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by Larry

January, 2009

How to Track Your Carbon Footprint

One's carbon footprint is the net amount of the most common greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, he or she is putting into the atmosphere in a given unit of time, say a year or a lifetime, a measure of how much or little one is contributing to global warming. Typically in the United States we have the largest carbon footprints on the planet, ones so huge that if the rest of the world's population adopted our lifestyles we would need six Earths to avoid seriously damaging the multiple biospheres with the resulting greenhouse gas effects. Is this fair? In the third world, carbon dioxide production is amazingly lower. On average, a single American baby, for instance, produces as much carbon dioxide as 106 children in Haiti.

If familiar with the carbon footprint concept and wanting to reduce their detrimental environmental influences, "green-aware" folks often seek ways to get their carbon footprints smaller and smaller. Carbon footprint calculators are easy to use guides toward this goal. They are available commercially, but one does not have to spend anything for an estimate of one's contribution to the heating of our sphrere. There are in fact many handy gadgets, software downloads, and websites for tracking our carbon footprints.

Carbon calculators frequently offer either a way of estimating one's footprint or of more precisely gauging it. The latter methods require more detailed information such as average energy and water usage from utility bills, car mileage, model, year, and auto maintenance info, air travel stats, types of foods consumed, how much one recycles, use of compost bins, etc.

After learning one's footprint size, the next step might be to decrease it. Ideally, one can even buy carbon offsets, plant trees, or otherwise do things that provide enough carbon dioxide reduction to more than make up for the amount of carbon one is otherwise adding. For most of us, this is as yet an ideal rather than a soon to be achieved reality, but by taking a few steps at first, then gradually increasing them, it is far from an impossible target.

Kids can be encouraged by parents, teachers, and significant others to think of their activities and living spaces in terms of carbon footprints. Once it becomes a game to see how small a footprint he or she can have, one is probably at least halfway there.

Hopefully, more and more of us will become carbon-footprint-conscious. In this arena, size matters! In time, having a large one may be cause for embarrassment, just as being caught butting in line, stealing from a blind beggar, or hoarding war-rationed food items might have been before. In the U.S., we directly and indirectly put enough carbon dioxide into the upper atmosphere that our lifestyles are probably making for worse drought conditions and famines in already marginal existence parts of the undeveloped world. They may also be hastening the day when now populated islands will be largely underwater, due to sea level rises associated with global warming, or when the Inuit and other Arctic dwelling peoples completely lose their natural habitats. In time, as consequences of our relative luxury become apparent, many may not be comfortable with such a "let them eat cake" relationship with those less fortunate than ourselves.

Already, our government is planning for potential influxes of global warming refugees and/or for terrorism against us as billions find their circumstances worse due in part to the way we have used more than our fair share of the resources, helping to heat the biosphere in the process.

As the seriousness of global warming is better understood, if shame is not a sufficient motivator to get individuals and companies to shrink their carbon footprints, major trade sanctions against the U.S., World Court judgments, or United Nations demands that we pay reparations or relocation costs to peoples harmed through our effects on global warming may be.

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