Why should I be aware of this?
The importance of developing an entire new scale to measure the release of this greenhouse gas is fittingly explained by the chairman of the Alliance for Climate Protection, Al Gore, better remembered as the US Vice President from 1993-2001. He explains that although Earth and Venus are almost exactly the same size and have almost exactly the same amount of carbon, the average temperature on Earth is a pleasant 59 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas the average temperature on Venus is a scorching 867 degrees Fahrenheit. While one might attribute this temperature difference to the planets’ closeness to the Sun (Venus being closer), the fault is not in our star; Venus is also three times hotter on average than Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.
The explanation is simple. The difference in the two planets is that most of the carbon on Earth is in the ground and most of the carbon on Venus is in the atmosphere. A fate the Earth is fast steering towards.
Since a Carbon Footprint is directly related to the amount of natural resources consumed it is being increasingly used as a measure of environmental impact. Carbon dioxide is recognized as a greenhouse gas, of which increasing levels in the atmosphere are responsible for global warming and climate change.
All about Carbon Footprint
How is a Carbon Footprint Measured?
A Carbon Footprint is usually measured in tons of carbon dioxide or tons of carbon emitted, annually. There are several ways of calculating carbon foot printing. A Carbon Footprint is calculated in the case of an organization or industry – as part of its day-to-day operations; in the case of an individual or household – as part of their daily routine; or a product or commodity – in how it reaches the market.
The following activities affect the Carbon Footprint of individuals, according to the various calculators available:
- Car travel: Depends on distance driven, fuel, fuel efficiency and number of passengers per vehicle.
- Air travel: Depends on distance and number of flights. Take-off and landing use large amounts of fuel, so two short flights produce more carbon than one long flight of comparative distance. However, long distance flights need to carry larger amounts of fuel which lowers their fuel efficiency. Therefore only some calculators distinguish between short and long distance flights, while others just count total miles or hours of flight. Emissions per mile and passenger are roughly equivalent to a mile and passenger in car travel.
- Boat travel: Depends on distance travelled, fuel efficiency, and size of the boat. Believed to produce anything from only a third to up to 8 times more carbon dioxide than an airplane travelling the same distance.
- Bus or train: Normally counts for less per person than either car or air travel.
- Electricity use: Some calculators ask for figures from utility bills, while others estimate the amount from size of household and usage patterns (such as whether you leave equipment on standby overnight).
- Home heating: Depends on fuel source and amount used.
- Food miles: How much food you buy from non-local sources.
- Diet: Meat-eater, vegetarian or vegan, conventionally farmed foods or organic produce.
- Embodied carbon in the products and services consumed: Depends on such factors as the energy intensity of the industrial process and transportation costs. There is a labelling system called ‘CarbonCounted’ that helps customers identify this.
- Carbon intensity in the usage of the products consumed: For example the energy efficiency rating of the freezer or computer used.
There are a variety of calculators available on the internet. Do check them out and calculate your own.
Travellers and their Carbon Footprint
Here are some tips to reduce the carbon footprint of people who routinely travel --
- Car share to work, or for the kids school run.
- Use the bus or a train rather than your car.
- Try not to use domestic flights, use a train or a bus.
- Take the ferry or channel tunnel instead of flying across rivers.
- See if your employer will allow you to work from home one day a week.
- Next time you replace your car, check out diesel/CNG engines. You can even make your own bio-diesel fuel.
- When on holiday, hire a bicycle to explore locally rather than a car.
- When staying in a hotel, turn the lights and air-conditioning off when you leave your hotel room.
Along with the primary carbon footprint, there is also a secondary footprint that people have because of their buying habits. For example, if you buy foods out of season at the super market, these will have either been flown or shipped in from far away. These Food Miles will add to your secondary footprint. Here are some easy ways to reduce one's secondary foorprint --
- Reduce your consumption of meat.
- Don't buy bottled water if your tap water is safe to drink (especially if it has been shipped from far away).
- Buy local fruit and vegetables, or even try growing your own.
- Don't buy fresh fruit and vegetables which are out of season, they may have been flown in.
- Try to buy products made closer to home.
- Buy organic produce.
- Don't buy over-packaged products
- Recycle as much as possible.
- Think carefully about the type of activities you do in your spare time. Do any of them cause an increase in carbon emissions? For example, saunas, health clubs, restaurants and pubs, go-karting, discos etc.
In addition, there is your footprint at work. Do you leave your computer and monitor on when you are away from your desk? Do you leave the lights on when you leave the office? Do you print documents unnecessarily, and could you print two pages to a side and double sided?
