Tufts by Numbers: Campus carbon

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that aims to halt and reverse many of the climate-protecting policies the Obama administration implemented. The executive order provides the opportunity for coal to be reintroduced as a main energy source nationally. Though relatively cheap and local to the United States, increased coal production can cause significant harm to the planet’s climate. Now, more than ever, understanding our individual, daily impacts on the environment can prevent us from being complacent to environmental degradation and climate illiteracy. So, how can we recognize, find and interpret the hard data about our everyday environmental impact? The simplest answer, adopted by large corporations and governments: carbon emissions.

Though carbon occurs naturally on Earth, excess carbon in the atmosphere added by human activity is a huge contributor to climate change. As a greenhouse gas, it traps heat in the atmosphere and can be dangerous to our planet when emitted excessively. Considering that almost everything we do and every item we use at college consumes carbon, it can be scary to realize that many of our daily actions have a larger carbon footprint than we would expect.

According to the Tufts Office of Sustainability, the administration has adopted the climate goals of the Conference of New England governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers by pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent by 2020. Proportionally, carbon makes up for approximately 65 percent of all greenhouse gases, meaning that this goal will aim to primarily reduce the carbon emissions of Tufts buildings and operations. In our day-to-day technological uses, our laptops have the largest carbon footprint. A standard 13-inch MacBook Air causes 480 kilograms of carbon emissions in its lifetime, according to Apple. It would take about 20 years for a single tree to store and then recycle this amount of carbon. Our smartphones also have a considerable carbon footprint, with an iPhone 6s producing 54 kilograms of carbon in its lifetime. The majority of carbon production for technologies come from their production stages, followed by customers’ use.

Additionally, our everyday consumption of goods and foods has a significant carbon footprint when contextualized in their mass-consumed norm. According to a carbon footprint series conducted by The Guardian, a bottle of beer takes almost one kilogram of carbon to produce and transport. Think about how much carbon is then consumed during a game of 21-cup beer pong or at a party on the weekend.

Even mundane actions require processes that have carbon footprints. Sending an email can take four grams of carbon, and a 10-minute hot shower can use three kilograms of carbon. From the mini-fridge in your dorm room to the lights left on in empty classrooms, these often-forgotten processes leave an irreversible mark on our climate.

The good news is that we are not complacent to exorbitant carbon emissions. Repairing, reusing and recycling goods can prevent excess carbon emissions from a product’s production stages. Learning about easy steps to reduce everyday carbon emissions, like opting out of eating meat every day or sticking to chicken and fish, can also considerably reduce individual carbon footprints. We can push ourselves — and our college — to commit to energy conservation, sustainability and protecting this one planet that we have.


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