What is a Carbon Footprint?

estimated time: 20 mins

Your carbon footprint is your personal impact on the planet, measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). The higher your carbon footprint, the more CO2 you are creating with your actions each year. Everything in your life counts towards your carbon footprint, even if the action is essential. These actions include driving, eating, socializing, working, etc.

CO2 and other greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change. In order to make the world safe for generations to come, we must reduce our global carbon footprint as much as possible. 

Photo Credit: EcoMatcher's article "The Basics of a Carbon Footprint"

How do I Calculate My Carbon Footprint?

The first step to reducing your carbon footprint is to know how your current habits affect your CO2 emissions. The link below will take you to a website called footprint calculator. The website is easy to use, quickly giving you results.  Simply use the sliding tools to best reflect your personal habits. If you’d like, click on “Add Details to Improve Accuracy” button, for more specific inputs to each question for more accurate results. For those that do not wish for this level of accuracy, the basic program works perfectly fine and can be completed in five minutes!

What Does My Score Mean?

Okay great, you took the footprint calculator and you’re ready to look into the results! First you should understand there are many different ways of measuring your carbon footprint. Your footprint can be measured by the number of global hectares (gha) of land your actions require. It can also be measured in the amount of CO2 emitted on an annual basis, or by the number of “earths” required if everyone on the planet lived as you did. Focus on whatever measurement make the results “feel more real” for you. For comparisons sake, I will show other results below to help you interpret yours.

If everyone on the planet lived like the person above, we would need the resources of 4 planet earths to sustain everyone’s habits. From an equality perspective, this shows that individuals living in developing nations could never live as I do. We simply do not have enough resources on the planet to support our actions on a large scale. 

The average US citizen requires 14 global hectares (gha) of land to sustain their habits. With a current world population of 7.8 billion people in 2020, each person can only be afforded 1.5 gha if we were to split the land on earth equaly.  As the earth’s population rapidly increases, the amount of available land will continue to shrink, making each of our individual actions that much more important.

The average American produces about 16.4 metric tons (MCET) of CO2. This might be hard to wrap our heads around, so let’s find some ways to compare. Per capita, the world produced 4.49 metric tons of CO2 each year. This number of course changes based on which country you live in, and even what city. For example, people in New York produce 32.6 MCET on average, whereas in Denver Colorado, people were producing 65.3 MCET on average. The average European produces 7.14 MCET, Japan makes 8.64, Brazil 2.11, and Australia 19.64. For your countries average per capita CO2 emissions, follow the link below.

How Can I Lower My Score?

Throughout 2020 - 2021, I will provide a series of articles which will give you 21 unique ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Some of these will take little-to-no effort, while others are more complex. Some changes will require a financial component, while others just a bit of extra time. The goal of this project is not to make you feel guilty not accommodating each of these changes in your life. Rather, use the combination of opportunities which work best for you as inspiration to reduce your carbon footprint in your own unique way!   

Let's build community, make positive changes, and come together for a planet that needs us as badly as we need it. Calculate your footprint and take the pledge in order to help hold yourself accountable for your decisions this year. Then check out all the other resources this website provides to make the journey easier for you!

Author: Nick Engler
Graduate Student, Environmental Advocate, Pasta Enthusiast
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." 
                                                                                       -Margaret Mead
Keyboard and Mouse
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