Climate Solutions – Footprints

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Background Information

About Carbon Footprints

Calculating carbon footprints is quite a complicated exercise and it is impossible to be completely accurate. It is relatively simple to take account of the “direct footprint” such as how much energy we use to heat a home or how much petrol we use on a specific journey. It is much harder to take account of the “indirect footprint” of building a house and furnishing it.

The How Bad are Bananas? book by Mike Berners-Lee is an excellent introduction to carbon footprints. The book uses the Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) as a way of comparing the carbon footprint of a wide range of items and activities.

Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) is defined as follows:

Accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere causes the temperature of the planet to increase over time (global warming). Different GHGs cause different levels of warming so it is useful to define a standard measure which we call carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). This is defined as the total climate impact (amount of warming) of all the greenhouse gases emitted by an item or activity expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same impact over a 100 year period.

Everyone’s carbon footprint is different. In order to determine our individual carbon footprint we can make approximations based on the kind of lifestyle we lead. There are several on-line Carbon footprint calculators you can use to do this. I would recommend either of the ones given below. They provide an overall footprint and a break down of which aspects of your lifestyle are contributing the most so you can decide which aspects you might want to focus on changing first in order to reduce your footprint.

WWF Footprint Calculator

Carbon Independent Footprint Calculator

A note of caution. You will find alternative “free” calculators on the web. Many of them are unclear about the calculations they use to generate your footprint and most of them encourage you to “off-set” your footprint by investing in projects to plant trees or so called “carbon capture” approaches. Whilst planting trees is good for the environment in many ways and will lead to removal of CO2 from the atmosphere this approach will not be sufficient to tackle the problem (there is not enough land available and trees take too long to grow); we need to significantly reduce our emissions as well.

About Carbon Walks and Climate Journeys

Once you have calculated your carbon footprint you will probably need to consider ways in which you can reduce it. The calculator you have used will give you some idea of which aspects of your lifestyle (e.g. home energy, transport, food, things you buy etc.) Carrying out a Carbon Walk exercise will help you to think in more detail what your daily, weekly, monthly, annual lifestyle habits are and identify which specific things you could practically consider changing.

Click here to find out more about Carbon Walks.

It is always best to start with the things which are high impact and easy to do. You will need to think harder about the other high impact things which are not so easy and might require bigger changes or have a cost associated with them. It is not worth focusing on things which will have very little impact even if they are easy to do as they wont help to reduce your footprint quickly enough.

It is also important to set yourself some goals to work towards. You are very unlikely to be able to make big reductions in your carbon footprint in one go; it is useful to think about it in terms of embarking on a journey. How much can you reduce in one year (maybe cut by 10%), in ten years (maybe cut by half)?

A Climate Journey is a long term commitment but its one we all need to take. The most important thing is to start as soon as possible and to be as ambitious as we can. The quicker we reduce our carbon footprints the easier it will be to limit global warming to a level we can live with.

Click here to find out more about Climate Journeys.

More about Climate Solutions

We have lots of information on the Climate Solutions section of the website to help you find ways in which you can adjust your lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint. Click here to find out more – Climate Solutions