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One of the greatest challenges human beings face today is finding ways to live sustainably with their environment. One way to do this is to assess just how much greenhouse gases we are responsible for creating, be it individually, as a community, a corporation, or even a nation. Though there are several types of greenhouse gases, this assessment is usually simplified to take into account how much carbon dioxide we are creating. This is known as a Carbon Footprint. In the course of an average day, year, and life, each and every one of us leaves behind a footprint, measured in terms of how much pollution we generate in order to live. Finding ways to reduce this footprint is a good way of ensuring a healthy environment as well as a sustainable future.
It is difficult to say exactly where this term originated because it appears to have evolved through discourse through the passage of years. For example, William Reese, a regional planning professor at UBC is credited with coming up with the phrase “ecological footprint” while writing a paper on “regional capsules”. This gave impetus to the March of the Metaphoric Footprints. Rees’s young colleague Dr. Mathis Wackernagel is now the executive director of the Global Footprint Network. According to Dr. Wackernagel, the phrase received its biggest boost in 2005 through an enormous BP media campaign on the “carbon footprint.” The New Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year for 2006 was the footprint-obliterating carbon-neutral.
An individual, nation, or organization’s carbon footprint can be measured by undertaking a GHG emissions assessment. Once the size of a carbon footprint is known, a strategy can be devised to reduce it, either by technological developments, better process and product management, changed Green Public or Private Procurement (GPP), Carbon capture, consumption strategies, etc. The mitigation of carbon footprints through the development of an alternative energy source, such as solar or wind energy or reforestation, represents one way of reducing a carbon footprint and is often known as Carbon offsetting.
On a smaller scale, there any number of strategies for addressing and reducing our CF, which include public transit, walking, biking or carpooling. Consuming less electricity is another, which can be helped by switching to energy-efficient appliances, replacing incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent ones, running heating or A/C less often, and ensuring that our homes are well insulated to ensure energy efficiency. Reducing waste and recycling are another, as is buying products and food that are grown locally, are seasonal, and use less packaging.
For tips on how to eat, travel, and live more sustainably, check out these helpful tips.
We have written many articles about carbon footprint for Universe Today. Here’s an article about alternative energy sources, and here’s another Universe Today article entitled, Be a Carbon Hero.
We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about planet Earth. Listen here, Episode 51: Earth.