What is a Carbon Footprint?

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November 1, 2010

Many individuals and businesses concerned about global warming have decided to take action by reducing their “carbon footprint.” While these measures get publicity and media coverage, such coverage often fails to explain what a carbon footprint actually is and what steps you can take to do your part in reducing them.

When people refer to reducing carbon or a carbon footprint, they really mean carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a primary greenhouse gas and the biggest threat for global warming. All animals breathe out carbondioxide, but that is miniscule compared with the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels, such as coal or petroleum. “Carbon footprint” refers to the impact one’s lifestyle or business has on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The overall carbon footprint includes driving and heating, as well as secondary sources like the carbon dioxide from coal burned for electricity or diesel burned in trucks delivering food to the supermarket.

Reducing a carbon footprint can take many forms, but it is often about making sure energy is used efficiently. You can keep you home toasty with less energy if you have proper insulation and newer windows. You can also buy carbon “offsets” to make up for the carbon dioxide you can’t avoid. The offsets may buy credits in foreign carbon markets or be used for re-foresting efforts, since trees and plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Even if you’re a skeptic of global warming, many of the actions taken to reduce a carbon footprint are worthwhile. Energy efficiency doesn’t just help reduce carbon dioxide, it also lowers your utility bills.

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