Our daily decisions add up. Every time we turn on a light, drive a car, or plug in a laptop, there is an impact on the environment. A person’s carbon footprint refers to the carbon dioxide emissions associated with their actions. Electricity and transportation require fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum and natural gas to be burned which releases carbon dioxide.In the past few years, “carbon footprint” has also become a catch-all term, encompassing additional gasses such as methane, ozone, and nitrous oxide. These are also emitted through the burning of fossil fuels and are referred to as “greenhouse gasses” because of their role in the greenhouse effect.
Even though the term is commonly used in a negative sense, the greenhouse effect is a natural process. It occurs when the gases in the Earth’s atmosphere trap the heat of the sun. This effect is one of the reasons that the Earth is warm enough to sustain life. But an increase in the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere traps more and more heat, increasing global temperatures.
Another significant effect of greenhouse gases is their role in the rising acidity levels of the oceans. Ocean acidification occurs when greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere interact with the Earth’s water supply. As carbon dioxide is absorbed into the oceans, it forms carbonic acid, making the oceans more acidic. This has a harmful impact on the health and natural habitats of marine life.
Actions which have the most significant effects on our carbon footprint include commercial flights, the use of a car, and the way we use electricity in our homes. While it’s impossible to eliminate our carbon footprint, the phrase encourages consideration when it comes to individual impact on the environment.
Diet also plays a role in the size of our carbon footprint. While a plant-based diet has a lower carbon footprint, it also matters whether the produce is sourced locally or imported. The key to lowering one’s carbon footprint through diet is to eat both locally and seasonally.
Additionally, the products we buy can increase our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions which result from a product’s lifecycle include its manufacturing, shipping, use, and end-of-life. Even though it’s easy to brush off mundane everyday decisions, in a consumer society our choices compound over time.
The concept of a carbon footprint provides awareness of these everyday choices. This awareness encourages us to be more responsible towards the future of the planet.