Whether you believe the Earth is warming up, cooling down or hurtling toward a Black Hole in a galaxy far, far away, the bottom line is if you live on this planet, you play a small role in keeping it spinning.

It starts with understanding your own carbon footprint — how much you create, and eventually leave behind. Simply stated, your footprint is the sum of all carbon dioxide emissions you create, based on your activities that involve burning fossil fuels like oil and coal.

So if your life involves driving two blocks instead of walking, ordering takeout every day packaged in Styrofoam and plastic containers, and keeping lights and AC running in empty rooms, you may be leaving behind a giant carbon footprint. 

The end result is these activities release carbon dioxide emissions that get trapped in Earth’s atmosphere, creating a greenhouse effect that keeps sunlight from escaping, warms the ocean, changes plant life and so on.

Reducing the footprint you create (and eventually leave behind) can be done with simple steps that require little effort, money or time – and will make Mother Earth a little happier. 

Ban the plastic bags – Plastic bags usually end up in landfills since only about 1 percent of plastic bags are being recycled, based on figures from Waste Management, a leading disposal company in the United States. Many bags end up in waterways and eventually rivers and oceans, where they can harm animals. According to the the UK-based environmental and carbon management group, Carbon Footprint, one in three sea turtles found dead have plastic bags in their stomachs. If you must use plastic, recycle it, re-use it or preferably bring your re-usable bags. If you toss a plastic bag into the trash, consider it can take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill. (For more information, visit https://www.carbonfootprint.com/plastic_waste.html.) (This is an editorial based column…I have no issue with making this statement. I start out in first person…I’m fine to keep it that way. This is not a college thesis…it’s just tips and ideas.).

Reduce the stuff you buy – About one-third of all carbon emissions come from the purchases you make, according to Carbon Footprint. Try to avoid conspicuous consumption and only buy what you need, advises the minimalism lifestyle website www.theminimalists.com. The Minimalists also recommend you consider the packaging that your products come in to see if it can be recycled, re-purposed or eliminated altogether. Take time to research energy efficiency, especially of large purchases like appliances, cars and even your home. (For more information, visit www.theminimalists.com.)

Cut your energy use – Heating and cooling your home, along with lights and other electric use generates another third of your overall carbon emission, according to Carbon Footprint. Keep large equipment like your air conditioners and furnaces properly maintained, add insulation and weather stripping on all doors and attic spaces, unplug electronics when not in use, wash clothes in cold or eco-warm settings when possible and switch to LED lightbulbs advises the organization. Ask your energy provider for an audit to find ways to reduce your consumption – and your monthly bill. 

Consider how you are getting from here to there – Transportation, primarily in personal vehicles, contributes about a quarter of all carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Set goals to increase walking, biking, carpooling or public transportation when possible. Your trip may take longer, but you’ll also be getting the benefit of exercise, cost savings and, in Atlanta traffic, less stress. If your daily commute cannot be done without a car, “repurpose” a used car instead of buying a new one, or consider an electric/hybrid vehicle or one with low emissions. 

Strive for a minimalist lifestyle – Declutter your home and donate unneeded items to charity. Buy, borrow or rent clothing, electronics, house decorations, furniture, cars and other products whenever possible. Living a minimalist lifestyle does not mean there is anything wrong with material possessions, but minimalists suggest you ask yourself if you are giving too much meaning to “things.”  Start with baby steps: discard your duplicates, create clutter-free zones, dress with less (consider Project 333, which challenges you to have only 33 items – clothes, shoes, accessories – for three months), and simplify your meal options to two or three meals you rotate all week. (For more information, visit https://bemorewithless.com/begin/.)

Consider a meat-free diet – Okay, this may be an extreme approach for many, but consider we are using 56 million acres of land across the globe to grow feed for animals, while only 4 million acres are actively producing plants for humans to eat, according to vegan lifestyle website www.happycow.net. Additionally, it takes 1,700 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, compared to 250 gallons for one pound of flour. According to Science Magazine, a meat-free diet can reduce your carbon emissions by nearly 75 percent. That’s a greater impact than you ditching the gas guzzler for an electric car. Not ready to go all in? Simply adding in a few meat-free meals each week can reduce reliance on water and land resources dedicated to animals.

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