Saturday, March 14, 2009

Understanding our carbon footprint.

All of us, no matter how green we live, play a part in greenhouse gas emissions. But how many of us truly understand the concept of the carbon footprint? I decided to take a look and figure out how I could take steps towards lowering mine.

When we think carbon, most of us automatically think cars. And it is true that cars play a big part. In the United States, according to the Nature Conservancy, 20 % of carbon emitted comes from cars. So taking steps towards traveling lighter and getting more miles per gallon is a good place to start for sure. Hybrids, carpooling, public transportation, these are all solutions that have been pounded into our heads for saving the world. But what if the people that drive their hybrids around constantly buy imported foods and produce? Or what if a person takes his or her bike to work in the morning and then comes home and runs the air conditioning unit at full throttle all night.

Every little thing we do, whether it be using a compact fluorescent bulb or buying produce from a local farmer, reduces the impact we have on climate change.

Did you know ...

  • That if you replace incandescent bulbs by compact fluorescents, you will save 100 pounds of carbon for each bulb over its life span?
  • That by installing programmable thermostats in your home and keeping the air at a constant temperature year round, you could save a great deal of money on your power bill and at the same time, help lower your emissions from overworking your utilities?
  • That one ton of carbon is released by planes for every 5000 miles (8000 kilometers) of travels? Which means that every time you buy a package of strawberries that have been flown in from Chile to your supermarket, you are contributing to putting tons over tons of carbon in the atmosphere.

These are only a few examples of how every little thing we do has an impact, for better or for worse.

The first step to understanding that impact is to have an idea of our footprint.

If you live in the United States, a great place to go is on the Nature Conservancy Carbon Calculator and fill in their little survey to know the average footprint of your household. It is very thorough and takes under consideration states that have cleaner energy sources in the calculations.

Another very complex but well done calculator in the USA is the one for that actually calculates with a dollar figure how much your carbon offset would cost and offers the possibility of donating to the cause. At 10$ per ton of carbon offset, you can fund projects in renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation everywhere in the world.

For Canada, I've found a few sites that have varying degrees of precisions, but that are still good indicators and can help you make cleaner and more ecologically sound decisions. Here are a few that I've found interesting :

The EcoNeutral Carbon Calculator focuses on both transportation and home energy use. It has a country selector so you can use this calculator no matter where you live.

Tree Canada has a fun little calculator that shows a CO2 offset versus trees needing to be planted to compensate result. For this one, you need to know your average kWh (kilowatt-hour) usage for the year, but it gives a good idea of the importance of trees for the natural balance of our air and environment. Donating to this organization helps with the planting and maintenance of trees in urban and rural Canada and to planting trees for environmental, non-commercial purposes. For every 4$ you donate, one tree will be planted and cared for.

These are of course just a FEW of the programs and sites that are out there for you to start really getting active with carbon offsetting.

I hope that you will go and check out these sites and look for more like them.

Happy greening!