The third planet from the sun and the home of life as we know it, Earth. Earth has served as a home to all of us for many, many years. Her beautiful oceans and lush green grass has been the place for us to sit back, relax and enjoy life. There is truly nothing like the smell of fresh air, but it seems as though with the rise of technology and our need to live, the results have taken a toll on our motherland. So, what can we do to help? A carbon footprint is the effect of greenhouse gases being emitted into the earth by human activity. Carbon dioxide is the main ingredient in these emissions, which have been correlated with climate change. A carbon footprint can be an effect of an individual, business, community, industry or country.

Although greenhouse gases occur naturally, human activity contributes a great deal to greenhouse gas emissions. This results in rising sea levels which will erode shorelines and can destroy ecosystems. Wildlife is also impacted as their food sources are affected by rising temperatures. Climate change also impacts human health. It affects food crops, such as dry conditions that interfere with the growing season. Access to safe water is also compromised and increased air pollution can cause respiratory problems. Economically, climate change has had an effect on the agricultural and tourism industries.

Once people understand the effect that their carbon footprint has on the planet, they often want to know how they can reduce it. There are some ways that individuals can reduce their carbon footprint by changing some simple habits, which can also improve their own general health and wellness. Celebrate Earth Day on April 22 by giving back to your planet with these helpful tips!

1. TURN TO OTHER FORMS OF TRANSPORTATION

It’s difficult to advise anyone to stop all automobile travel unless you are fortunate enough to live in a city with a widespread mass transit system, like New York. However, using other forms of transportation like biking, carpooling, bus riding or even walking when possible can prove immediately beneficial in reducing your carbon footprint.

From 2000 to 2013, bicycle commuting rates in large bike-friendly communities increased by 105 percent. Both Gainesville and the University of Florida have earned a silver award by the League of American Bicyclists. Gainesville is No.37 on the list of 50 most bike- friendly cities in the U.S. and is No.6 on the Atlantic’s list of top cities in the US to bike commute.

UF has worked with the Regional Transit System to increase the number of bus routes around the community. Carpooling with a spouse, neighbor or co-worker is also a great way to use one less car and further reduce your carbon footprint!

2. REDUCE YOUR ENERGY USE

Decreasing energy use is one key way to help reduce your footprint. About 85 percent of the energy consumed in modern society comes from fossil fuels. Residential and commercial buildings consume the bulk of the world’s electricity and much of its natural gas. Simply switching to LED lightbulbs versus traditional bulbs saves a significant amount of energy and costs—on average LED bulbs last about 25,000 hours versus 8,000 for traditional bulbs. Home and business owners can also request an energy audit from their local utility for ways that they can preserve energy use.

Other simple tips include buying efficient space, heating/cooling and water heating, sealing heating and cooling ducts, equipment maintenance and adding insulation for doors, windows and attics. Finally, a truly easy and mostly unknown way of reducing energy use is by unplugging devices that use standby power. Even when the devices are powered down, they still use energy and drain up to $19 billion in energy every year.

3. WATCH WHAT YOU EAT

Limiting your intake of meat can be a very positive change for reducing carbon footprint. Agriculture businesses dealing with meat emit more greenhouse gasses than fossil fuels. Red meat is particularly at fault, as it consumes 11 times more water and produces five times more emissions. While becoming a vegetarian isn’t necessary, reducing your consumption of meat can help the environment.

In addition, eating locally sourced food also helps to reduce the footprint created by food shipment. Sticking to in-season produce also helps. Eating foods from local farms also helps support the local economy. It is also advised to stick to organic produce free of toxic pesticides and chemicals. The weekly Union Street Farmers Market at Bo Diddley Plaza is a great way to shop local produce!

Finally, planting a home garden is not only healthy for you, but also good for the environment. Plants help to absorb carbon dioxide and gardens and plants help to lower the effects of heat islands. Seek out plants that help to form a symbiotic relationship with the environment, whether it’s bee-friendly flowers or a vegetable and fruit garden.

4. CHANGE YOUR WATER USAGE AND HOUSEHOLD HABITS

The average American household uses 400 gallons of water a day. Simple changes to conserve water can help to reduce carbon footprint. Installing low-flow shower heads and faucets, investing in water efficient toilets, washing machines and dishwashers, checking for leaks and buying native drought-tolerant plants can help to conserve water usage. Advise family members to turn off faucet when brushing teeth or washing hands.

Finally, there are washing habits that can help to both conserve water and use less energy. Try to hand wash dishes that are not as soiled and only run the dishwasher when it is full. Try to use only cold water when washing clothes. Another key tip is to line dry clothes. Running a clothes dryer is equivalent to turning on 225 light bulbs per hour. It is estimated that line-drying clothes can help households reduce their carbon footprint by one-third.

BY TRACY WRIGHT