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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Calculate your carbon footprint

Although climate change is an accepted fact, most people have little idea of what to do about it. What can an individual do to help make a difference? In order to answer that question, a person must first know their particular carbon footprint. Christopher Jones and Daniel Kammen of the University of California, Berkeley have created a series of carbon footprint calculators to allow people to assess their lifestyle and purchasing choices.

Carbon footprints (measures of the amount of greenhouse gases released to the atmosphere) must include all aspects of product usage. For example, the carbon footprint of our food choices would include the energy required to grow that food, harvest it, transport it and prepare it. The carbon footprint of our homes includes not only the energy we use heating or lighting it, but the harvesting, manufacturing and constructing of all the materials within the house.

The typical U.S. household dumps 48 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. In this breakdown, blue indicates direct emissions, such as from driving a family car or heating a home. Green indicates indirect emissions, such as carbon emitted by the trucks delivering groceries to a retail store or in the process of growing crops.

Credit: Image courtesy of University of California - Berkeley.

Interestingly, the researchers found that different households in different regions of the country could achieve the same reduction in carbon release by very different means. For example, a childless couple might lower their emissions the most by choosing a more fuel efficient car, whereas a large family might get the same benefit by reducing the amount of red meat they eat. For this reason, it’s important for each household to determine their own carbon footprint.

If you’d like to see how you compare to the average and what changes would make the most sense for you, you can use the calculators yourself.