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What they mean when they say: Carbon Footprint


By Jacquelyn Schneller - 6/20/2013

Ecology - Concept
  Photo Credit: Piotr Krzeslak / Shutterstock.com

Loving the environment doesn't make you an environmental scientist, yet the media and daily conversation suggests we should use gobs of environmental terms, turned buzzword. I'm not sure about you, but when we're talking about the state of the environment, I'm less that comfortable conversing in a fog. I want to know what these words mean, so I can say what I mean and stand behind it. More importantly, I want to know in order to spread the green word-wisely and accurately.

We all know there is a measurement called carbon footprint. We know we don't want giant feet making a giant print. We know the prints, giant or otherwise, land on our fragile planet, leaving it a little more fragile than before. We know we measure them and compare our sizes with others. We may even brag a time or two about our tiptoe, dainty, hummingbird kiss-steps.

That's close. But, let's look a little closer. When they say carbon, they're really saying the glob of "bad emissions" (carbon dioxide and methane), which cause damage and, ultimately, climate change.

When they say footprint, they're really talking about two stages of footprints: primary and secondary. Think of it as a bank robbery. There's the guy pointing the gun and taking the money bags (primary) and there's the accomplices, the guy on look out or driving the getaway car (secondary). Both are involved in the crime. Both should have made better choices.

The primary footprint includes the direct "bad emissions", through direct use of fossil fuels. Think of the gasoline you (or your engine, rather) burn in your car. Or coal burnt in a factory...should you own a coal factory.

The secondary footprint, as the name suggests, is slightly more indirect. The accomplice. The secondary footprint usually resembles your daily choices, in your own, personal life. The footprints included, and subsequently made by those choices, may surprise you. Your secondary footprint includes: things you buy, how they were made, and what happens to them when you're through when them (how they breakdown). Consider, the light bulbs you choose; eating a locally grown lettuce salad or the beef imported from Argentina; and an aspect often overlooked (and overwhelming to consider) how your house was made!

Our footprints are all about choices. And our day is full of choices. Use one of the many online carbon footprint calculators to get an idea of your foot size, then you're ready to take the steps needed to make smaller prints.

Back to the buzzword. Simply, a carbon footprint refers to the amount of greenhouse gases caused (produced and released) by a person through their specific style of living, suggesting the person's overall environmental impact.

Now you know what they mean when they say carbon footprint. Even better, you know enough to tread a little lighter and spread the green word along the way.


 








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