Your carbon footprint (or CO2 footprint) is an estimation of the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that is released into the atmosphere as a direct result of your lifestyle and activities.
Just to give you an idea, here are some everyday human activities that add 1 kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere:
Travelling seven miles by public transport (train or bus)
Flying by plane over a distance of 1.37 miles
Using your computer for 32-hours (60-watt consumption)
In this article, we’ll talk about what carbon dioxide is, how it affects the environment and how you can calculate your own CO2 footprint.
So what is carbon dioxide?
Carbon dioxide is a gas that’s present naturally in the earth’s atmosphere. As a greenhouse gas, it plays a crucial role in heating the earth by absorbing energy from the sun and redirecting it back towards the earth's surface. It also plays a key role in plant-based photosynthesis, which is necessary for the survival of humans and animals that depend on plants for food.
Why is carbon dioxide harmful to the environment?
In natural atmospheric quantities (around 0.04%) carbon dioxide is harmless. However, an increase of carbon dioxide gas indoors can have a toxic effect on human and animal life. Moreover, a build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can also lead to climate change, due to too much of the sun's energy being trapped, resulting in a runaway greenhouse effect.
What’s causing the increase in greenhouse gases?
The carbon footprint of individuals, organisations and communities has a direct impact on rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. This includes, but is not limited to:
To satisfy global demand for electricity, we burn fossil fuels such as gas, coal and oil to generate power. When fossil fuels are burned they release CO2, which is then expelled into the atmosphere as waste. Coal, in particular, produces twice as much CO2 than oil when burned.
Burning petrol and diesel to power our vehicles is no different than burning fossil fuels to power our homes. This results in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, being released into our atmosphere.
Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide during photosynthesis to produce energy. They then release oxygen as a by-product of this process. So, when we remove trees to expand our civilisation, we are eliminating the earth’s natural CO2 scrubbers.
Additionally, when we burn trees or other foliage during deforestation, the CO2 stored in them is then released into the atmosphere.
Iron and steel manufacturing requires a considerable amount of heat energy (from burning fossil fuels) to convert raw materials into useful products. Other industries contribute too, such as agriculture, which is responsible for the mass use of landfills and methane-producing cattle.
How do you calculate your carbon footprint?
Calculating your carbon footprint is easy using an online carbon footprint calculator. All you need to do is enter details about your house, lifestyle and how much you travel. The tool will then calculate your results for you.
How does your carbon footprint compare?
According to information compiled by the International Energy Agency and highlighted by the UCS, the average carbon footprint of a UK citizen is 5.99 metric tons per year. This same list also places the UK as the 15th highest CO2 producing country in the world.
But how does the UK compare to the rest of the world?
The following table details average CO2 emissions per country (million metric tons) and average CO2 emissions per person (metric tons)
Would you like to reduce your carbon footprint?
If you want to learn more about the various ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint, visit our article: Easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint.