What is Carbon Footprint?
Carbon footprint is the cumulative of all the green house gases released by an individual or an organization measured in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent. It is usually measured in tons annually e.g. the average carbon footprint of an individual in North America may be 20 tons of CO2-eq per year.
Usually carbon footprints may be of two types – primary and secondary. When you use fossil fuels for transportation or use electricity, then the carbon dioxide or other green house gases released are directly affecting the environment and their measure is the primary carbon foot print. On the other hand, the products you use are first manufactured, packaged, and then brought to you from a location. This process uses up energy, too, and releases greenhouse gases which are measured as secondary carbon foot print. Though you may not be directly releasing these gases, the indirect use of these products adds to the carbon foot print.
Green House Gases and the Green House Effect
There are a number of gases in the atmosphere that trap the sun’s energy and heat inside the sheath of atmosphere and thus keep the planet warm enough for life. These gases are known as the green house gases because of the similar way in which they work like a greenhouse trapping sunlight. The major green house gases that occur naturally are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water. The earth’s average temperature is around 14 ºC (57 ºF), and that is because of the green house effect that helps maintaining this temperature, suitable for life forms. In the absence of green house gases, the earth’s temperature may dip to -19 ºC (-2.2 ºF).
Interestingly, due to the advancement of technology and the industries, there are also many man-made green house gases nowadays like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). These work in a similar way to trap sun’s heat inside the earth and produce a greenhouse effect.
Although all these gases are grouped together as green house gases, their individual concentration and property as a trapper of sun’s heat differ. A particular gas may be in low concentration on Earth, but may be a very potent greenhouse gas. That is why they are measured in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent while measuring carbon foot print. It is the same amount of carbon dioxide that would be needed to produce the same green house effect as the given gas.
How Carbon Footprint and Green House Effect are Related?
It is understood that the more the amount of green house gases in the atmosphere, the effect of trapping radiation will be more and thus the earth will become warmer and warmer. Scientists have found out that the global temperature has risen to almost 0.6 o C in the last century.
Due to many human activities like rise in the use of fossil fuels for transportation, deforestation, industrialisation, landfills, interference with the natural water or carbon cycles, the amount of green house gases and thus the carbon foot print of individuals and organisations are increasing. Therefore every individual is contributing to the phenomenon of global warming caused by the green house effect.
The effect is already being felt in many parts of the world. The polar bears are finding it hard to survive in the pole because of the fast melting ice. The summers are becoming harsher with new highs in temperature recorded almost all across the world.
Using energy saving appliances at home, less use of vehicles that utilise fossil fuels, using less electricity or using CFLs, are some of the simple things that can be practiced by every individual to reduce your annual carbon foot print. This will mean you are releasing less of the harmful green house gases into the atmosphere and thus saving Earth from becoming warmer. Every enlightened individual can thus help save the planet by reducing your carbon footprint.
photo by Mikael Miettinen(cc/Flickr)