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What Is A Carbon Footprint?

Updated: May 7, 2022

Global warming, climate change, floods, forest fires, and draughts. The Earth's balance is shifting for the worse, and this shift has been, and is being, caused by human activity. We all contribute to this balance on the Earth, we breathe air in and produce carbon dioxide, plants use the carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. There are many examples of how everything should work together to create an environment that works for everyone and everything. But, humans have found many resources on the Earth that are useful to them and, in using these resources, they, we, have taken more than we've given back. One way of measuring our individual impact is through our carbon footprint.

A Brief History of the Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint was used as part of an advertising campaign for the fossil fuel company BP in 2005. The campaign was designed by Ogilvy and the point was to divert attention away from the fossil fuel industry onto individual consumers. By getting people to calculate their own carbon footprint they made people take a look at the damage that was being caused by their actions, taking the focus off of what the fossil fuel industry was doing to the planet. Such campaigns gave examples and instructions on how people could "go on a low-carbon diet". Seeing how successful this ploy, was other major fossil fuel companies used the same strategy, a strategy that had also been used by the tobacco and plastics industries to shift the blame for the negative consequences of those industries, such as under-age smoking and plastic pollution onto the individual and the choices that they had made.

In the meantime BP made no attempt to reduce its own carbon footprint, they actually expanded their oil drilling into the 2020s. However, there was some good to come from this strategy, by making people look at the results of their actions people became more environmentally aware and the sense of personal responsibility led to people changing the way that they lived to lessen the harm that they caused to the environment.

What is a Carbon Footprint?

A carbon footprint is defined as the total amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activities and is usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). The carbon dioxide is produced through the use of fossil fuels, this can be burning them for energy production or using them to make other things, such as plastic being being made from oil. Carbon dioxide and other gasses that have a warming effect on the planet, are released. These gases take a very long time to break down and hang around within the Earth's atmosphere. They hold on to heat from the sun, stopping the Earth from keeping its temperature balance, they also create heat of their own, heating the Earth from the inside and outside.

Everything that we do has a carbon footprint, you have a shower there's a carbon footprint to pumping the water and the electricity or gas used to heat it. The way we travel, whether we drive, catch a bus or take flights has an impact on the planet. The food that we eat, plants, vegetables and fruits, meat, or processed food, there is a carbon footprint to it all.

How Do We Do Our Part?

The original idea and name of the carbon footprint was derived from the ecological footprint concept. This concept was formulated by William E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel in the 1990's and is a way of comparing the resources that we use to what the planet can renew. It is a measure of the number of Earth's needed to replenish the resources that are being used. The carbon footprint is one part of the ecological footprint and only looks at carbon dioxide release. Other footprints include water and land footprints.

The climate is changing right before our eyes, the damage being done is very real. As the Earth heats up and pollution, waste and destruction increases, we can each do something to lessen our negative impact on the planet. For example, we all know that cars contribute to pollution and it doesn't matter what fuel the car uses. Petrol and diesel cars use oil pumped from deep under ground, but electric cars require batteries that are made from natural resources, they need regular charging and often cannot be recycled. Flying is the worst way to travel, from an environmental perspective. However, some of the things that we do, that are not good for the planet, are not easy to avoid. Yes we can walk more, we don't have to buy bottled water, we can wear our clothes for more than one season and donate them to charity when we no longer wear them, but we do still need the clothes. Making, washing and ironing them create CO2. So, what can we do? Make simple, everyday, changes.

Most CO2 production comes from industry, but we can still lessen the negative impact of our individual lives, here are some examples:

  • Walk, ride a bike or use a scooter as much as possible, self powered travel creates no emissions and is good for your health

  • Use public transport instead of driving, it shares the carbon dioxide production between everyone onboard

  • Turn of any electrical appliances that are not being used, don't use standby, power them down wherever possible

  • Use reusable items like bags and metal straws, carry your own water bottle, take food with you that you make yourself instead of buying food while you're out

  • Minimise the use of climate control at home, wear more clothes instead of turning up heating, try to cope with warmer weather rather than turn up the air conditioning

  • Eat a more plant based diet, meat production produces huge amounts of CO2 and organic waste as well as requiring huge amounts of land that could, otherwise, be left to nature

  • Minimise your use of plastics and recycle everything that you can

  • Reduce waste and this is waste of all kinds, from clothes, as mentioned above, to food. Buy what you need and no more. Make good use of what you have and share if you find that you have more that enough.

If you want to Calculate your carbon footprint use this link.


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