the suburbs of big cities which have to commute in order to get to work.
People could try to relocate near their working space so that large commuting distances could be avoided.
Another step to reduce CO2 emissions is to save energy whenever possible.
This could mean turning off the lights when you don’t need them. It may also include buying energy-efficient household devices instead of energy-intensive ones.
Saving energy mitigates the problem of CO2 emissions since for electricity production, significant amounts of coal have to be burnt which in turn leads to the emission of harmful gases, including CO2.
Therefore, by taking measures in our daily life, we can effectively contribute to mitigating the CO2 emission issue.
Buy local food
Long transportation distances contribute to the CO2 emission problem since food and other items are transported by plane, ships or trucks that use fossil fuels.
By avoiding long transportation distances for food and buying local food instead, we can mitigate the problem of CO2 emission and the resulting adverse consequences to a certain extent.
Reduce meat consumption
Meat consumption is an important contributor to the carbon dioxide problem.
In our current society, especially in our Western world, we consume vast amounts of meat each year.
This problem is likely to become worse in the future since worldwide wealth is increasing and many people who were not able to afford meat in the past will be able to earn enough money to do so in the future.
If this trend continues, we will face serious problems since the amount of CO2 related to worldwide meat consumption will be enormous.
Thus, a reduction in meat consumption will be crucial to mitigating the CO2 emission problem.
Organic gardening may also reduce the production of CO2 to a certain extent.
By planting your own vegetables or fruits, you can avoid the transportation of foods from remote parts of the word and therefore also save the CO2 that would have been produced in those transportation processes.
A crucial step in order to be able to mitigate our CO2 emission levels is to reduce our individual as well as our overall worldwide consumption levels.
We often blame industries for destroying our environment. However, industries only meet the demand of people.
Therefore, consumers are the real cause of a potential destruction of the environment.
Industries can be seen as some kind of instance that reflect consumer preferences.
Thus, in order to mitigate the CO2 emission problem, we have to change our minds regarding our consumption behavior.
We have to stop buying the newest stuff and rather keep items that still work longer.
We have to change the mind of people in a way that new stuff is regarded as dodgy and keeping old stuff is regarded as fancy.
By a reduction of our consumption to a significant extent, we could make a big contribution to a reduction in the individual carbon footprint.
Recycle and reuse
It is also important to reuse items that you do no longer need.
This could mean giving those kinds of items to family members or friends.
If you do not find a single person who wants to have your old stuff, you should at least make sure that you separate your waste in a way that those items can be recycled in an efficient manner.
Education is key. This phrase also applies to the problem of CO2 emissions.
We have to show people how harmful the emission of CO2 really is to our environment.
This includes educating people on how their consumption behavior affects CO2 emissions.
By showing people how they can reduce CO2 emissions in an efficient manner, more people would be likely to do so.
This education should start at a young age in school. People usually are willing to change their behavior at an early age rather than if they are already grown up.
By educating young children on how to reduce our CO2 emissions, these children are also likely to convince their parents which may lead to a state in which also parents will be more willing to change their consumption behavior in order to reduce CO2 emissions and the implied adverse consequences.
Your actions matter! But keep in mind that you are just one of billions of people on our planet.
Therefore, it is crucial not only to change your personal behavior, but also to convince your family and friends regarding the necessity for a reduction in CO2 emissions.
By doing so, your family and friends will be more likely to change their daily life behavior in a positive way.
Moreover, those convinced people may further convince other people.
Thus, by convincing other people, you can make a big impact in order to reduce CO2 emissions.
Carbon dioxide emissions are a big problem for our environmental systems since they impose many negative effects on our planet.
However, there are also several measures we can take in our daily life to mitigate the CO2 emission problem.
Depending on our will to change our consumption behavior, we have the possibility to mitigate CO2 emissions to a significant extent and therefore to keep the related adverse effect to a minimum.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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