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Your Carbon Footprint

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 24 Jan 2011 | comments*Discuss
 
Carbon Footprint Environment Impact

Our daily lives have an impact on our environment. Everything from the food we eat to the clothes we wear to the transport we use can hurt our local environment and our planet as a whole. One way to measure this impact is known as a carbon footprint. Everyone has a carbon footprint, but this measurement is not always well understood. To help you with this topic we have put together some basic answers to frequently asked questions about carbon footprints.

What Does a Carbon Footprint Measure?

A carbon footprint is a measure of how much our daily activities produce or contribute to the production of greenhouse gases. These gases contribute to the greenhouse effect and climate change. In modern life we tend to create a carbon footprint in two ways:
  • Primary footprint: directly producing carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. This production comes from things like using electricity and transportation. We can directly control our primary footprints.
  • Secondary footprint: indirect production of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. This includes those produced while items (clothing, plastics, etc) are produced, used and broken down. We can only control how much/many of these products we use.

What is the Greenhouse Effect?

The greenhouse effect describes the rising temperatures on Earth due to gases in the atmosphere trapping energy from the sun. These gases don’t allow heat to move back to space and instead keeps the Earth warmer than it would be otherwise. These gases include:
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Methane
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Water vapour

What is Climate Change?

Climate change refers to a long-term, measurable change in a given climate. The time periods of these changes may be decades or even millions of years. Natural factors (for example, changes in the Earth’s orbit of the sun), natural processes (for example, ocean circulation) and human impact (carbon footprints) can all result in climate change. Climate change often includes changes in:
  • Temperature (global warming refers to higher temperatures)
  • Rainfall amounts and locations
  • Snowfall amounts and locations
  • Wind patterns

Why is Reducing My Carbon Footprint Important?

Reducing your specific carbon footprint is important because it allows you to directly lower your contributions to greenhouse gases and by extension the greenhouse effect and climate change. You may not believe your carbon footprint has much impact on the overall impact all humans have on the environment, but if no one took responsibility for their contributions no progress would ever be made.

What Can I Do to Reduce My Carbon Footprint?

Reducing your carbon footprint requires just a few small adjustments in your daily life. Many of these won’t cost you anymore than you already spend, and some will even help you save money. Easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint include:
  • Using less petrol (walking, sharing car rides, taking public transportation more often).
  • Composting organic rubbish instead of putting it in a bag and sending to a landfill.
  • Turning off and unplugging items which use electricity (television, computer, tea kettle, etc).
  • Switching to biodegradable cleaning products.
  • Eating seasonal (so it isn’t forced to flourish) and local (so it isn’t shipped) food.
  • Reducing, reusing and recycling whenever possible.
  • Changing to energy-efficient light bulbs.
  • Opting for trains instead of planes when travelling.
  • Purchasing carbon offsets (a reduction of greenhouse gas production elsewhere) when flying.

Your carbon footprint is your impact on the environment. Understanding what this measurement means, what the greenhouse effect is, what climate change is, whey reducing your carbon footprint is important and how you can reduce your carbon footprint are all important to making sure your impact on the environment is as positive as possible.

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