The Green Tau: issue 11

Calculating your individual carbon footprint

The ongoing global climate crisis arise because human  activities and lifestyles

are putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a faster rate than this gas can be absorbed by the planet. The resulting increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere insulates the planet so that year on year average global temperatures are rising. This impact of human activity on the planet is termed our carbon foot print. The word conveys the idea that what we do each day is leaving a mark, a footprint, on the face of the earth. We can measure the carbon footprint of different activities eg cycling, driving a car, skiing or hiking. We can measure the carbon footprint of different products eg a book, a DVD, a litre of milk, a dozen eggs, a wooden jumper, or a pair of trainers. We can measure the carbon footprint of a household or a business, of a person living in a flat or medium sized estate agents, a supermarket or a hospital. We can compare the difference between the carbon footprint of a typical resident of Nepal and the typical resident of Norway. We can compare the difference between alternative modes of transport, alternative methods of farming, or between a range of land uses.

Here in the UK the average individual carbon footprint is 10.5 tonnes (WWF).

The Carbon Independent  and the Carbon Footprint websites both  offer a detailed on line footprint calculator which includes inputting the amount of electricity, gas, petrol etc that you use each year.

A less detailed calculator is offered by the World Wild Fund

but it does relate your carbon footprint to the target UK footprint vis a vis a linear reduction in per capita carbon emissions  to net zero by 2045. And that is one of the reasons for calculating our carbon footprint: to see how big it is currently and the to see how it can be reduced to a net zero target. 

The simplest way of reducing our carbon footprint is to look at individual aspects of our lifestyle and see how in practical terms we can reduce our carbon consumption. To some extent we will be limited by factors outside our control. For example if we choose to travel by train we cannot decide which railways lines are powered by electricity and which rely on diesel engines (although we can press Network Rail and our government to address this). If we shop at Waitrose, part of our food footprint is linked to the carbon emissions of Waitrose’s operations (Waitrose’s aim is that their entire operation should achieve net zero by 2035). On the other hand we can make positive choices to use businesses that are carbon neutral. For example, Kiss the Hippo’s coffee roasting business is carbon negative. 

Over the next few weeks I will add ideas and information about reducing our personal carbon footprint on the Eco Tips page.

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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