Like most people who live in the Bay Area, I considered my lifestyle to be very environmentally friendly. While the rest of America was off denying climate science and trashing the planet, I knew that my fellow Californians and I were setting a course for sustainability. Between recycling and driving a prius, I thought I had my bases covered. I was doing my part for the planet.
But a few weeks ago, a friend directed me to an eco-footprint calculator. I was surprised that very few of the questions concerned what I considered to be the main aspects of a “green” lifestyle. Question after question, I slowly came to the realization that most of my environmental impact was externalized. The calculator’s results swiftly knocked me off my high horse. That day I learned that humanity would need the equivalent of five earths to support my lifestyle.
Presently, much of the discussion on the environment focuses on government policy at the state and national levels. This discussion conveniently leaves out individual lifestyle changes, leading to an attitude of indifference when it comes to the protecting the planet.
Examples of such indifference can be seen on a daily basis at PHS. A quick glance inside PHS’s compost, recycling, and landfill bins reveals that a significant portion of the student body completely disregards the labeling on the bins. Piedmont Park is covered with plastic wrappers, disposable containers, and other remnants of people’s lunches.
However, lack of environmental consciousness goes beyond those who blatantly violate it. Even individuals who go as far as recycling and turning off unused appliances have a ways to go in terms of sustainability. According to a recent mapping of American per capita carbon footprints by zip code, the average household carbon footprint for Piedmont’s zip code is twice that of China and eight times that of India (the only reason those nations are major polluters is that their populations are many times as big as ours). Over half of our footprint comes from easily improvable areas, such as transportation, food, and consumer goods. The data presents a clear way to reduce carbon footprints at the individual level.
By being green commuters, Piedmont residents could cut the carbon output of the biggest contributor to their carbon footprints. Unfortunately, according to the 2010 census, only 26.9 percent of Piedmont residents carpooled or used public transportation to get to work. Thankfully, many residents have begun participating in casual carpool, a system in which riders and drivers meet at specified location to carpool to work. Students should ask their parents whether they use casual carpool or other low emission commuting methods.
Like many Piedmont residents, I consume meat on a daily basis. I also forget to buy locally grown produce. When a manufactured good in my possession stops working, I discard it instead of fixing it. Combined, all these lifestyle choices are the leading factors in my unsustainable lifestyle. Often, we are unaware of our externalized carbon footprint that comes from foods we consume and the goods we purchase.
We cannot see the ecological damage caused by raising animals, nor the emissions generated through the creation of the goods we consume. For these reasons, I plan on lowering my beef consumption, and continue using my old electronic devices for as long as I can. Buying less and eating healthier goes a long way, benefiting me and the environment.
With all these opportunities to lower our ecological footprints, students have the power to influence change in Piedmont and the rest of the world. All it takes are a few effortless lifestyle changes.