Earth Maters: Our carbon footprint – the legacy we leave for our grandchildren


I think about this a lot. I am deeply saddened that my grandchildren will never experience the full magnificence and diversity of this planet on which they were born.

Indeed, in their lifetime they will be witness to mass extinctions, migrations, flooding, wildfires, lethal storms, scarceness of clean water and food accessibility, and endure personal hardship due to extreme temperatures. In fact, it has already begun.

As the CEOs of the fossil fuel industries make decisions that destroy habitats and important planet-protective ecosystems and load our atmosphere with carbon dioxide, knowing full well the consequences of these actions, it makes me wonder how those people sleep at night.

According to the world’s top climate scientists, a change in this scenario and other planet-threatening industrial practices has to be made today to stem the tide. They say we must be at net-zero by 2050. Do we have the will for this herculean effort?

Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, confirms that civil disobedience is not only a moral choice; it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics and solving pressing problems.

According to Chenoweth, it takes a mere “3.5 percent of the population actively participating in protests to ensure serious political change.” I feel pretty certain there are more people than this who care deeply about doing something about climate change.

In fact, last week, we saw young people around the world marching in the streets demanding that climate change become a priority for all nations. Since their generation will bear the burden, they want action, not just talk. Some are actually doing just that.

A young girl from Sweden arrived on the shores of lower Manhattan a few weeks ago, having crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a zero-emissions sailboat, powered by solar panels and underwater turbines.

Although it can be argued that the boat was made from materials that utilized fossil fuel feedstock and clearly is not a transportation option for the general public, flying in an airplane, it turns out, is a huge contributor of CO2 and other pollutants which also have a warming effect on the planet.

A one-way flight across the Atlantic from London to New York City emits one ton of carbon dioxide per passenger. There are approximately 2,500 flights across the Atlantic every day, and that’s just one air corridor.

Flying across the country from New York to San Francisco round trip emits approximately 2 tons of carbon dioxide per passenger. Worldwide, airplanes account for 2.5 percent of global greenhouse emissions, about 860 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. Their carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption rose 7% from 2016 to 2018, overshadowing a 3 percent gain in fuel efficiency.

Dan Rutherford, one of the authors of a recent report on the airlines issued by the International Council on Clean Transportation said, “We are heading off an emissions cliff right now. Without huge strides in efficiency, aviation will fall short of contributing its share toward meeting the Paris accord goals for reducing emissions and curbing climate change.”

The report said airlines could reduce emissions and fuel consumption more than 25  by buying newer, more fuel efficient planes and filling them with more passengers. “It’s crazy that you can get all this data on the cost of your ticket and amenities on your flight, but you have no information about how carbon-intensive your flight is,” Rutherfordpercent said.

Well, this is something every one of us can do something about. Plan vacations nearby, which is easy to do since we have beaches and luxury destinations within a few hours (or a day’s ride) of Long Island. And how about those destination weddings? One hundred or so people all flying to and from a distant location for a few hours of celebration? Hopefully, someone brings it up during the planning stage.

When possible, book non-stop flights; more fuel is used for take-offs, and choose an airline that is utilizing biofuels or one that offers carbon offsets. Or, did you ever think about taking the train to get to a vacation spot? Trains are probably our most carbon-friendly modes of transportation. I have made the trip across the country on a train a few times and always enjoyed seeing the changing landscape up close, not to mention a ½ day layover in Chicago with enough time to visit the Art Institute and have lunch!

Though this is not a perfect transition, it is important to mention another planetary carbon crisis in the making. We are destroying the rainforests at a breakneck pace of 6,000 acres every hour due to logging and clearing land for grazing old dairy stock so we can make them into fast-food hamburgers.

For sure, it’s a moneymaker, but we have been seeing the consequences of this right in front of our eyes as fires ravage one of the most important eco-systems on the planet. We have always relied on these massive tropical areas as carbon sinks, their rich soil and fast-growing trees sucking vast amounts of carbon out of the air. However, new studies show that these areas have now become sources of carbon, releasing an estimated 425 million tons of CO2 annually.

Stop chopping down trees and start planting them…a long term solution that will benefit future generations, and something every person on this planet can do.

So, how do we talk to our children about all of this? I have always thought that if children didn’t know nature intimately, they wouldn’t really understand why it needed to be protected. Kids need time outdoors in nature and we need to have old fashioned conversations around the dinner table about how our changing world is harming this fragile place we call home. And, maybe, just maybe, walk in the streets so our leaders might feel compelled to join us.


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