Becoming climate conscious: reducing your carbon footprint

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Category 5 hurricanes, including Irma and Maria, made landfall six times in 2017, more than ever since recording began in 1851, according to Brenden Moses, a researcher at the National Hurricane Center. Millions of US citizens in Puerto Rico are without power and clean water as they face overwhelmed hospitals, extensive flooding, and widespread food shortages.

The occurrence of storms like Hurricanes Maria, Irma and Harvey cannot be specifically attributed to climate change, the damage was worsened by factors that are attributable to human-influenced climate change, namely rising sea-levels,  according to Michael E Mann professor and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center.

Meanwhile, research published by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that “an increase in the numbers of the most intense tropical cyclones” and greater volume of rainfall are connected to warmer ocean temperatures.

Noelia Rosario Marrero, who is studying English at UVU as part of an exchange program from her university in Puerto Rico, said she has still not had any contact with her parents in Puerto Rico. Marrero said she is collecting money to donate to organizations on the ground.

“The whole country does not have electricity,” said Marrero. “Only 25 percent have access to fresh water. The situation is very terrible; it’s really sad. I just want to do something to help.”

While donations are very much needed, and the work to rebuild devastated areas ought to remain in the national conversation until a full recovery is made, conversations around evaluating and changing one’s personal environmental footprint cannot be overlooked.

Research published this year by Seth Wynes in the journal Environmental Research Letters indicates that the four most impactful ways to reduce carbon emissions are the following: eating a plant-based diet, limiting transatlantic flight, living car-free, and having smaller families. However, the carbon emissions saved though these methods have drastically different impact levels, meaning that engaging in only some changes, or even one strategic change, can help avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

Living car-free could save almost 2.5 tons of carbon emission per person per year, while having one less child can result in saving almost 60 tons. However, goals set out by the Paris Climate Accords call for cutting back on only 2.1 tons in carbon emissions per person per year in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Going without a car seems like a big change, but simple choices like living close to a public transit station make that lofty goal attainable.

While these decisions are incredibly personal and must not take the place of alleviating the immediate need in areas that have been devastated by the storms, it is critical that every person decide how they are going to achieve the 2.1 ton savings in carbon emissions, so that the world can avoid catastrophic consequences that disproportionately leave the most poor to the unforgiving forces of the elements.

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