Is Cutting Your Carbon Footprint Going to Make a Difference?

by A.D Paterson on 22/11/2010

For a number of years now we’ve been hearing the call for people to cut the size of their carbon footprint; but will this really help? Can one person or even one nation really make all that much of a difference to the environment?

In this article we’re going to have a look at what happened over the year 2009, and whether it’s a fair indication of what effect cutting back on our own personal carbon footprint is going to do for the environment.

If you don’t already know by now, there was a bit of a downturn in the economies of the developed nations over the last few years. That economic downturn lead to less demand for some of the products and services that tend to have a higher rate of carbon emissions, however, things weren’t quite as they were predicted.

According to Pierre Friedlingstein, the lead researcher on the analysis of 2009 emissions data being published in the Journal Nature Geoscience, the demand in fossil fuels dropped by 1.3%; and that is only the equivalent of four days’ worth of carbon emissions.

The prediction is that it will all start to get back on track again, and we’ll start to see the emissions rate rise by 3% per year, a rate which they’ve been at since the year 2000.

The big problem seems to be the fact that the developing nations use far more coal than the developed nations, coal is far less carbon-efficient, and this caused a certain amount of balancing out when you compare the reduced carbon footprint in the developed nations with the increase in the less carbon-efficient coal used in the developing nations.

For instance, in 2009 the carbon emission of the United Kingdom dropped by 8.6%, in Japan they fell by 11.8%, and in Germany the drop was 7%. In contrast India’s carbon emissions increased by 6.2% and in China they increased by 8%.

As economies start to get back on track, and demand begins to build again for products that require higher carbon emissions, we will see the carbon footprint of the developed nations climb again, and the carbon emissions of the developing nations continue to rise as they have been.

Seeing as the decreases in the developing nations were economically driven, and not necessarily as a direct choice of people looking to save the planet by cutting their carbon footprint, what hope is there that one person can make a difference?

Does the world need to go through a recession, or ‘credit crunch’, every few years just to make sure the amount of carbon emissions are kept in check? Even then, as we’ve seen from the 2009 figures, the effects are minimal, unless some of the developed nations can help to turn the developing nations a little ‘greener’.

What’s the point in going through, and learning from, industrial revolutions if we don’t pass on what we’ve learnt so as to short circuit the process in the developing nations, and therefore eliminate a lot of the emissions that will be produced as they ‘find their own way’?

So there we have it; is cutting your carbon footprint going to make a difference?

The answer we’d have been hoping for is ‘yes’, however, the results show that even something as large as a global recession caused only a minimal decrease in the overall level of carbon emissions.

Unless we find a way of helping out nations that are far more reliant on fossil fuels to produce their energy the rate of emissions will go back to its pre 2009 growth level of 3% per year.

Although we may not get the dramatic turnaround we’d have been expecting, if enough people did it, we could make some difference if we cut our carbon footprint.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Miller November 26, 2011 at 8:34 am

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Doris Ward December 15, 2011 at 3:23 pm

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Amanda Owens December 21, 2011 at 2:39 pm

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