For our Earth Week exploration today, we’re looking at one suggested climate action—reducing our carbon footprint. We hear a lot about carbon footprint, but what is it exactly and what can we do about it?
Carbon is an element that exists in all living things, with humans being 18% carbon and plants 45%. Dead plants and animals, over millions of years, have been heated and pressurized in the earth, producing coal, oil, and natural gas—fossil fuels. When fossils fuels are burned, the carbon is released and combines with oxygen in the air to form carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which traps heat close to Earth and keeps the planet warm. Without it, the Sun’s energy would leak back out to space. So, we definitely need carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases for our planet to be habitable. But, fossils fuels that were created over millions of years have been released back into the atmosphere over just a couple hundred years. This has led to too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, trapping too much heat, making the planet warmer and warmer.
We need for there to be less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, trapping less heat. We looked at one way for this to happen yesterday when we talked about needing more trees on the planet, since plants remove carbon dioxide from the air. But that’s not enough. We also need to produce fewer greenhouse gases. This brings us to a way to measure how much greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere by human activity, or carbon footprint.
Different activities, directly or indirectly, result in different amounts of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels releases the most, so travel adds quite a lot to our carbon footprint. But even things like eating do as well, since farms produce methane, another greenhouse gas. We’ll look at foods more closely tomorrow.
Knowing what the carbon footprint is for a person, household, business or even country and what goes into that carbon footprint makes us more aware of ways to possibly reduce that carbon footprint. There are carbon footprint calculators that help us figure this out. Here’s a good one to try. It looks at your travel, home, food consumption, and shopping. You may even want to try it twice—once for your regular life activities and once for right now while staying home for an extended period. Read more about how social distancing is shrinking our carbon footprint:
To find out more about human activity and its affect on the planet check out these MVCC Library resources.