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Talking to your grown-ups about your carbon footprint


Kacper Pempel/Reuters

You can learn a lot from grownups, but sometimes they can learn a lot from you, too! What's a carbon footprint, and how can you make yours smaller? Read on to find out how to reduce your carbon footprint then share what you’ve learned with your grownups so they can change their habits too.

What's carbon, anyway?

Coal mine shat in Poland.
Coal mine in Poland. Barbara Lewis/Reuters

Carbon dioxide (or CO₂) is the waste material that comes from burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal. Too much carbon dioxide is bad for the environment — when it builds up in our air, it acts like an invisible blanket and traps too much heat from the sun, which part of what is causing climate change. Cimate change is a term we use when we talk about the fact that the earth is warming up too much, too quickly. 

Because the earth is warming up too quickly, we're seeing extreme and dangerous weather conditions around the world, and all kinds of plants and animals are being put in danger. 

What is a carbon footprint?

Kids walking home in smog.
Students in Jambi, Indonesia go home early due to smog. Antara Foto Agency/Reuters

A carbon footprint isn’t an actual print you make with your feet but is more like a measurement of how much carbon dioxide you create by your day-to-day human activities. The more carbon dioxide you create, the bigger your carbon footprint is. There are lots of little ways that we make our carbon footprints bigger on a daily basis that we don’t even realize.

Here are five things that have an effect on your carbon footprint:

1. How Much Energy You Use

A wind farm in Alberta.
A wind farm generates electricity in Alberta. Todd Korol/Reuters

Electricity we use for household items like fridges, laundry machines, TVs, computers, lights, heaters and so on can use a lot of energy which increases the size of your carbon footprint.

How you can help:

  • Turn off the lights when you're not using them.
  • Turn off or unplug appliances when they are not in use.
  • Use energy-saving light bulbs.
  • Use renewable energy like solar, wind power or geothermal heat.

2. How Much Water You Use

A kitchen tap with water dripping.
When at home, ask a grownup not to run the dishwasher or laundry machine until it's full. Photo by Polaristest licensed CC BY-NC-ND 

Using less water is a great way to make your carbon footprint smaller. It takes energy to get clean water to your house, so when you use less water, you use less energy! Plus, you get the added bonus of not wasting a precious resource. 

How you can help:

  • Take short showers instead of baths.
  • Turn off the water while brushing your teeth.
  • Avoid bottled water — remember our post about single use plastics?

3. How Much Waste You Create

An example of single-use plastic collected over one week.
Plastic waste used and collected over one week’s time. Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

We humans make a lot of waste. Think about all the energy that goes into making garbage! First, there was the energy use and transport whatever you've thrown away, then there's the energy needed to transport it to a landfill where it sits taking up valuable land space!

How you can help:

  • Buy things that don't come with too much packaging. 
  • Re-use things as much as you can (take care of your toys and clothes so they'll last longer!).
  • Recycle whenever possible.

4. The Kind of Food You Eat

A butcher arranges meat in a market display.
Eating less meat will help reduce the impact on the environment. Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

Food production and transportation of food creates a massive carbon footprint, but foods like red meat and cheese are especially harmful because of farming practices around the world. (It takes a lot of energy and land to keep animals!)

How you can help:

  • Eat less meat and cheese.
  • Eat foods that come from farms close to where you live instead of foods that come from far away countries.

5. How You Get Around

Traffic jam,
According to StatsCan, global road transportation is responsible for 74% of global CO₂ emissions. Photo by Wylie Poon licensed CC BY-ND 2.0

Planes, buses, cars and trucks all use gasoline to power them and that creates a lot of carbon dioxide.

How you can help:

  • Instead of getting in a car or bus, try cycling to school or walking when where you’re going isn’t too far away. 

If we can all make these small changes every day, it can make a huge impact on lowering our carbon footprints!