Teens have power to reduce carbon footprint

Sophie Scott, Staff Writer

According to a recent Washington Post poll, 57% of teenagers are afraid of the future of climate change, yet 43% also feel helpless to change it. Without an income of their own or the right to vote, many teens believe the fate of the environment is out of their hands. However, a growing number of us are realizing how impactful our actions can be…for better or worse. In reality, there are multiple ways teens (as a large demographic group in our society) are harming our environment, as well as a variety of strategies we can employ to limit the damage we are doing.                                            

Calculate Your Impact:

The first step to making a positive change is to look at the negative impact you have as an individual and assessing your carbon footprint is a good way to start.

A carbon footprint is a term that refers to the level of greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities. Greenhouse gasses include carbon dioxide (considered by most scientists to be the worst emission), methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gasses which are all believed to cause global warming.

There are various websites that can calculate your carbon footprint, which can be helpful to identify areas where you are doing the most harm and ways to personally reduce your negative impact.

Turn It All Off:

Beyond looking at our individual lifestyles, there are some universal areas where most of us can simply do better. Excessive energy use is one of them.  Most of us know we should turn off lights or devices that aren’t in use, but we also need to start unplugging unused electronics.

Devices and appliances left plugged in suck energy even while they are off. This is referred to by some as “vampire power.” This single practice is responsible for draining over $19 billion in unnecessary energy every year by some estimates. Leaving anything on or plugged in is another way we add to our carbon footprint.

Putting electronics on power mode, turning them off,  or unplugging when possible is an easy solution once you work it into your daily routine. It’s also better for your electronics. For example, when you leave your phone on, functions are still running in the background causing the battery to degrade over time. Turning it off can help increase the lifespan of some devices. 

Try Meat Moderation:

Not everybody is ready to commit to a vegan diet, and that’s understandable. However environmental experts do suggest all of us can eat more vegetarian meals per week which helps reduce pollution and waste.

Limiting your meat consumption reduces the emissions in the air, as well as land and water pollution. The type of meat you consume matters too. Red meat consumes 11 times more water and produces 5 times more emissions than other meat. A single pound of ground beef takes 1,800 gallons of water. It’s the number one consumer of freshwater in the world, so animal agriculture is drastically increasing the problem of water scarcity.

However, keep in mind that cheese comes in at about 4th in terms of water consumption, so simply eliminating meat doesn’t mean you’re not contributing to the problem. Consuming more fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts is clearly the only way to truly reduce your impact and improve your health at the same time.

You help by eating local produce. Food grown in your own city or state reduces your carbon footprint by keeping it from being shipped anywhere else. Not only is it good for your health, but also would help local stores here in Fresno. It has been estimated that 13% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from the transport of food, so the closer, the better.

The importance of eating organic produce is also high. Organic doesn’t always mean pesticide-free, but organic forms of pest management are typically less noxious for you and the planet.

Processed food is another thing you should avoid. It’s not just bad for your health but more waste is created by processing and the additional packaging.

Thrift, Reuse & Renew:

Teens are notorious for their desire to throw out the old and buy a brand new wardrobe every time trends shift. However, thrift shopping is one of the few emerging trends that actually benefits the environment.

Clothing purchased, produced and transported from country to country consumes a large amount of fuel used by planes, trucks, and factories. Fuel from transportation alone produces up to 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases per year, and thrift shopping reduces the amount of fuel and gas being used.

Plus, the clothing you throw out will most likely end up in a landfill. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15.1 million tons of textile waste was created in 2013, and 12.8 million tons of that material was surprisingly discarded by private citizens, not commercial companies.

A great method to get rid of unwanted clothing, or any unwanted item that is still in decent shape, is to donate it. Donating and thrifting not only helps the environment and those in need of low-cost clothing, but it can also help you become more organized and unique. 

Bags On The Go:

When we hear reusable bags, most of us think about going to the grocery store. Since our parents do most of that shopping, we assume we’re off the hook. However, reusable bags can be used when you shop at any store. Most studies suggest that cloth bags can be used over a hundred times before they start to degrade. The same study suggested that even when we try to reuse plastic bags, they will wear out after around four uses.

Not only are plastic bags are harming the environment, but they are hardly recycled because of how expensive it can be. It takes up to $5,000 to recycle one ton of plastic bags. For this reason, most cities, including Fresno, will move discarded plastic bags to a landfill even if we throw them into the recycling bin.

Using fewer plastic bags also means reducing the greenhouse emissions created by manufacturing plants.

Plus, you can buy and even decorate your reusable bags to suit your personality. Every time you use them, you’ll not only be making a statement about your style and concern for the planet, but you’ll also be reminding others to do the same.

Now…Pass It On:

Once you’ve made some changes to your personal habits, consider working towards change in your larger community. There are many environmental organizations looking for volunteers, and they can use all the help they can get. Not only does volunteering help groups seeking to solve environmental problems, but it also looks great on your college or job resume. It shows college admissions officers and employers that you give back to your community.

There are local branches for many of the most well-known environmental groups, like the Sierra Club’s Tehipite Chapter, as well as organizations that solely focus on the Fresno or Central Valley areas. For example, there’s an organization in Fresno called San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust that offers various opportunities to help protect our local land and waterways. Check out their website to see more.

Remember that schools can reduce their carbon footprint too and teens are often leading the charge to do it.

Some students are participating in environmental demonstrations or school walkouts.  Others are beginning to collaborate with environmental non-profits to create eco-friendly action plans for their school. There are various non-profit websites, like this one provided by The National Wildlife Federation, dedicated to assisting students and educators with this process.

Most of the plans for creating a sustainable or “green” school involve students, teachers, administrators, and parents. They also typically recommend schools or districts to employ facilities managers tasked with meeting a set of environmental goals within a timeframe. Goals can be modest at first, like providing more water sources for reusable bottles, or a school-wide recycling program. Other action plans are more ambitious and begin by studying a school’s environmental footprint and committing to large scale reductions in waste over time.

Much like individual change, determining a school’s carbon footprint is the starting point for more open communication and education regarding climate change. Students are more than capable of approaching their teachers, administration or even their elected school board and ask them to set goals for increased sustainability. Using a site like Change.org to start an online petition can be a way to show school managers there is popular support for going green.

Teens can be part of the problems plaguing our environment, or contribute to the solutions. We are in control of our environment depending on the actions we take. Even the smallest changes in our behaviors are better than no response at all. As famous teen climate activist Greta Thunberg recently stated, “The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change.”