Climate Action

Coronavirus shrinks carbon footprints, but can we keep it up?

This spring, as we stay home and social distance to flatten the curve of the coronavirus, life looks a lot different than it did a year ago. Gyms and restaurants are closed, public transportation is running shorter hours and less often and most businesses are working from home.

One silver lining of all these restrictions is that carbon emissions from fossil fuels could fall by 2.5 billion metric tons this year — the largest drop on record. Energy use has also declined, and since December, the U.S. is down 5 percent, with an increase in the use of wind and solar

Earth Overshoot Day, or the day at which we use up more resources than the planet can regenerate in one year, has been creeping earlier and earlier since 1970. Last year, we used 1.75 Earths worth of resources

But this year, we can assume our overshoot day will move later in the fall, due to all of the grounded planes and reduced commutes. In major cities, we’ve already seen the lowest levels of air and water pollution in decades

And as we adapt to these unprecedented restrictions in our own lives, the makeup of our carbon footprints is changing too. 

I know my carbon footprint has changed a lot since our stay-at-home order began. Instead of using my car five or six times a week to go to work and grocery shop, my roommates and I coordinate our outings — we visit the grocery store once every week together, reducing our weekly trips from three to one. 

We also canceled a 1,000-mile round trip drive to South Carolina and threw out our Caribbean vacation to celebrate the completion of my master’s degree. Transportation makes up 27% of U.S. carbon emissions, so these decisions make a huge difference in my personal carbon footprint. 

And, other than a few online shopping sprees for quarantine “necessities,” we’re just consuming a lot less. 

One big way to ensure we continue shrinking our carbon footprints is to make note of our new, more eco-friendly habits. For example, when the pandemic ends, my roommates and I can keep coordinating grocery trips to reduce gas usage. We can plan more stay-cations and game nights instead of weekend trips away. 

And even while we’re waiting for the virus to run its course, there’s a lot we can do to cut our own carbon footprint. We can open the windows to get some fresh air instead of running the air conditioner. We can read more instead of streaming Hulu all Saturday. With more spare time to cook, I can get more fresh produce without plastic packaging and learn some new plant-based recipes. I’m sure my household energy use has gone up, so I can contact my utility provider to switch to green power

The first step to reducing our carbon footprint is to understand it. So, in preparation for the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, join us for the next week of our Daily Earth Day Challenges leading up to April 22. Calculate your personal carbon footprint and make changes to reduce it — it’s something we can all do to help the planet.