What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is a summary of all greenhouse gas emissions produced during a specific event, activity, product or place, expressed as carbon monoxide equivalent in grams per ton of emissions. The term is also often used in climate change negotiations to describe the proportion of a nation’s total annual energy consumption that is spent on energies derived from fossil fuels. Carbon footprints differ from country to country and from sector to sector. While a country’s overall energy mix is a primary driver of its carbon emissions, other sources of emissions, like industry, also have strong influences. For example, mining, transport and industry are all significant contributors to a country’s carbon footprints.
In contrast to the “carbon footprint”, there is another kind of footprint, one not associated with any particular cause or source. This second footprint, which is also called an ecological footprint, describes the extent to which natural resources, such as air, water and land are used for the support of human activities. The scope of natural capital extends beyond the Earth’s surface, as it can also be extracted from the depths of the Earth. When natural capital is consumed, this expands the negative impact of climate change, because the earth’s capacity to regenerate and provide the natural resources of life is severely limited.
One way to reduce the ecological impact of global climate change
In addition to an increasing number of carbon emissions, most homes in the US burn approximately 4.5 billion gallons of oil per year, according to the Energy Information Institute. If all the oil used in the typical household was burned, scientists estimate that the Earth would be subjected to a level of warming described as “unacceptable,” with some consequences for human civilization ranging from calamity to disaster. Eliminating the use of fossil fuels, which significantly contributes to the growth of the carbon footprint, would significantly reduce the negative impact of climate change on the environment, and consequently reduce the average temperature of the planet.
One way to reduce the ecological impact of global climate change is to switch to energy sources that have a significantly lower carbon footprint, like solar or geothermal power. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a number of programs to assist homeowners to reduce their carbon footprints and make changes that will allow them to become more energy efficient. Some of these steps include making homes “greener” by installing efficient appliances and upgrading blinds, HVAC systems, and replacing old, inefficient heat-efficient and climate-friendly HVAC equipment with new, energy-efficient models. Several government agencies provide grants for research and development of green technologies and energy efficiency, and offer tax credits for certain appliances.
The effects of climate change and its adverse environmental impacts
Another way to curb climate change and its adverse environmental effects is through a program called caps and auctions, which limit the amount of carbon emissions companies and households can emit. In the US, the cap and auction program has regulated gas emissions in the electricity sector, forcing utilities to buy permits for the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere each year. For the homes and businesses in the country, the caps and auctions also require them to purchase carbon offsetting credits, which are offset by the world’s largest emitters, like China and India. These offsetting programs are helping consumers and businesses protect the Earth while at the same time helping to reduce the amount of carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere.
They permeate all aspects of life and can cause or aggravate many serious problems for humans and their environment. If we want to reverse the trend of increasing atmospheric concentration of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere, and keep it from changing into a state with drastically different environmental impacts, we need to adopt strategies that are practical and workable, but can also be managed on a day-to-day basis. This is what can help us address both short-term and long-term climate change, with carbon footprint reduction acting as the catalysts.