What is Your Carbon Footprint?
What is your carbon footprint? Is that something you ever thought about? Wondering what that means? In its simplest terms, a carbon footprint means the amount of greenhouse gases produced by a particular human activity (CSS University of Michigan, 2020). These activities can mean anything that you do while home, in school, at the office, outdoors and more. Even in your sleep, you produce a carbon footprint. According to the EPA, many of our daily activities cause emissions of greenhouse gases (EPA, 2021), which contributes to our carbon footprint.
Some examples of daily activities include bathing, brushing your teeth and other hygiene habits. Driving or biking to work or taking a ride for leisure produces gas emissions that contribute to your carbon footprint. Your eating habits impact your carbon footprint numbers. In her article for Healtline.com, Jillian Kubala, MS, RDN wrote, “by making simple changes like eating fewer animal products, using less plastic, eating more fresh produce, and decreasing your food waste, you can cut your personal greenhouse gas emissions significantly” (Kubala, 2020).
Just by cutting back on eating certain foods or using fewer plastic products, you will help to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. But why should you? Why is it so important?
Why should you know or learn about your carbon footprint?
First, understand carbon is not bad. In fact, carbon is an essential element of life here on Earth. A recent NOAA article states, “Carbon is the foundation of all life on Earth, required to form complex molecules like proteins and DNA…Carbon helps to regulate the Earth’s temperature, makes all life possible, is a key ingredient in the food that sustains us, and provides a major source of the energy to fuel our global economy” (NOAA, 2021).
Carbon is the backbone of life on Earth. We are made of carbon, we eat carbon, and our civilizations—our economies, our homes, our means of transport—are built on carbon. (NASA Earth Observatory)
NOAA article states, “Where carbon is located – in the atmosphere or on Earth – is important to note. It is a cycle – carbon atoms continually travel from the atmosphere to Earth and then back to the atmosphere. On Earth, carbon is stored in rocks, sediments, trees, oceans and in living organisms. Carbon is then released back into the atmosphere when organisms die, volcanoes erupt, fires blaze, fossil fuels are burned, and more” (NOAA, 2021).
As humans, we play a big role in the carbon cycle process through activities such as land development and the burning of fossil fuels which increases the amount of carbon rising in the atmosphere” (NOAA, 2021).
In her GREENMATTERS article Stephanie Osmanski explained that, “As of 2017, carbon emissions comprised 82 percent of all total greenhouse gas emissions in the US. And, when greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere and trap the suns heat – they warm the average global temperature causing it to rise – this is known as global warming. With global warming comes climate change, symptoms of which include melting of the polar ice caps, the rising of the sea levels, the disturbance of animals’ natural habitats, extreme weather events and so much more” Osmanski, 2020).
So what can we do? The greenhouse gases emitted by our carbon footprint in the atmosphere produces the greenhouse effect and contribute to global warming and climate change. If as an individual, family(group) or entity we become more aware of our impact on the environment, we can implement changes to lower how much greenhouse gases (carbon) we release into the environment.
Thus, helping to lessen the overall negative impact of too much carbon in atmosphere hurting the Earth.
How do you calculate your carbon footprint?
Carbon footprint can be calculated individually, by a group/family, company, city/town/state, specific events, or other categories. The EPA states, “The quantity of greenhouse gas emissions from your home electricity use depends on the types of fuel your power plant uses to generate the electricity and the amount you use (EPA, 2021). You can attempt to calculate these numbers manually. In fact, WikiHow provides a formula to help you calculate your carbon footprint. However, most people find it useful and timesaving to use the many online carbon footprint calculators that are available. For example, Conservation.org has a quick and easy online calculator for you to input your information. Although these calculators are not perfect, they do provide you with information to help you understand your carbon footprint and how you can make adjustments to improve your numbers.
How can you reduce your carbon footprint?
Reducing your carbon footprint can be accomplished in a variety of ways. For instance, with your eating habits you could try a meatless Monday option. Conservation.org calculator shows how for every day of the week where you eliminate red meat about 0.4 metric tons is saved annually. If you have the option, why not bike to work, or ride a bus instead. For each day of the week you take the bus to work (or telecommute) about 0.7 metric tons gets saved annually (Conservation, 2021). Or you can try purchasing second-hand or consignment clothing instead of renting – for one out of every two clothing purchases about 0.5 metric tons is saved annually (Conservation, 2021).
If you have reached your limit of how much you able to reduce your carbon footprint, why not consider carbon offset opportunities? Carbon offsetting allows individuals and businesses to offset their greenhouse gases (carbon emissions) by purchasing carbon credits which will use the monies to fund environmentally focused projects i.e., planting trees or solar energy. Research has shown participating in carbon offsetting reduces emissions much faster than any individual/single company (Carbon Footprint, 2021).
It is safe to say nothing in our lives is untouched by our carbon footprint. With a little time and effort, you can learn to live, work, and play more efficiently while helping the environment.
There are many resources available to help you keep track or learn more about your carbon footprint numbers. Here are a few sites for you to use.
– EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator
– EPA Household Carbon Footprint Calculator
To learn more about your carbon footprint, check out these resources.
Carbon Footprint. (2021). CARBON OFFSETTING Tackle Climate Change and Care for Developing Communities and Biodiversity by Becoming Carbon Neutral. Carbon Footprint. https://www.carbonfootprint.com/carbonoffset.html
Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan (2020). Carbon Footprint Factsheet. Pub. No. CSS09-05. https://css.umich.edu/factsheets/carbon-footprint-factsheet
Kubala, J. (2020, January 6). 9 Nutrition Tips for Reducing Your Carbon Footprint. [Medically Reviewed by Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D., Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-reduce-carbon-footprint#The-bottom-line
NASA. (2021). Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet, Overview: Weather, Global Warming and Climate Change. NASA. https://climate.nasa.gov/resources/global-warming-vs-climate-change/
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (2021, February 26). What is the carbon cycle? The carbon cycle is nature’s way of recycling carbon atoms. Carbon is the foundation for all life on Earth. NOAA. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/carbon-cycle.html
Osmanski, S. (2020, March 30). How Do Carbon Emissions Affect the Environment? GREENMATTERS. https://www.greenmatters.com/p/how-do-carbon-emissions-affect-environment
Riebeek, H. (2011, June 16). The Carbon Cycle. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/CarbonCycle
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2021). Household Carbon Footprint Calculator. EPA. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/household-carbon-footprint-calculator
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