I don’t own a car. I eat very little meat and even less fish. I recycle everything I can. I ride my bike or pt it everywhere. I carry my takeaway coffee cup – for which I am guilty about accepting – with me until I find a recycling bin. I buy carbon neutral hair shampoo and have a worm farm to recycle my food scraps. I source my household electricity through renewable energy. I founded a social enterprise that helps people recycle more. And, according to the WWF Footprint Calculator, we need 4 earths to sustain me.
The WWF Footprint Calculator tells me that because I buy packaged goods, often from major supermarkets, often when they are out of season or not easily grown in Australia (and so are shipped in from Asia and trucked long distances), I am living unsustainably. While I don’t eat much of it, I still eat meat. I drive my partner’s car. I fly. I drink coffee, milk and all. I live a considerable distance from where I purchase food, where I work, where I meet friends. I consume.
But what is all this about carbon emissions? Which bit about my life style causes carbon to be released?
Each of these behaviours burn fossil fuels. Driving obviously does. The food shipped from Asia is fossil fuel fuelled. The animals I eat require huge amounts of resources to sustain them, so that they sustain me. When we burn fossil fuels to power our lifestyles, waste products such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are released into the atmosphere. To get science-y on you, these gases absorb energy from radiation from the sun, which cause the gases to “move” more. When they “move” more, they become warmer. This process is known as the greenhouse effect and is a natural, normal thing that warms the earth’s surfaces and oceans.
However, too much carbon emissions means too much heat is created. What happens is that these gases absorb more energy from the sun’s radiation (as would make sense) and now there are just heaps of these gases building and building and building in the atmosphere.This level of greenhouse gases has caused an increase in the average global temperature and is often referred to as climate change (Climate Council, 2013; IPCC, 2013; Sturman and Tapper, 2006). Since the pre-industrial era, there has been an increase in carbon dioxide of 40% in the atmosphere. There are exciting and new methods and technologies being created that may release carbon emissions into space, but to my knowledge, this is not an available option yet. (Ideas, thoughts on this, welcome).
So we want to put less carbon emissions into the atmosphere so that less heat is trapped and climate change is less severe.
The Sustain Me app. The Sustain Me app was created out of frustration; we try to recycle our stuff but it’s either too hard (like batteries) or we do it wrong and it goes to landfill anyway (like plastic bags). Once you’ve consumed something, like a coffee cup or water bottle, there’s no going back. Those greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. But you can use that product as an opportunity to avoid creating more demand. If you recycle something, then you reduce demand for that item to be created again.
The Sustain Me app will count how many tonnes of carbon emissions you’ve saved by recycling that item. It tracks what you’ve saved and rewards you. Well, you reward yourself by reducing the amount of heat in the atmosphere, but the app tracks the good you are doing thanks you for it.
You might think that this is futile. Climate change can hardly be saved if just one person starts recycling more. You’re right. If just one person starts recycling more, then we’re screwed.
No, it’s going to take for you to recycle more.
*Much of the information regarding the greenhouse effect and global warming were sourced from Sturman and Tapper, 2006 and Meyer, 2014. Credit and thanks goes to Ananta Neelim, Sarah McElholum and Mitch Jeffrey for perfecting the science-y bits.