What Is Your Carbon Footprint?

Reduce your carbon footprint

What is YOUR Carbon Footprint?

Global warming is one of the biggest environmental issues we face today – it’s estimated that in the next century average temperatures will increase anywhere from 2° to as much as 11°F. This drastic change in our earth’s climate is caused by greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and ozone (O3), that trap sunlight in the atmosphere and heat the earth below. Human activity over the last few decades is responsible for creating huge amounts of these gases, which is why reducing greenhouse gas emissions are such an important part of going green.

What Is a Carbon Footprint?

The term carbon footprint refers to the amount of greenhouse gas released by a person or community. The majority of greenhouse gases come from burning fossil fuels like oil and coal, which means that each of us has our own carbon footprint – when you drive a car, turn on a light, or cook dinner you’re contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also possible to calculate the carbon footprint for particular countries or industries. For example, the U.S. produces 176,000 metric tons of COper person, enough to make us the country with the second-largest carbon footprint in the world.

There are a number of website that allow you to estimate your personal carbon footprint. Sites like epa.gov take into account your food, travel, and purchasing habits to calculate greenhouse gas emissions for you and your entire household. Generally, the more energy you use – whether it’s gas for your car or electricity for your home – the larger your carbon footprint will be.

How Can I Reduce My Carbon Footprint?

The easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint is to be efficient with your home energy use. Seventy percent of electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, so the less energy you use in your home the smaller you can make your carbon footprint. Start with the thermostat – changing it by just 2° can lower your energy use by 2% – and make sure your home is well insulated so you’re not wasting heat or air conditioning. Also make sure to set your water heater no higher than 120° and to wash clothes and dishes in cold water. Other small changes like switching to LED light bulbs and using ceiling fans will further lower your home energy bill. (Greenhome’s home energy conservation kit has more ideas and tools to help make your home energy efficient.) You can also help by choosing a green power company that generates electricity uses renewable resources like wind, solar, or hydropower, all of which produce fewer greenhouse gasses than burning fossil fuels.

Transportation is another big source of greenhouse gases: 27% of all U.S. CO2 emissions come from cars. Choosing to walk, bike, carpool, or take the bus is a great way to reduce the amount of fossil fuels you use: for every car we take off the road, we’re reducing CO2emissions by four and half tons per year. If you do need to drive a car, make sure to use it wisely. Regular maintenance like checking the tire pressure and changing the oil will help keep your car efficient and cut down on noxious fumes. And if you’re shopping for a new car, look for hybrids or flex fuel vehicles that release fewer emissions.

Another easy way to decrease your carbon footprint is to throw away less trash. Garbage rotting in landfills produces 12% of the methane that goes into our atmosphere (and CH4 is actually 20 times more destructive than carbon dioxide), so by recycling and composting you’re keeping garbage out of landfills and methane out of the atmosphere. Recycling will also reduce the amount of fossil fuels used for manufacturing, since it takes less energy to make products from recycled materials. In fact, the EPA estimates that recycling in the U.S. reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 49.9 million metric tons per year – that’s equivalent to 39.6 million cars!

Most of us rely on fossil fuels in one way or another, whether it’s the electricity in our homes or the car we drive to work, but that doesn’t mean we all can’t also find ways to reduce that dependence and minimize our own carbon footprint. Whether you’re turning down the thermostat, recycling, or riding a bike, helping to prevent global warming starts with the choices we make every day.

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