Global warming is no longer news to anyone. No corner of the world is left untouched by this, as extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. Floods, heatwaves, and droughts have a direct impact on humanity, our health and the food we eat, as well as on the diversity of the ecosystem and the well-being of the planet.

As a consequence of significant weather changes, the sea level is rising and the ocean is becoming more acidic. Biodiversity is disappearing before our very eyes. Although there are various reasons for global warming, human activity is the biggest and most obvious one.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are a major contributor to global warming. Researchers emphasize that this is our last chance to change something. The only way to prevent the worst from happening is to introduce a rapid and drastic change.

What is carbon footprint reduction?

CO2 is released into the atmosphere through consumption and production of everyday items. It’s done by using electricity, heating your house, traveling, and eating. As greenhouse gas emissions are inevitable, it is important to make conscious decisions to make your actions more environmentally friendly.

Carbon footprint is a term that shows the impact of an action, country, or person on climate. Greenhouse gases are emitted when you drive a car or buy clothes. That is called your carbon footprint. To prevent the worst from happening, it’s crucial to start making environmentally conscious decisions already today.

What’s CO2?

CO2 aka carbon dioxide is an odorless and colorless gas that’s a natural component of air. Through the decomposition of organic matter, carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere. At the same time, photosynthesis significantly reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Manmade CO2 sources mostly come from fossil fuel combustion processes.

Carbon footprint in Estonia

As Estonia is not among the oil producers, you’d think we have a smaller carbon footprint than for example Russia or Iran. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. According to the World Bank statistics, Estonia emits more than 15 tons of CO2 per capita in a single year. That means our personal carbon footprint is bigger than in many larger countries. The reason lies hugely in the oil shale industry.

The oil shale industry makes up 70% of Estonia’s carbon footprint. As of right now, Estonia is among the 10 countries in the world with the biggest carbon footprint. For example, in Ida-Virumaa the oil shale industry is responsible for 95% of local air pollution.

The mining of oil shale generates a great amount of waste, which, as of the beginning of 2020, will no longer be classified as hazardous waste according to the Estonian Waste Management Association. This led to a drop in numbers in the statistics. It seemed as if the amount of hazardous waste in the Estonian energy sector had decreased drastically over the year. However, the oil shale ash mountains of Ida-Virumaa have not disappeared anywhere.

Your footprint

Carbon sequestration

Forests play a vital role in carbon sequestration. The woods sequester a large amount of carbon that emits from burning fossil fuels. This means that forests prevent a significant amount of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Therefore, to fight climate change, we need to pay attention to forest management.

Young forests have a greater role in the carbon sequestration process than old forests. As it’s necessary to find a more environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels, more and more attention is paid to wood as a renewable resource.

According to a study conducted by researchers at the Estonian University of Life Sciences and the University of Tartu, felling sites can become carbon sinks from the age of seven. “By cutting down the old stand and planting a new generation of forests to grow, we will ensure maximum carbon sequestration in the forests.” said the scientists.

What can I do?

Although the carbon footprint might appear to be a problem of big corporations and prominent countries, every person can play a part in reducing it. All companies, countries, institutes are made up of individuals. The more we value planet-friendly alternatives, the likelier a meaningful change will come.

Small steps lead to a bigger breakthrough. We need to start by changing our everyday consumption habits.

  • Eat less meat and dairy products. Livestock farms consume large amounts of land resources, which means that forests are cut down to make room. The meat and dairy industries also use a lot of drinking water, a whopping 10% of the global supply. Therefore, prefer fruits and veggies and produce that uses the least energy to transport. For example you can also grow herbs on your windowsill or balcony!
  • Use reusable grocery bags. Avoid the use of plastic bags and take your own bag with you when you go to the store. Alternatively, you can reuse the plastic bags you already own.
  • Reuse. When choosing new clothes or furniture, pay a visit trip to a second-hand shop. Think twice before buying something new – perhaps you don’t even need it! Maybe it’s possible to mend the old one or borrow what you need only occasionally from a friend. Don’t forget you can always take your old clothes to the thrift store – you don’t have to throw them away!
  • Reduce the use of packaging. Avoid plastic dishes. If possible, buy unpackaged food or buy bulk, i.e choose one big pack instead of many small ones.
  • Sort waste. Estonian households generate an average of 300 kg of waste per person each year. Since 2020, Estonia has set a goal to recycle resources such as paper, plastic, metal, cardboard, and glass. This helps to reduce excess manufacturing. In addition, take the hazardous waste safely to a designated area.
  • Avoid traveling by car when possible. Instead, prefer public transport, a bike or your feet. If it’s not possible to move without a car, offer your friends or coworkers a ride. When you choose a new car, check the economic impact the vehicle has. Don’t forget to pay attention to your driving style. You should use the highest possible gear and drive as smoothly as possible.
  • Use electricity sparingly. Don’t leave the lights on and use renewable energy. Prefer devices that consume the least amount of energy (in Estonia, they’re labeled with an A-mark) and don’t leave them plugged in when they are fully charged or not in use. This helps to reduce both electricity bills and the CO2 footprint. Wash the laundry with cooler water, do not use more heating than necessary in winter, and use water (especially warm water) sparingly.
  • Choose green energy. As the carbon footprint of oil shale is massive, choose a renewable energy package instead. A quarter of Estonia’s electricity consumption is made up of electricity consumed in households. Ask your electricity retailer to exchange your current package for a greener one. It’s as easy as ABC! After your request, the retailer will take the necessary action on your behalf to ensure that in the future, your home is powered by green energy.

By working together, we can reduce our ecological footprint. We need to make major changes to curb global warming – it can no longer be ignored. As human activity is the biggest cause of global warming, we can improve the well-being of the planet by changing our lifestyles.