What Is Carbon Footprint?

Footprints on sand
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Every generation has its problems. It is up to us to address those problems so that we can leave this world a better place! I hope you agree that climate change is the defining problem of our time. In order to deal with climate change, it is often suggested that a reduction of our carbon footprint can help. It seems that everyone in the government and private sector is talking about it, but what is it really? In this article, I attempt to answer the question — What is Carbon Footprint?

What Is It?

It is the total amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) generated because of human activities and the use of any products and services. It is calculated by summing the emissions resulting from every stage of a product we use or service’s lifetime (material production, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life).

How Is It Measured?

Carbon footprint is measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) per year. Carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2e means the number of metric tons of CO2 emissions with the same global warming potential as one metric ton of another greenhouse gas.

What Is Global Warming Potential (GWP)?

There are ten primary greenhouse gases — water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), perfluorocarbons (CF6, C2F6), hydrofluorocarbons (CHF3, CF3CH2F, CH3CHF2), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

The two ways these gases differ from each other are:

  1. their ability to absorb energy and
  2. how long they stay in the atmosphere.

These two attributes determine the impact that these gases have on global warming. The heat from the Sun that enters our atmosphere is reflected from the surface of the Earth and dissipates back into the atmosphere and into space. However due to the presence of these gas particles in the atmosphere the reflected heat is trapped and is unable to escape. This increases the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere thereby causing global warming.

The relative potential of a greenhouse gas to trap heat and cause global warming is the global warming potential (GWP).

GWP is a measure of how much energy the emissions of 1 ton of a gas will absorb over a given period of time, relative to the emissions of 1 ton of carbon dioxide (CO2). The larger the GWP, the more that a given gas warms the Earth compared to CO2 over that time period.

Why Should We Care?

The greenhouse effect is the process that occurs when gases in our atmosphere trap the Sun’s heat reflected back from the Earth’s surface. Without this process, Earth would be an extremely inhospitable place experiencing temperature extremes and could not support life as we know it. However, mother nature has a bias towards moderation.

An excess of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has turned a very normal and otherwise harmless greenhouse effect into something harmful!

The global warming that we are experiencing now is the greenhouse effect gone wrong. The reason for this rise in greenhouse gases has mostly been because of human activities

This article was a brief introduction to the concept of Carbon Footprint which is essentially a way to track and measure the emission caused by human activities.

References

https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/https://css.umich.edu/factsheets/carbon-footprint-factsheethttps://css.umich.edu/factsheets/greenhouse-gases-factsheethttps://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/climate-change/https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warming-potentialshttps://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-qa/are-humans-causing-or-contributing-global-warminghttps://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/climate-change/

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Abhi Banerjee

Abhi Banerjee

I write about climate, technology, business, and veganism. Currently living in Michigan with my partner and our little pup. Have a wonderful day!! :)