It is important to set the standards for change now, so that countries and corporations follow soon after with similar fervour. As currently planned, the new global climate change pact will be completed only in 2012. We need to be faster in making changes in our lifestyles.
What can I do?
How to reduce one's Carbon Footprint
Each person directly contributes to global warming during the course of the day through his individual actions. Though, it is not possible to completely abstain from actions that directly or indirectly result in greenhouse gases, an individual can definitely make a few choices to reduce his or her contribution to global warming.As individuals, small changes in our everyday lives are enough to make an impact.
After calculating your carbon footprint, adopt methods to reduce it and offset it—a way of compensating for the emissions produced with an equivalent carbon dioxide saving, e.g. planting a sapling(s) in a sustainable environment. Here's a list of simple things you can do immediately, which will start to reduce your contribution to global warming. The items in this list will cost you no money at all and will, in fact, save you money.
- Turn it off from the main socket (or use an electric strip for all your appliances) when not in use—lights, television, DVD player, computer etc.
- Turn down the central heating/cooling slightly (try just 1 to 2 oC).
- Turn down the water heating setting (just 2 degrees will make a significant saving).
- Fill your dish washer and washing machine with a full load—this will save you water, electricity and washing powder.
- Fill the kettle with only as much water as you need.
- Unplug your chargers as soon as they have finished charging.
- Defrost your fridge/freezer regularly.
- Do your weekly shopping in a single trip.
- Hang out the washing to dry rather than tumble drying it.
- Go for a run rather than drive to the gym.
- Separate your waste into recyclable and non-recyclable, and have the proper authorities pick up each.
- Sign up to a green energy supplier, who will supply electricity from renewable sources (e.g. wind and hydroelectric power)—this will reduce your carbon footprint contribution from electricity to 0.
The following is a list of items that may take an initial investment, but should pay for themselves over the course of one to four years through savings on your energy bills.
- Fit energy-saving light bulbs.
- Install thermostatic valves on your radiators.
- Insulate your hot water tank, your loft and your walls.
- 35 per cent of heat generated in the house is lost through the walls. Installing cavity wall installation to a medium-sized house could reduce your heating bills by up to £100 per year.
- Recycle ‘grey’ water (i.e. used, potable water).
- Replace your old fridge/freezer (if it is over 15 years old), with a new one with energy efficiency rating of "A".
- Replace your old stove and utensils with new energy efficient ones.
Governments and municipal authorities can also take many steps to reduce the carbon footprints of large urban areas. They can --
- Expand transit and compact development options
- Engage in regional freight planning to introduce more energy-efficient freight operations
- Stimulate energy efficient retrofitting
- Incentivize location efficient housing decisions
- Issue a metropolitan challenge to develop innovative solutions that integrate land use, transportation, energy, and other areas
- A recent American study showed that per capita emissions in different US cities depending mostly on the availability and density of rail transit options. So dense areas like New York and Los Angeles actually have smaller footprints per capita than areas like Nashville and Oklahoma City, which are less compact.
- Another factor that affects a city's carbon footprint is where it gets its energy from (coal versus hydropower, for example), the price of that energy (when prices are lower, consumption is higher), and weather (much energy is put into air conditioning and water heating).
Green Flight Navigation System
New flight and navigation technologies are emerging to save oil and greenhouse emissions, and also decreasing passenger delays. In a recent development, a Boeing 777 flew from Auckland into San Francisco International Airport to showcase airplanes controlled and monitored by satellite-based GPS instead of ground based radar. This Airways New Zealand flight saved 1,200 gallons of jet fuel and avoided emission of 12 tons of carbon into air. The coordinated use of GPS by airline pilots and air traffic control personnel allowed the plane to take more direct and fuel-efficient flight routes. Flight officials are likening it to a car pool lane in the sky.
The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) calls it the Next Generation Air Transportation System or NextGen, which is expected to improve safety, decrease flight delays and lower fuel costs for the airline industry. Using this system pilots will get more freedom in determining the most efficient route to a destination by climbing to high elevations more quickly and taking longer, more gradual descents into the runway.
- Welcome to Carbon Footprint
- BeGreen Now
- The Carbon Footprint
- Excerpts from the International Herald Tribune
- Sustainable Development and the Environment by A. M. Thirumurthy, F. Fanthome
- The Green Ghost
- Carbon Credits
- Food Miles
- Virtual Water
- Sustainable Architecture
- Making Refrigerators More Energy Efficient
- How to Conserve Energy Using Computers