Figuring out my footprint

So the excitement of starting your volunteer journey has begun. Maybe you’ve got your suitcase out ready, started your fundraising and the long list of vaccinations you need to get (a quite literal pain!). Back in March this year I was doing just that. I had the privilege of spending three months volunteering with Tearfund in Bangladesh, partnering with Baptist Aid.

My placement in Bangladesh and the relationships I built there turned out to be one of the most humbling and colourful experiences I’ve had in my life so far. I remember when my dad drove me to the airport: my nerves were bubbling away in my stomach as we approached the place where I would start and end my adventure. Unsurprisingly, my time at Heathrow wasn’t the part of the journey that I was focused on at the time, but it is something I’ve been dwelling on since I returned from my placement.

On each flight we take, fossil fuels are burnt producing carbon dioxide which is then released into the atmosphere. All this CO2 is heating up our planet and contributing to global warming. This affects our weather, wildlife and some of the most vulnerable communities across the world.

After studying the devastating impacts of famines and floods caused by global warming, I found that my heart was broken for the people who were reaping the consequences of pollution they hadn’t caused. Since returning from my placement I have begun to question: how are my actions involved in all of this?

One way of measuring the individual impact we’re having on the planet is through our carbon footprint - the amount of CO2 we each produce. To work out what our footprint is, we can use a carbon calculator. By entering the amount of energy you are using in your home or your travel details you can calculate the amount of CO2 each of these activities produce. Pretty handy!

But what is the next step? Sit around and feel bad about the size of your footprint? That doesn’t sound like a fun option.

Carbon offsetting is one step we can take in reducing our footprint. Offsetting involves investing in projects that actively reduce emissions to neutralise your carbon output. A common example of this is through tree planting projects or projects that invest in more efficient and renewable energy.

The first stage on the carbon offsetting journey is to choose the activity you want to offset. For me it was my flights from Heathrow to Dhaka. I took to my keyboard and used Climate Stewards carbon calculator to work out how much CO2 this journey had produced. Here’s what the results looked like.

For my flights there and back, the amount of carbon that was produced equated to just under £50. Over two tonnes of carbon dioxide was produced in the 10,000 mile journey - the same amount 1.6 cars would produce in a whole year. I’m now taking some time to research which project I want to invest this money into.

Although carbon offsetting is a good place to start - especially for emissions we can’t always avoid - it is not the answer to climate change. Carbon offsetting isn’t a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card to take as many flights and produce as much pollution as we want, but it is a great place to start in being conscious of our emissions and thinking about what we can do to look after our planet better.

This starts with appreciating and caring about God’s creation. From this place of truly caring about the beautiful world God has given us, we can think about how, through our actions and decisions, we can take better care of it. This could look like choosing to walk rather than drive, turning lights off when we leave the room, or switching to a green energy supplier in our homes. Because small steps can bring big change.

If you want to find out more about simple ways to make a change, check out Tearfund Action or have a look at We Are Tearfund’s online magazine.