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
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 doesnt 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 wouldnt 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.