Here at Ecojustice, hot on the heels of our recent carbon audit, we’re spring cleaning our environmental policies and trying to reduce our negative impacts. The biggest lesson we’ve learned is the significance of cumulative impacts. But hand-wringing over a potential Eco-pocalypse won’t get us anywhere. Ecojustice believes that knowledge is power and education allows us to make positive changes. So in the interest of sharing some of the things we’ve learned, read on.
Not surprisingly, mode of travel makes a huge difference. Flying from Vancouver to Toronto emits one tonne CO2 equivalent (per passenger) into the atmosphere. That said, most of us aren’t jet-setting around the country on a daily basis. But be aware – small daily actions can have large cumulative impacts. For example, if you drive 13 km to and from work each day, you will drive roughly 6,400 km in one year – and emit 1.76 tonnes of CO2e.
How many of us drink coffee or tea every day? Coffee and tea have carbon footprints, but interestingly, cream and milk have a carbon footprint of up to three times larger than that of coffee alone. Why is this? Cows emit methane, and methane has higher global warming potential than carbon (more than 20 times higher). And although a hot drink in the morning seems like a measly contribution to global levels of CO2, according to Agriculture and Agri-foods Canada, Canadians consume 14 billion cups of coffee a year. Not only is that a lot of coffee, that’s also a LOT of natural resources used, waste generated and carbon emitted in order to grow, process and produce that coffee.
Think of all the products you use on a daily basis. How many of them are “environmentally-friendly?” How many of them contain chemicals that are potentially harmful to the environment? During the Cohen Commission — the federal inquiry into sockeye salmon declines in the Fraser River — we learned that wastewater treatment plants do not filter out many chemicals that can cause sub-lethal chronic effects on fish and surrounding environments. Many of the products we use are flushed down drains into our water systems and inevitably, they end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans.
According to a 2009 report, a single email has a carbon footprint of 4g of CO2e while a spam email’s footprint is 0.3g CO2e. Individually these don’t seem like they would have too big an effect on climate change, but as McAfee estimates 62 trillion spam emails were sent in 2008, the cumulative impact of these emails is staggering.
With all this information, what is one to do? Well, the great thing about cumulative impacts is that they work in a positive feedback loop too. Small acts of sustainability add up. Aside from working hard In Ecojustice’s Vancouver office to make meaningful and environmental and social change, I have a plan for my personal time as well. This weekend, I pledge to turn off my computer, make a vegan dinner, walk to the beach, make an eco-friendly household cleaner, and enjoy a cup of herbal tea. Who’s with me?