It's pretty much common knowledge that those of us living in industrialized nations are guilty of releasing way too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere -- a crime of humankind that most agree is speeding up the warming of our planet.
But since carbon dioxide, or CO2, is invisible, it's hard to visualize a ton of the stuff, or roughly the amount of the gas each American is responsible for emitting over the course of 18 days.
What if we knew exactly what our monthly carbon footprint looked like? Might we change our ways and go on a "CO2 diet" in an effort to reduce our waste? A group currently touring the west coast of Greenland as part of Cape Farewell's 2008 expedition -- a seminar-on-sea for artists and scientists concerned with climate change -- thinks so.
"Taking action on climate change means making the invisible visible,"
Sunand Prasad, a London-based architect, told this DoSomething.org reporter as the Russian sea vessel carrying Cape Farewell's 46 voyagers navigated Arctic waters. "Our job as architects and artists is to take what the scientists are telling us and to render it visible and evident so everyone can understand it."
Cape Farewell oceanographer, Dr. Simon Boxall of England, says there is evidence to support that "climate change is very real." Indeed, a probe that Simon released into Arctic waters off of the east coast of Greenland during a previous Cape Farewell trip has been sending back some rather worrying information. According to Simon's probe, affectionately known as Bob, the temperature of the sea water that used to hover between 0 and -2 degrees Celsius -- creating winter ice that would sometimes prevent Bob from reaching the surface -- has recently warmed to an average of 2 degrees above freezing, allowing Bob to, well, keep bobbing along.
Thus, Sunand, the London-based founding partner of Penoyre and Prasad LLP, and President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, developed an art project that would convey the reality of our rapidly-warming planet. Last Wednesday, as the pink Arctic dusk gave way to darkness, Sunand's team erected a floating, open-air cube outlined by roughly 30 feet by 30 feet of glow-in-the-dark wire and hot-pink balloons tied with 18 feet of string.
Extreme wind gusts prevented the wires from being illuminated; nevertheless, the cube accurately represented 540 cubic meters, or 18 days of an American's carbon emissions -- an amount that's equal to about a month of CO2 emitted by someone who lives in Great Britain.
(Americans emit more, Sunand says, because we "drive larger cars for longer distances, fly farther, use much more energy for heating and air conditioning, and eat more meat.)
In order to begin reversing the affects (Greenland's gigantic Ilulusit glaciers are sliding down the land and into the sea at an alarming rate, for e.g. -- something Cape Farewell's voyagers were able to experience with our own eyes), we need to cut way, way back on the emissions. "For Americans, that equals a reduction that equals a tenth of what you're using right now," Sunand says.
Impossible? Not so: "All we have to do is go back to what the missions were in 1974 and go back to that; if [we each personally commit to] chipping away bit by bit, we can do it," Sunand says optimistically, before adding: "We also have to look to scientists, engineers, governments and corporations to come up with new ways of producing energy without burning fossil fuels."
Here are Sunand's 7 tips so you can Do Something about reducing your carbon footprint starting right NOW:
- Measure your carbon footprint and commit to shrinking it. "The biggest thing you can do yourself is to be aware of your OWN contributions to CO2 emissions, and change your life" to avoid unnecessary emissions, says Sunand. Working out your carbon footprint is easy; simply follow the directions at any number of sites, including Carbon Footprint and Climate Crisis.
- Cut down on the energy you use. "If everybody turned out the lights that they don't need everyday, they would cut out up to one-tenth of their emissions," Sunand says. And you've heard it many times: Don't leave your phone or blackberry charger plugged in after your gadget's been fully re-juiced. Those plugs continue to suck unnecessary energy -- how wasteful!
- Don't leave your electronics on standby. It's simple: Shut off your video game console, television, laptop, etc., when you're not using them. "It's a complete falsehood that if you leave your monitor on overnight it uses less energy than if you restart it in the morning," Sunand says. In fact, keeping the computer on while you sleep "is like printing 800 photocopies!" Whoa!
- Eat less meat. Fact: It's easy being green when you're a veggie. "Producing and processing meat is very energy intensive," Sunand says.
- Walk or cycle wherever possible. Simply put: "Don't ask your parents to drive you everywhere."
- Chill on the excessive heating and air conditioning. Americans have a bad habit of turning up the house heating way too high in the winter and the air conditioning in the summer. "In the summer don't make your home too cold -- definitely not below 75 degrees. And in the winter, wear a sweater or use a throw blanket while watching TV. It's much cozier anyway."
- Share these tips with friends, family and your Facebook-mates. Spreading the word will help reduce America's CO2 emissions -- one giant step for mankind, indeed!
For more ideas on what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint, click here.