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Carbon footprint: educating the next generation

Jainnie Smith

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The world’s carbon footprint is getting bigger even though the UK has seen its carbon emissions shrink, which is why educating the next generation is so important.

The young people who are growing up now will, if climate forecasts are accurate, face some big challenges in the decades ahead. However, the good news is that by ‘learning and doing’ now, these issues can be made more manageable.

What is carbon footprint?

Carbon footprint is a broad term used to describe the size of the greenhouse gas emissions that a person, business, organisation or country is responsible for. In fact, the footprint analogy can be applied to any grouping of people, as long as the data is available to calculate the emissions.

Carbon dioxide is the primary gas measured and this greenhouse gas is, as most experts agree, responsible in part for the climate changes that are happening now, particularly global warming.

Across the planet, carbon emissions generated by our energy consumption have risen by nearly 50% over the past two decades (actually since 1992, when the first Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro).

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The Climate Change Act

It took some time to come to an agreement, but in 2008 the Climate Change Act committed the UK to reduce greenhouse gases – our carbon footprint – by 80% within 42 years. That 2050 target is legally binding, and the UK was the first country in the world to put such measures in place.

Meeting the challenge

To achieve this tough target, everyone in the UK will need to make a contribution, which is why education is a priority for policymakers. While the task sounds daunting, there are actually many small but effective steps we can take that will make a major difference.

Put simply, we need to use less energy of all types. We also need to replace carbon-based fuels with renewable, clean energy options.

Every living space across the country will have to be close to zero carbon status by 2050 in order to meet the target, and young people need to know that more rapid and drastic action by the government is required to achieve this tough goal.

Simple changes that households can make

However, at the same time, on an individual level, young people can encourage their families to make simple little changes that can make a big difference, like swapping energy-guzzling light bulbs for LED lighting. This change can reduce electricity consumption by up to 85%.

We need to use less water too. By doing so, we can reduce the energy required to pump and heat water – and this power saving extends throughout the water management and distribution network.

The simplest way to make a big cut in domestic water consumption is to fit eco showers and eco taps. Choosing a quality brand like Hansgrohe will ensure maximum savings as the technology used in the shower heads and taps mixes air with water to cut consumption by more than 50%. It’s now easy to pick these products up from energy saving specialists like SaveMoneyCutCarbon.

Bear in mind that around a third of carbon emissions in the UK are generated in the home and, according to government figures, a typical household might generate as much as five tonnes of carbon dioxide annually from the consumption of around 20,000kWh of power.

Other factors

Young people should also be aware of the fact that households’ footprints grow when other factors are considered, such as family cars, recreation and leisure, holidays and air travel, clothing and food. Figures from the Stockholm Environmental Institute suggest that just over a decade ago the total annual carbon footprint of an average UK home, when all these extras were included, was 20.7 tonnes.

Knowledge is key

To rise to the carbon footprint challenge, the next generation will need to know the details of what is happening to the planet, the reasons why it is happening and how to change things. The UK’s young people will, we hope, learn to use less energy, work smarter and be more aware of how they can better manage and protect the precious resources we have.


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