What is a carbon footprint? Why should I care?

Black and white image of smoke billowing from an industry

The definition of the term is “the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organization, or community.”

So for instance, all other factors remaining the same, a non-vegetarian person who smokes and drives a diesel car will have a larger carbon footprint than a vegan who doesn’t smoke, and rides a bicycle.

Normally, when discussing the subject, we discuss the carbon footprint of countries, rather than individuals. So for instance, a country like China, with its population and environmental policies, has a much larger carbon footprint than a country such as Belgium. 109 times greater, in 2015.

Did you hear the news about Bhutan? It’s become the world’s first (and only) carbon negative country . Carbon-negative means that the people and industries of Bhutan cumulatively release less CO2 into the air than its forests release Oxygen.

If Bhutan’s the only carbon negative country in the world and none so far are carbon neutral, it’s obvious that the rest are carbon positive. So, is the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air increasing? It is. That’s what global warming is about (in part).

Why is our carbon footprint increasing?

If you read some of the articles linked above, you’ll notice that our carbon footprint is slowly, inexorably, increasing. Why is that the case?

Industrialization is the short and simple answer. Industry giant China has the biggest carbon footprint because its CO2 emissions are highest. These emissions are caused by burning fossil fuels (such as petrol, diesel and coal) – which is in fact a double-edged sword.

Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, coming at a time like this, spells trouble for the future too.

What can we do to reduce our carbon footprint?

Lots of things! But that’s a subject for another day – next Saturday, to be exact. Check back here, because I’ll list a couple of ways in which you can reduce your carbon footprint and help fight the problem at an individual level. Meanwhile, spread the word!


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