“What the heck?” That’s a favorite phrase in my household. I think it began with my now 16-year-old back when he was starting middle school and felt he needed an age-appropriate curse that wouldn’t cause us to take away his allowance. We’re not thrilled with it—especially when my now eight-year-old started mimicking the phrase—but it could be worse.
So “what the heck” came to mind when I watched yet another senator ram his foot firmly down his throat while attempting to visually demonstrate the impossibility of climate change, this time by tossing a snowball on Capitol Hill.
But the stunt got me thinking: Why is this all so hecking confusing? If you watched the news, you’re probably gobsmacked about the disagreement on global warming. Carbon footprint? Carbon offsets? Global warming? Just what are these talking heads gabbing about!? But today, scientists agree on their definitions. And those definitions need to be understood by all of us.
Described by the Natural Resources Defense Council as “the single biggest environmental and humanitarian crisis of our time,” global warming is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants.” But that temperature increase isn’t eradicating snowballs; instead, it’s creating climate extremes—both hot and cold.
Carbon footprint? Carbon offsets? Global warming? Just what are these talking heads gabbing about!? We all need to understand these phrases. So let’s get the definitions right. A carbon footprint is the measure of the impact that a person or business has on the environment, specifically in terms of climate change, as measured in kilograms of carbon dioxide.
It’s also probably the most over-used term in recent history.
In a nutshell, a carbon footprint is basically a way to calculate the amount of non-renewable energy it takes to support your lifestyle. So if you drive a gigantic car and leave your lights on all day, your carbon footprint would be calculated somewhere along the lines of work boot. But if you’re an eco-obsessive who bikes everywhere and burns soy candles to light your home, your carbon footprint would look more like a stiletto. (Hence the metaphorical title of EcoStiletto, the eco-style website that I co-founded in 2007, which went on to become Mommy Greenest.)
Most of us fall somewhere in between. But either way, leading climatologists say we need to reduce our carbon footprints by at least 50% to fight global warming. And that’s where carbon offsets come in.
A carbon offset is an investment in a green energy solution—like wind or solar power—that reduces unavoidable carbon emissions. One carbon offset equals the reduction of one metric ton of CO2. Companies like Terra Pass sell carbon offsets to individuals, families and businesses, then invest the money in a portfolio that consists of a mix of clean energy, farm power and landfill gas capture—you can even decide how much of your investment goes where.
The theory is that investing in carbon offsets, while still remaining environmentally conservative, can counteract the carbon emissions of one’s daily life.
CHANGING FOR THE FUTURE
When it comes to those emissions, air travel is a biggie. I knew that the airline industry generated a lot of carbon pollution, but until I started researching I didn’t understand exactly how much: It’s a staggering 640 million metric tons.
The industry is exploring ways to change that. A solar-powered airplane is currently attempting to fly around the world. And the Natural Resources Defense Council recently scorecarded the more than 40 commercial airlines that are partially powered by biofuels.