Re-Setting the Carbon Balance
Carbon more than lives up to its billing as being incredibly important to our lives on earth.
It’s an essential building block of life, present in every living thing where it’s needed to form molecules like proteins.
Ever-present, it’s stored in so-called carbon reservoirs like the ocean, geological formations, trees and plants. And it’s also present in the air we breathe.
The fourth most abundant element in the universe, carbon determines whether something is organic or inorganic in origin. It can be in in solid form like allotropes, such as graphite and diamond, and compounds like limestone or oyster shells, or in gas form as carbon dioxide (CO2).
But it’s the gas form of carbon dioxide that’s given carbon - this vital component of life - such a bad reputation in recent years, making the phrase Carbon Footprint a villain of everyday life.
Upsetting Natural Balance
Carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is a so-called greenhouse gas, that traps the sun’s radiation energy as it reflects back to space from the Earth’s surface.
Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, water vapour, and fluorocarbons are needed to create the greenhouse effect in the earth’s atmosphere – together, they maintain liveable environments for all of us below on the surface. Without them, we’d all be freezing in temperatures well below zero.
Carbon dioxide is the most common of the greenhouse gases by volume and the most resilient, outlasting the others by hundreds of years.
And these two qualities mean it’s also considered to be the most damaging of the greenhouse gases. Put this together with Man’s well-proven talent for overloading Mother Nature’s bounty and you have a recipe for disaster.
Rise of the Machines
For millions of years, Mother Nature happily kept carbon dioxide ticking over, with the greenhouse effect doing as it was intended to maintain optimal temperatures on earth for life to exist as intended.
Then, about 250 years ago, came our Industrial Revolution with more and more carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels as rapid growth of industry and its associated pollution became routine.
The atmospheric balance of greenhouse gases that had been sustaining life on earth was knocked out of kilter, and the planet began to heat up – in other words, global warming became an everyday occurrence.
Another important ingredient in this recipe for disaster is deforestation, caused by destruction of forests for timber, or farming and housing to cater to the needs of expanding populations.
Deforestation means there’s fewer natural carbon reservoirs in the shape of trees to absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – and with fewer plants and trees to hoover up excess carbon dioxide, it builds-up as a greenhouse gas.
The ocean is another carbon reservoir too, but all the excess carbon dioxide absorbed by its waters has caused ocean acidisation, wiping out marine creatures and coral, as well as affecting another building block of life, phytoplankton’s ability to photosynthesise.
In Nature, everything works well when there’s balance. But it’s pretty obvious that our carbon has gone off the scale, with the earth’s carbon reservoirs filled to bursting, causing runaway climate change from pole to pole.
And we only have ourselves to blame.
How to restore a healthy carbon balance and re-set the climate is one of the great challenges of the modern world.
But with methodical approaches, a commitment to betterment - and now, support from new technological applications – there’s real optimism that the goal of restoring the planet’s carbon balance is achievable.
As part of this, the phrase Carbon Footprint entered our lexicon some years ago and is now an ever-present concern in the on-going crusade to clean-up the planet
The theory is that each one of us has a carbon footprint – from the minute we get up in the morning, we’re doing something that emits carbon.
Scientists have calculated that for our lives to continue comfortably on earth, the personal limit of carbon emissions of each person – an individual’s carbon footprint - is 2.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
To put it into an alarming perspective, in 2019 the average Australian and American had around the same carbon footprint – of about 16 tonnes, way above the ideal 2.2 tonnes. Elsewhere, Germany’s per capita average was around 9 tonnes and in the UK it was 5.5 tonnes. Clearly, there’s massive room for improvement.
But once you become aware of your personal carbon footprint it can become second nature to take steps that will reduce it.
Cutting Back on Carbon
It can become a bit like dieting, cutting out the foods you know are unhealthy and will thicken your waistline. So, once you become aware of your biggest causes of carbon emissions you can reduce them, or even cut them out completely.
But this diet isn’t to help you lose weight, it’s for the health of the earth we all live on.
There are obvious activities to reduce that will significantly cut down your carbon footprint – driving the car, reducing heating, switching light bulbs to LED, turning off electronics from standby modes and using re-usable products.
Others are less obvious, such as changing your diet to cut out meat that’s been intensively farmed cutting-out imported foodstuffs that have been delivered by air, and avoiding banks or institutions that invest in fossil fuels.
However, this road to reduce your personal carbon footprint – although paved with good intentions - can become wayward and confused without clear signposts to guide you to a better future.
Technology to the Rescue
Now an exciting new bang up-to-date way to chart a smooth, efficient path towards a better carbon footprint has recently been unveiled in the US.
It’s a new smartphone App on iOS that helps you live more sustainably by tracking your carbon footprint – and at the same time suggesting better buying choices in the supermarket by comparing the carbon footprints of all the different products on offer.
Launched by swrm, the app allows you to scan the items on sale to compare their carbon footprints and select the one that’s most environmentally responsible based on factors of production, manufacture and delivery.
And this swrm app also has the potential to change attitudes for the better further up the food chain.
For every time a product is left on the shelf based on its carbon footprint, it can leverage both the retailer and manufacturer to improve their product lines with better environmental credentials.
As well as applying the swrm App to measure their carbon footprints while shopping, its users can also track the carbon-emitting potential of their other daily activities, such as commuting, using smartphones or laptops, and even doing the laundry.
All in all, it’s a powerful tool to make environmentally and socially-responsible choices - in the palm of your hand – and a fitting smart response to the carbon challenge
And as an all-round response to this challenge, the swrm App also has a website of education and explanation, with information on climate change impacts, climate science and sustainable living.
Its aim is to build a global community of like-minded people, whose actions to help each other build a more sustainable future are all evidence-based.
The swrm App is being rolled-out globally and due to launch on Android this year. Free to download, it can be found on the App Store – in available countries and territories – under swrm or carbon footprint tracker.
To find out more, visit: greenswrm.com
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