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What a Carbon Footprint Means

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 12 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
 
Carboncounted Carbon Footprint Planet

You’ve almost certainly heard the term “carbon footprint” – in fact it’s been impossible to ignore it over the last few years. We all have one, as individuals, businesses, homes, and countries. In essence, it’s the amount of carbon we – or our houses, business, cars, and so on – put into the atmosphere.

How Much Do We Emit
According to statistics, in the UK each person puts 9.4 tonnes of CO2 (carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere each year. By those figures, we’re far from the worst offenders in the carbon stakes, but certainly not the best either. But a figure like 9.4 tonnes is fairly meaningless by itself.

It’s really just a way of measuring the impact we have on the environment by the amount of greenhouse gases, or carbon dioxide, we produce. That gives us a standard to start from. Beginning with that, we can work to lower the amount of greenhouse gases we generate in each aspect of our lives, which can help save the planet.

So what is an ideal, or at least acceptable, level of CO2 emissions? In a perfect world, we’d all be carbon neutral – that is, have no CO2 output at all. But that’s impossible. Everything we do, whether it’s run the fridge, run our car or even watch TV, creates CO2 and adds to our carbon footprint. So, in practical terms, an ideal to try for would be one tonne of CO2 per person per year.

Carbon Dioxide and The Greenhouse Effect
We’re told that the greenhouse effect, trapping gases and increasing the temperature on Earth, is a bad thing. However, that’s not completely true. To some extent we need it for life on the planet to continue – without it, we’d literally freeze. But if the layer of greenhouse gas is too thick, temperatures will rise and severely affect life, making many places uninhabitable.

Carbon dioxide isn’t the only greenhouse gas, but there’s more of it, and it lasts a long time – and the more we add to it, the greater the risk of global warming and severely affecting life for generations to come. The carbon dioxide levels are higher now than at any time in measured history, and global temperatures continue to rise.

These levels have risen since 1750, when the industrial age started, and that’s not a coincidence. Industry pollutes – you only need to look at the soot on old buildings to understand that.

The Worst Offenders
The US emits more CO2 than any other country. In Britain, our emissions per person are about half those of the US. The task ahead is for all of us to lower our carbon footprint and save the planet. The average Indian emits just over one tonne of CO2 per person per year, and that’s where we all need to be to make sure our kids and their kids have a good life.That means a drastic reduction in our emissions, by close to 90% from our current output, which won’t be easy to achieve. It means we need to change our lifestyles somewhat – although perhaps not as much as you might imagine – and be very aware of the impact of everything we do.

In part we need to educate ourselves about the impact of everything we do on the planet, and make choices. We need to think of ourselves not as consumers, but as offenders, and do something about it.

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