This week I met an owner of an Tesla Model S electric sedan who raised the question of whether electric vehicles are really better for the environment when you include the resources that go into making the battery and the impact of disposing of it. He was feeling uneasy about his environmental bona fides.
Renault recently made public a report that provides a fair assessment by comparing an electric version of its Fluence sedan with gas and diesel-powered versions of the same car. And it makes clear that electric cars are, indeed, better for the environment. The report is a life-cycle assessment, a “cradle to grave” analysis, including not only the emissions involved in using the car, but also the emissions from making it, the resources consumed in manufacturing, and a range of environmental impacts. It looked at not only greenhouse-gas emissions, but impacts on acid rain, ozone pollution, algae blooms, consumption of water and materials such as steel and copper, and total energy demand.
The study found that while the environmental impact of making electric vehicles is greater than for making gas and diesel vehicles, this is more than made up for by the greater impact of gas and diesel vehicles while they’re being used. This is true in terms of total energy consumption, use of resources, greenhouse gases, and ozone pollution. The electric vehicles were assumed to be charged from a grid that includes significant amounts of fossil fuels. (Other studies show that electric vehicles beat gas-powered ones in terms of greenhouse gas emissions even if they’re charged in regions that depend heavily on coal. Here’s one such study. In some areas, hybrids are a better choice than electric cars.)
Electric vehicles come out behind in two areas. They contribute slightly more to acid rain. And they’re slightly worse in terms of causing algae blooms than gasoline cars (but better than diesel).
Kevin BullisSenior Editor, Materials
My reporting as MIT Technology Review’s senior editor for materials has taken me, among other places, to the oil-rich deserts of the Middle East and to China, where mountains are being carved away to build the looming cities.… More
Growing up, I lived for a time in the Philippines, where I knew people who lit their tiny homes with single lantern batteries or struggled to breathe through the dense diesel fumes of Manila, so I have a feel for the pressing need around the world for both cheap energy and clean energy.
What is Carbon Footprint?
To many, the notion of talking about their carbon footprint is still a novel one and in most instances, bearing in mind that human beings are sociable creatures, the subject of carbon footprints is rarely brought up in conversations. Yet, it’s important to start as early as today to have a conversation about the many ways you can reduce your carbon footprint. Before even reading any further, you can start thinking about ways to reduce the excess waste lying in and around your home. Seeing that space remains at a premium, you can begin by asking yourself this question; what don’t I need. After reading this article you will begin to have a clearer picture of just how much those unnecessary items contribute towards increasing your carbon footprint, rather than reducing it.
The term carbon footprint is defined as the amount of carbon (usually in tonnes) being emitted by an organization, event, product or individual directly or indirectly. Everyone’s carbon footprint is different depending on their location, habits and personal choice. Each of us contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions either by the way we travel, the food we eat, the amount of electricity we consume and many more.
For example, when you drive a car and burn fuel, it generates certain amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. When you heat your house, it also generates CO2 assuming that electricity is coming from coal powered plants and similarly when you eat food, it also generates some quantities of CO2 as the food gets processed.
There are people, organizations and even local governments who have begun talking about the carbon footprint and motivating each other to put in place plans to reduce their carbon footprint. But they aren’t always sure about the most effective ways forward.
They also react with caution (otherwise recklessly) because footprint reductions require a drastic change to lifestyles and current ways of doing things. This short explanation on the carbon footprint guides those still new to the concept.
- Essentially, the carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the Earth’s atmosphere due to the daily activities of humankind, whether domestically or commercially.
- It is also known as accumulative sets of greenhouse gas emissions caused by humankind or human-made products. It is argued that there is also no known method of calculating the total carbon footprint because of the large amounts of data allegedly required to do this.
- This argument of calculation is extended further in the belief that carbon dioxide is still mainly produced by natural elements.
Main Contributors to Carbon Footprint
But climate scientists and global campaigners for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions argue that there is more than enough evidence to suggest that enough damage has already been done. So, they say, whether measurements need to be taken or not, action needs to be taken today. These are just some of the main contributors to today’s carbon footprint.
- Energy – Here, carbon footprint emissions are collective, coming from a variety of sources, namely industrial processes, transport and electricity and fuel emissions.
- Industrialization – Since the industrial revolution began during the middle of the twentieth century, CO2 has continued to rise unchecked and at alarming rates.
- Agriculture – Most agricultural processes within developed and developing nations are still being carried out commercially with the result that mass production of livestock has led to large levels of methane gas being released into the atmosphere.
- Waste – No matter which process or activity is being carried out, the waste from these is excessive. It is also having a harmful impact on the earth’s natural resources (flora, fauna and the oceans).
- Human action (and inaction) – Ultimately, the way humankind has become accustomed to doing things every day, keeping pace with the need to do things more quickly and with more convenience, has contributed towards the exponential increase in carbon footprints on an annual basis.
Most Harmful Contributors
Hundreds of companies from around the world are making concerted efforts to reduce their own carbon footprints. But the biggest culprits numbering no more than one hundred of the world’s largest companies have been the most reluctant to change. Also, they continue to resist legislative attempts to do so through legal means.
But they have been responsible for two thirds of CO2 emissions so far. Here are some anecdotal highlights on the reactive and destructive actions of some of these companies.
- Many of the large energy producing companies are influenced by investor’s contributions and stake holdings from government institutions. In some countries, the state still holds a majority share in these companies.
- In the last twenty five to thirty years at least half of estimated emissions have come from these oil and coal burning companies alone. In some places, mandated by governments to do so, they are also holding large reserves of fossil fuels. If these are burned, the earth is placed at even greater risk.
- On the global, governmental scale, the USA, China and India are the largest emitters of human-induced greenhouse gasses, while South Africa is the biggest contributor on the African continent. The argument demanding that developed nations make larger contributions towards reducing the carbon footprint while the world’s least developed nations are given concessions is an ignorant one.
Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
The situation of annual (large) increases in greenhouse gas emissions is serious. It warrants immediate action, no delays and without compromise. Huge gatherings (in their thousands) at conferences designed to have a conversation about the carbon footprint are encouraging.
But some points and opportunities have, to date, been missed. Invariably, groups discuss ways and means to reduce their carbon footprints without adversely affecting their vested interests or the communities or nations they represent. Done correctly, the reduction of carbon footprints is going to change lives.
And it will be for the greater good in the long term. Here are some of the most effective ways to make an immediate impact on reducing your carbon footprint, whether individually, domestically or commercially.
- Driving – Hybrids may still be out of reach of most drivers, mainly due to its price, but it is a necessary alternative to conventional vehicles run on petrol or diesel. Also, when driving, motorists should avoid heavily congested road networks. How well they drive also makes an impact on reducing their carbon footprint.
- Instead of driving – The popular and healthy advice is to walk instead of driving. Those who have too far to travel can also use rapid bus transport networks and urban rail networks.
- Less red meat – Vegetarians are already off to a good start because most of their consumptive waste can be recycled easily. However the greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural produce such as cattle and poultry are substantial. Where there is less demand surely emissions can be reduced.
- Buy local – Adding to the above remark, buying local, organic produce effectively counters mass-produced agricultural outcomes. There is a dramatic reduction in the amount of plastic being used to package products and fuel usage during long road transits is also reduced.
- Energy efficiency at home – All appliances that are not being used must be switched off immediately. And all electrical outlets not in use must also be switched off. Hot-water geysers should be switched off for the entire day and only turned on when needed. These are simple, yet practical lifestyle habits which are easy to adopt.
- Buy green energy – It is quite possible to power your own home with environmentally-sustainable alternatives of energy production without compromising your lifestyle and waiting for national grids to be connected via green energy supply sources. For instance, technology is now available for you to install your own solar power panels.
- Recycle and re-use – Vegetable produce can be converted into compost (or manure) for gardens, even vegetable gardens. Instead of buying more food containers, plastic containers sourced from the supermarket can be refashioned as ideal kitchen utensils. Also, where plastic waste is no longer required, seek out recycling depots rather than relying on your supplied garbage disposal units.
- Avail WFH Facility – Do you really need to go to office to complete your daily work? If you have an option to work from home even for couple of days in a week, just opt for it. It will reduce the huge CO2 burden in case you are using your own vehicle for commuting. Do you really need to fly and attend business meetings or conferences. Why not make use of teleconferences and attend these meetings remotely. It may not be possible every time but even if you are able to do skip couple of meetings in a month, that will make a huge difference.
- Purchase Carbon Credits – For some companies or private individuals, some emissions are unavoidable. For those, purchasing carbon credits is a worthwhile option. This is done by purchasing these carbon credits from companies who will invest those dollars on their behalf on some renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.
- Plant a Tree – One of the best way to give it back to the environment is to plant trees. Plants absorb CO2 and release oxygen that is then used by humans and animals. According to the Urban Forestry Network, a single young tree absorbs 13 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.
The urgency required to react to governments’ slow responses to legislating carbon footprint-reducing initiatives is now widely known. It is also quite easy to implement as the above examples have shown. For those new to the concept of carbon footprint, this introduction also empowers them to act on their own rather than wait for someone to tell them to or for more dire warnings to be made.
Image credit: Alisdare Hickson , David
Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.
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