What is my carbon footprint?

Carbon footprint stands for our environmental impact in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that we release into the atmosphere.

Our economy is centred on the use of fossil fuels, such as coal and petroleum. All industrial activity entails burning these and this creates CO2 emissions. By purchasing manufactured goods and making use of services we add to our carbon footprint, and the total of our environmental impact is the sum of all these contributions.

The main contributors to our carbon footprint are: household electricity and heat, transport, food and clothing. All of these can be translated into a number of tonnes of CO2 per annum released into the atmosphere.

In our carbon footprint calculator you can calculate your footprint in these units.

All the goods that we consume are either transported in freight vehicles, shipped around the world in containers, or both. This contributes to our carbon footprint. This is especially true in a global economy where manufacturing often takes place overseas.

The carbon footprint of food that has travelled from overseas can be high. Purchasing local produce is one way to reduce our environmental impact, but this doesn’t mean that local produce has a zero carbon footprint. For example, agricultural irrigation requires water that has to be pumped through the network at an energy cost.

There are ways in which we can reduce our carbon footprint (have a look at our zero footprint article). In our use of energy, our carbon footprint depends on how green is the electricity that we use. A household has a lower carbon footprint if it derives part of its power from renewables. If we drive an electric car our carbon footprint is that of generating that power (which could be high if it was fully generated at a coal-fired station). Renewable energies have the lowest carbon footprint, and the only CO2 emissions involved are those that took place in the manufacturing and maintenance of the device that is employed.

Carbon is not in itself a bad thing. It is the foundation of all organic life. Living organisms wouldn’t exist without it. Unfortunately CO2 is also the cause of global warming. The excess of CO2 in the atmosphere is also responsible for the increased acidity of the oceans.

Our carbon footprint is part of a bigger picture, our ecological footprint. This is our net impact on the environment. In addition to CO2, we are responsible for the emission of other greenhouse gases. Also we create a continuous amount of rubbish, most of which ends up at landfills. This is our “rubbish footprint”. In addition, we have another footprint that is quite significant to the environment and has nothing to do with global warming. This is our “toxic footprint”. This is the hazardous ingredient of our “rubbish footprint”. It encompasses all toxic substances that we release into the environment, especially into the oceans. Our planet has a capacity to assimilate a fraction of our “toxic footprint” but not all of it. As a result our oceans are increasingly toxic to marine ecosystems.

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