What is Carbon Footprint and How Can You Reduce Yours?

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Climate Change is being felt around the world. Every year we see irrevocable damage melting the polar ice sheets leading to rising sea levels. Increasingly disastrous weather, extreme heat, and fires as well as dramatic increases in ocean temperatures are changing the planet as we have known it for centuries.

While human actions have negatively impacted the environment, we can all come together, do our part, and work toward change.

The first step to addressing this worldwide problem is to understand how our contribution to the climate crisis. To get started, learn how to calculate the carbon footprint and how to reduce your carbon footprint.

What is a Carbon Footprint?

Most people wildly overstate the quantity of their personal emissions. A carbon footprint definition is basically the quantity of greenhouse gases (GHG), like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), that are released into the atmosphere. GHG emissions are measured in metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents so that the units are comparable. These GHGs absorb radiant heat and trap it in the atmosphere, leading to the rising temperature of the earth’s surface.

A carbon footprint can be applied to a variety of activities and lifestyles. You can measure your footprint on a personal level, household level, for your business, and even national levels. Everything we do and consume has some impact on our carbon footprint. That includes breathing since we all expel CO2 when we breathe, but that doesn’t count towards your footprint!

What are Carbon Emissions?

Carbon emissions are the release of GHGs into the atmosphere. They are composed of carbon compounds like carbon dioxide and methane but can include other gases such as nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide.

Humans and animals release carbon dioxide when we breathe. It is a vital part of the ecosystem. Trees and plants use the energy of sunlight, and through the process of photosynthesis, take carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air to create energy which helps them grow. This is the natural cycle of CO2—green plants take carbon dioxide from the air and conversely release O2. Mammals breathe in O2, release CO2 and the cycle continues.

Human activity, which relies too heavily on the burning of fossil fuels, will produce too much CO2. The extra emissions can’t be absorbed by plants in the quantity needed to keep a healthy balance.

What is My Carbon Footprint?

To know your carbon footprint, you need to capture data related to the activities of your daily life. Once you’ve learned how you emit GHG, you can work on ways to reduce the carbon footprint in your household.

The average American emits 16.6 tonnes per year. Download details in our Why Carbon section. If you’d like to calculate your exact carbon footprint, start by gathering this data:

Household
  • Electricity in kWh
  • Natural gas in therm
  • Propane in gallons
Travel
  • Number of flights and total miles or hours flown
  • Mileage driven in your personal car
  • Mileage of public transportation such as bus or rail
Purchases
  • Groceries; including the quantity of meat consumed each week
  • Clothing
  • Vehicles
Once you’ve assessed these factors, you can use an online calculator (there are many) to input the related factors. In this way, you will have a grasp of your overall emissions known as your carbon footprint. How Can I Reduce My Carbon Footprint? To reduce the carbon footprint in your life, there are several changes that you can enact today. The three changes on how to reduce the carbon footprint in your household are: Reduce Reduce your use of energy and material goods in every way possible. Instead of driving to the coffee shop, you can walk, bike, or simply make coffee at home. Take a reusable bag to the grocery store so you don’t use their paper or plastic. Don’t forget to take a refillable water bottle everywhere.

Reuse

Reusing also helps reduce unnecessary waste from your life. Plastic is made from fossil fuels and fossil fuel companies are interested in producing as much plastic as they can. If you have plastic food bags, wash and reuse them as much as possible. If you have plastic bags from the store, bring them back to refill and always reuse so they don’t wind up in the landfill.

Recycle

By choosing to recycle, you’re reducing your carbon footprint on a number of fronts. Think more broadly about recycling and apply the concept to multiple areas. Donate clothes you don’t like or clothes that don’t fit. Consider refurbished electronics if you need to replace a printer or computer. If you buy second hand or shop used goods stores, you’re reducing the need for a company to manufacture the product again.

Carbon Footprint: What This Means for the Future

We are already seeing the effects of unchecked carbon emissions. Sea levels are rising, and the ocean’s surface temperature is warming. Arctic ice is melting, and the weather is becoming more extreme (droughts and floods) and more violent (tornados, hurricanes, lightning strikes). If global warming continues unabated, these conditions will only worsen. If we take a proactive stance, we can ensure a habitable planet for future generations. We must educate our youth on the importance of sustainable living and set a good example as to how to do that. Vote for politicians who stand against carbon pollution. And by a whole community of us changing the small things we do in our lives, we can create a larger impact.

It’s Time to Address Our Carbon Problem

Everyone, everywhere will produce carbon emissions. GHGs are added to the atmosphere every day. It’s time to start making actionable changes today to reduce our carbon footprint. Learn more about how to reduce your carbon footprint explore our Why Carbon section.
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