Photo courtesy of Mikael Miettinen via Flickr.

How Big Is Your Carbon Footprint? Probably A Lot Larger Than You Think

Greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted by the average U.S. household total 48 tons per year, almost five times the global average.

In order to prevent global warming, however, the average should be no higher than two tons per year, according to the University of Berkeley’s Cool Climate Network.

Clearly, the average U.S. family has a long way to go.

Measuring your carbon footprint

There are a number of online calculators that let you measure your carbon footprint, meaning your contribution to global GHG emissions, from reputable organizations.

But several studies have shown that even when entering the same data, these calculators can provide wildly different results.

Because they often don’t ask for enough information, calculators frequently underreport people’s carbon footprint, according to a study of the 13 most popular calculators in the International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control.

The most accurate calculator in the study was by Berkeley, and even that failed to include important factors in determining footprints, such as the supply chain of consumer products.

Despite the missing information, however, the calculator can give you a ballpark estimate (and their calculation methodology is accessible, unlike other calculators).

You can find it here. The chart below shows the different factors that contribute to the average U.S. household’s footprint:


Image courtesy of the Cool Climate Network’s website.

Reducing your carbon footprint

Even if it’s hard to get an accurate measurement of your carbon footprint, however, it’s safe to assume that the average lifestyle leads to a fairly high amount of emissions.

Below is a checklist of concrete steps you can take to reduce your footprint. If you can check off on all of them, you’re already ahead of most people!

  • Check your car’s tire pressure, oil, and filters. Driving is the largest single contributor to carbon footprints, as the chart above shows, and while everyone can’t drive less, checking tire pressure alone could save 400-700 tons of CO2 per year, according to the Carbon Fund.

  • Cut off junk mail. Through paper production and shipping, the junk mail industry produces more emissions than 9 million cars per year. Using a service like 41pounds, you can cut out your part of those emissions.

  • Use fluorescent lightbulbs. According to the United Nations-sponsored website 12 simplethings, they use 3 to 5 times less energy than incandescent bulbs, which counts for a lot when electricity is the second largest emission factor.

  • Reduce your computer’s electricity usage. By downloading an app like ePlusgreen, you can reduce the electricity used by your computer by up to 30%.

  • Buy low-energy appliances. There’s a long list of federal tax credits that offer hundreds of dollars in savings on energy-friendly home upgrades.

Of course, there are countless measures you can take to reduce your own carbon footprint, but it’s difficult to measure the impact of your actions.

The bright side? ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, is working on an international standard for carbon footprints that will provide a transparent quantification of GHG emissions.


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