What’s Your Carbon Footprint?

The mercury is touching 100 ºF in San Jose as I write this. It’s going to be another record-breaking hot summer.

“The 10 hottest years in history were in the last 14 years,” says Al Gore in his documentary about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, which is playing in theaters. I thought I was already well informed about the climate crisis, but went to see it anyway. It was an eye-opener.

For example, I had not seen a graph of CO2 concentrations and temperature going back 650,000 years, which is what scientists have gathered from ice core samples from melting glaciers. The correlation between CO2 and temperature is unmistakable. You can see that both CO2 and temperature are already far above even the highest levels in the last seven ice ages.

Human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels and depletion of forests, is largely responsible for rising CO2 concentrations. The United States accounts for 30.3 percent of carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

Gore shows pictures of the disappearing snowcaps on Mt. Kilimanjaro and Patagonia, and retreating glaciers in Glacier National Park, in Peru, the Himalayas, worldwide. The most ominous sign of things to come is the melting of polar ice caps evident in the video footage and time-lapse photos of collapsing ice shelves in the West Antarctic Peninsula and meltwater pools in Greenland. If this trend continues, ocean levels will rise, submerging populous coastal areas of Kolkata, Mumbai, Beijing, Shanghai, the Netherlands, San Francisco, Manhattan. There will be more frequent and more serious hurricanes, floods, and drought. Hurricane Katrina and the 2005 deluge in Mumbai are just precursors of these manmade catastrophes.

In this meticulously researched 90-minute documentary Gore lucidly puts a whole host of scientific findings in perspective.

I am shocked to see how close we are to a precipice. It has got me thinking, questioning. When I moved from India to the United States, my annual carbon emissions probably shot up from the Indian per capita of 0.25 thousand metric tons to the U.S. average of 5.60—22 times higher—as I adopted an American lifestyle.

How can I reduce my own carbon footprint? Maybe I should ride a bike to work or take light rail. What if public transit was free 365 days a year, and not just on Save the Air days?

What if every high-school student saw this film? They might start switching off lights at home, and refuse to ride in their parents’ SUVs. What if everyone considered the environmental impact of their actions, their buying decisions?

We might still save our planet.

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