How to tell if your lifestyle is harmful to the Earth

Online shopping, eating out-of-season foods, and cross-country road trips all have something in common. Can you tell what it is? Each behavior requires something (your stuff, your food, you) to travel long distances, most likely with the help of a gas-fueled combustion engine. Of course, sometimes these behaviors can’t be avoided, but by knowing your carbon footprint, it becomes easier to choose eco-friendly options or offset your carbon emissions in other ways when you can.

What is a carbon footprint?

Your carbon footprint is a calculation (in metric tons) of all of the carbon dioxide emissions you have directly or indirectly caused based on factors like energy usage, fossil-fuel or renewable energy, diet, etc.

Each choice that you make during the course of your day has the potential to add to or subtract from your carbon footprint, but in the urban, developed lifestyle that many of us lead, sometimes the effects are less straightforward than you’d think.

Take this situation for example:

Today for lunch I was deciding whether to pack a vegetarian salad made from leftovers in my fridge or buy a salmon-topped salmon from a cafe. I decided to go with the vegetarian salad and started building it, but I began to realize that nearly all of the ingredients had been shipped in from all over the planet! Here is the recipe I used (for a great salad, even if it wasn’t carbon-neutral)

A yummy salad with roasted winter vegetables

  • Shredded kale (California, 2,587mi)
  • Roasted butternut squash (Local, 4.5mi)
  • Roasted beets (Local, 4.5mi)
  • Goat cheese (DC, 481mi)
  • Cooked barley (Iowa, 1,045mi)
  • Bottled raspberry vinaigrette dressing (California, 2,687)

To top it all off, I found out that the salmon salad I would have bought at the cafe is made from all local ingredients, and even the salmon, which would have a higher carbon rating because it’s meat (meaning you have to include another layer in your calculations for the prey consumed by the animal you are eating), was sustainably farmed by a local business.

I guess the lesson here is that no matter what you do, there’s no way to be perfect. But, I think it’s important to think about these things in the first place, because making small choices for the good of the environment is a good habit for us all to get into.

(For anyone who wants to take a crack at calculating your carbon footprint, try it out here and let me know how it goes!)

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