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Carbon Footprints Explained - Finnegan Pierson - Blog

Carbon Footprints Explained

Climate change is increasingly on the minds of the public, corporations, and governments. As the planet heats up, many people are wondering what they can do to generate fewer emissions in their daily lives. What they are wondering, in effect, is how they can reduce their carbon footprint. While that may sound complicated, the concept of carbon footprints can be easily explained.


What Are Carbon Footprints?

A carbon footprint is a measure of how much carbon dioxide or other carbon compounds an entity emits in a given timeframe. Individuals have personal carbon footprints. Businesses and corporations have carbon footprints. Countries have carbon footprints. Carbon footprints differ depending on the habits of the individuals or groups one compares. For example, an individual who uses coal-generated electricity and drives to and from work every day will have a larger carbon footprint than someone who uses public transportation, generates their own solar energy, and stores excess energy in a solar battery. Similarly, a concrete factory with a lot of emitted carbon byproducts will have a larger carbon footprint than a sustainable-furniture company. As one might expect, there are many different factors that contribute to the size of a carbon footprint.


Carbon Footprints of Different Economic Sectors

Carbon emissions have long been a byproduct of societal growth. Many different sectors of the economy use carbon in different ways and to different extents. In the United States, the transportation industry generates the most carbon emissions, accounting for about 29% of the country’s total emissions. Everything from personal vehicles to airplanes are included in this industry. The energy industry, which creates electricity used in homes, businesses, and elsewhere accounts for about 28% of the country’s total emissions. Most of these emissions come from electrical power plans that generate electricity from fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas. General industry, encompassing everything from manufacturing facilities to car makers, accounts for about 22% of the country’s total emissions. The agricultural industry generates about 9% of the country’s emissions. Much of these agricultural emissions from the raising of livestock, with cows being particularly potent polluters. The commercial sector, consisting of infrastructure like offices and stores, accounts for about 6% of the country’s emissions. Finally, the residential sector, made up of peoples’ homes, accounts for about 5% of the country’s total emissions. Although major economic sectors are the largest emitters, individuals and their actions contribute to these overall totals. This can be from flying for a vacation, by eating an excess of beef, or by inefficiently using electricity at home. Luckily, individuals are able to estimate their own carbon footprints and discover ways through which to lower it overall.


An Individual’s Carbon Footprint

Like economic sectors, different individuals have different sized carbon footprints. Interested people can use a carbon footprint calculator, enter in information about their own lives, and see the impact of their own emissions on the climate. The goal is to have as small of a carbon footprint as possible. There are quite a few factors that determine the size of an individual carbon footprint. Obvious factors include choices such as driving a personal vehicle vs. using public transportation, how the electricity one uses is generated, and how much non-recyclable waste a household generates. Less obvious factors include how many energy efficient appliances a household contains, the number of energy efficient lightbulbs in a home, and the home’s primary heating source.

The average carbon footprint of a U.S. citizen is about 16 tons, which is about four times higher than the global average. To mitigate the most damaging effects of climate change, the global average needs to drop to about two tons per person by 2050. Understanding your own emission habits can help to lower the global emission rate within the 2050 timeframe.

A carbon footprint is a measure of how many emissions an individual or group produces. These footprints can differ between economic sectors, between companies, and between individuals. Being aware of your own carbon footprint can help reduce the global carbon footprint enough to ward off the worst effects of climate change, so calculate your carbon emissions and start finding ways to cut down today!

Publish Date: June 12, 2021 12:21 AM

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