By now we are all aware of GHGs and carbon emissions, you may even be familiar with the Kyoto protocol and carbon trading, but have you given a thought to your nitrogen footprint?
‘If carbon and climate change seem to top the public agenda, consider that nitrogen pollution affects both, while also causing air and water pollution that reduces life expectancy and threatens biodiversity,’ writes Mark Sutton in Distilling Nitrogen Science.
Nitrogen makes up 78% of the Earth’s atmosphere, so how can we have too much? Our growing population’s demand for energy and food are to blame, especially the production of meat. Humans add artificial nitrogen to soil during farming and release it into the atmosphere when burning fossil fuels. The environment is unable to process all this excess nitrogen and it’s effects are most unpleasant.
Large quantities of nitrogen oxide (NOx) in the environment help form acid rain, contribute to global warming and hamper the growth of new plants. NOx can combine with other pollutants in the environment to form toxic chemicals. The effects on animals, including humans, include nausea, irritated eyes, visual impairment, fluid forming in the lungs as well as other respirator problems. All pretty uncool.
In his piece, Sutton states that ‘the European Nitrogen Assessment shows that only 15 per cent of the nitrogen in crop harvests goes to feed people – with the rest feeding the European livestock herd. At the same time, the average European citizen eats 70 per cent more protein than is needed for a healthy diet.’ Certainly one method to cut your nitrogen output is to eliminate animal products from your diet.
You can use this clever nitrogen footprint calculator to discover how your lifestyle emits nitrogen. It uses information about your food and energy use to work out your nitrogen footprint and allows you to directly compare it to the U.S, German and Dutch averages.
Pictured above are my results
The left hand shows the average American citizen, the right an average German and the centre is my result. You can see that the red shows the nitrogen emitted from my food consumption 19 kg, low compared to a German average of 21kg and very low compared to an American 30kg. Where I fail is in the category of ‘transportation’ (5 kg). This is an honest account of my international traveling (having flown around the world more than twice) which drops my average to second. Food for thought.