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Quiz: How Big Is Your Child’s Carbon Footprint?

Advice

The climate is changing, and kids around the world are taking notice. Sea levels are rising, hurricanes are becoming stronger, wildfires are becoming more common, and plants and animals are struggling to survive in warmer temperatures. Your kids might already notice some of these changes happening outside their windows, or they might only hear about them on the news. Luckily, there are things they can do to help.

If your child is interested in living a more Earth-friendly life, they can start by learning about their carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases a person adds to the atmosphere just by living their daily life. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, which causes the climate to warm up. Let your child know that everyone has a carbon footprint—even the most Earth-friendly person they know. Knowing what theirs looks like can help them make smart choices every day and throughout their life.

Complete this quiz with your child. Write down the number next to each answer, and then add up the points at the end.

1. How does your child get to school?

  • Walk or bike - 0 points
  • Bus, subway, or ferry - 1 point
  • Car - 3 points

 

2. How many trips does your child take in an airplane in a typical year?

  • Zero - 0 points
  • One - 2 points
  • Two or more - 4 points

 

3. How often does your child eat meat?

  • Never - 0 points
  • Once or twice a week - 1 point
  • About every day - 2 points

 

4. How often does your child buy brand-new clothes?

  • Rarely—they wear hand-me-downs and shop at thrift stores - 1 point
  • Often—they wear a mix of new and used clothes - 2 points
  • Always - 3 points

 

5. How many hours a day does your child use screens?

  • Less than two - 1 point
  • Two to five - 2 points
  • More than five - 3 points

 

6. Does your child recycle and compost table scraps?

  • Always! - 1 point
  • They usually recycle, but food scraps go in the trash - 2 points
  • No, they don't recycle or compost - 3 points

 

7. How does your child stay clean?

  • 5-minute showers - 1 point
  • 10-minute showers - 2 points
  • Baths - 3 points

 

8. How often does your child get fast food or eat at restaurants?

  • Rarely—they almost always eat home-cooked food - 1 point
  • About once a week - 2 points
  • Twice or more each week - 3 points

 

9. Which of these homes sounds most like where your child lives?

  • An apartment in a building with other apartments - 1 point
  • A house they share with another family, or a mobile home - 2 points
  • A house for just their family - 3 points

 

Answers:

  • Fewer than 10: Your child's carbon footprint is big, but it’s smaller than the average American’s.
  • 11-20: Your child's carbon footprint is bigger, but it’s about the same size as the average American’s.
  • More than 21: Your child's carbon footprint is biggest, and it’s a bit bigger than the average American’s.

If they live in the United States, it’s pretty much guaranteed that your child's carbon footprint is bigger than most other people’s in the world.

Should your child’s carbon footprint (or your own) make them feel guilty and ashamed? No! That doesn’t do any good. In fact, many of the items on the quiz are completely out of their control, like the house they live in. Instead, they can use this quiz to adjust their daily habits and start imagining a world where their daily choices help the planet instead of hurt it.

Here are some everyday ways your child can make healthier choices for the planet:

Invest in reusable items, like refillable water bottles and cloth tote bags. Avoid using items that will create trash, like single-use utensils and products with excess packaging.

  • Tip: Watch out for greenwashed items—products that are made to look like they’re good for the environment but really aren’t. For example, a disposable water bottle is never good for the environment, even if it has a picture of a mountain on the label.

Include more veggies in family meals and less meat. Raising cows for beef puts 20 times more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than growing high-protein vegetables such as beans.

  • Tip: Going meatless just one day per week can help! Check out a vegetarian cookbook from the library and find a yummy recipe to try.

Keep food out of the trash can. About a third of the world’s food is wasted, and food waste contributes to climate change as much as all road transportation does.

  • Tip: Fruits and veggies that wilt or turn mushy don’t have to go in the garbage. Make them delicious again by adding them to sweet breads, smoothies, and sauces!

Say no to plastic when possible. The U.S. currently recycles only about 9% of its plastic, and about eight million tons of plastic enters the oceans every year. Scientists estimate that at the rate we’re going, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.

  • Tip: Does your child have a favorite restaurant or café that offers disposable cups and utensils? Encourage them to talk to the owner about how switching to reusable materials could help the environment and attract more Earth-friendly customers.

Recycle. The United States creates three times more trash than the average country—about 1,704 pounds of it every year, per person. The first step is not buying things like single-use plastics in the first place. But the best second step is recycling.

  • Tip: Different towns have different recycling guidelines. Encourage your child to create a recycling chart for your home to educate the family on what goes in the recycling bin and what goes in the trash.

Re-think transportation. About 15% of all greenhouse gases come from cars, trucks, trains, buses, and planes. Americans use more and more fossil fuels for transportation every year.

  • Tip: If you live in a big city, encourage your child to use the subway or bus. If you live in a town with sidewalks and bike trails, they might have fun walking or biking more often. In some towns, it’s hard to go anywhere without a car, but they might be able to carpool with other families.

Encourage your child to focus on their own choices, not the choices of others. Climate change action looks different for everyone.

  • Tip: Look for Earth-friendly solutions that don’t involve shaming people. For example, if your child notices a lot of students at school using plastic straws, they could talk to the principal about switching to paper straws, or only giving out straws if people ask for them.

For more ideas about how your child can make a difference for the planet, check out Love the Earth, written by Mel Hammond and illustrated by Monique Dong.

Copyright © American Girl. American Girl and associated trademarks are owned by American Girl, LLC.

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