Clean Air

Carbon Footprint: Why It Matters

When we talk about carbon footprint, we mean carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that you may be familiar with from your school science class. If you are like me, then you were told that you have to exhale because your body creates carbon dioxide, and that with enough people on the place, we would run out of oxygen. Some student might have used this information to hurl a nasty insult about you being a waste of oxygen, but then it shouldn’t be an insult because we don’t actually waste oxygen or create CO2.

What actually happens is a plant absorbs CO2 already in the atmosphere as a result of natural events (volcanoes, forest fires, etc.) or burning fossil fuel, then the plant uses the carbon atom to build its roots, stems and leaves. Then, an animal eats the plant and we eat the animal; or we just eat the plants. In either case, our bodies absorb what is in the plants, including the carbon. This carbon is then bonded to two oxygen atoms and we exhale. The CO2 that leaves our body is reabsorbed by plants and the cycle beings all over again.

But that is a little anecdote about the challenges of childhood and school. Adulthood has its own challenges, including thinking about carbon dioxide in a different way, like how our choices can affect the environment. Many of us have familiarized ourselves with terms like environmental regulation, sustainability, or conservation, but a few decade ago the only voices speaking about the effect of human development on the planet were private citizens.

That all changed in 1970.

A Little Bit About Earth Day

On April 22, 1970, more than 20 million people gathered in cities across the United States to encourage the government to take action and pass regulatory action that would address mounting public concerns and growing bodies of scientific evidence that showed that we were putting the health of planet Earth in jeopardy. In December of the same year, then-President Richard Nixon signed an executive order establishing the Environmental Protection Agency.

Today, more than 15,000 full-time employees contribute to the EPA’s mission to “develop and enforce regulations, give grants, study environmental issues, sponsor partnerships, teach people about the environment, and publish information.” Notable policy action includes the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act and many more.

How Is Your Carbon Footprint Calculated

Your carbon footprint describes your contribution of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere that typically results from the burning of fossil fuels. These source of carbon dioxide can be a direct result of your actions, such as driving to the store. It can also come from indirect actions, such as buying items that required fossil fuels to manufacture or transport products to the store.

Of course, carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas that contributes to atmospheric warming, but it does have the most far-reaching impact. According to the EPA, carbon dioxide accounted for 82% of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. Additionally, CO2 has the greatest global warming potential because the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can last thousands of years.

To help you understand your impact on carbon dioxide emissions, the EPA provides a free carbon footprint calculator to help estimate your carbon footprint using U.S. average values. Have your utility bills ready for a more accurate calculation.

Reduce My Carbon Footprint, Please

As we wrote above, your carbon footprint involves direct action and indirect actions. A way to reduce your carbon footprint through direct action may include planning to run errands, parking your car in a central location than walking between stores. An indirection action could be using our 8 Air Conditioner Energy Saving Tips, which cuts back on your energy use that directly affects the amount of energy a fossil fuel power plant needs to produce to supply enough energy to home.

You might also consider:

  • Buying Earth-friendly cleaning products
  • Use reusable bags
  • Buy from farmers markets
  • Buy from local, small businesses
  • Upgrade to ENERGY STAR certified appliances.
  • Use fewer lights around the home
  • Unplug electronics when not in use
  • Help fund carbon offset project
  • Spread the word to get people thinking about their carbon footprint

Every little bit helps towards the goal of eliminating carbon emissions around the world. According to The Christian Science Monitor, “in 2013, approximately 13 percent of U.S. electricity was generated from renewable sources, hydropower included.”

Stanford University scientist and professor Mark Jacobson, in his article, 100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for the 50 United States (via:, proposes that 100% of existing, non-renewable energy sources could be replaced with renewable power by the year 2050 at the cost of $14 trillion. The paper also suggests that jobs lost in the existing energy sector would easily by outnumbered by new jobs, and more than $3 trillion dollars of the gross domestic product would be saved each year because we no longer need global warming regulations.

While we may be a few decades away from reaching such optimistic goals, all of us can start reducing our carbon footprint as we celebrate Earth Day this weekend!

How will you celebrate Earth Day? Share your story in the comments below!



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