EarthNotes - Carbon Footprint

Flagstaff, AZ – The phrase carbon footprint has swept into our language as quickly as energy crisis did in the 1970s.

Carbon footprint simply refers to the amount of carbon dioxide released by the actions that support a person, a region, or a country. CO2 is the gas released when we burn fossil fuels for energy, and the one held most responsible for Earth's changing, warming climate.

How can you calculate your footprint? A quick search of the Internet will yield a number of sites that can help.

Essentially, you tell a calculator details about your energy usage, including how efficient your car is, and how much you drive it; how much you fly; how much you use public transportation; and how energy-efficient your home is. These four factors cover nearly 90 percent of the CO2 each of us is responsible for.

With that information, a calculator site can then tell you how much CO2 all those activities generate and compare that amount to the average American's, or the average citizen of the world.

Institutions can play, too. Northern Arizona University now knows its carbon footprint, thanks to a recent class project. The students who did the calculations also recommended some ways for the university to cut carbon emissions, from adjusting operations of vending machines on campus to replacing air travel with videoconferencing.

Knowing your carbon footprint is a lot like knowing how many calories you eat each day: it's information that can put you on a diet, and produce greater health for the planet.

-Rose Houk