Before the internet, estimating your carbon footprint would be nearly impossible, unless an individual had access to a skilled expert. Today, your carbon footprint can easily be estimated with a quick online search. One of the more relevant calculators is the emissions calculator, which estimates how many pounds of carbon dioxide your life habits emit each year.
Unlike footprint calculators, which tell you how many earths it would take in order for everyone to live your lifestyle, an emissions calculator is much more understandable. It can be overwhelming to think it would take six (or 30) earths to maintain your lifestyle for everyone on the planet. But a solid number, for example that 62,350 pounds of carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere each year by YOU, gives you a measurement with which to work from to reduce.
What exactly does a pound of carbon dioxide look like? When a fuel is used, or combusted, it breaks apart the components of gasoline (hydrogen and carbon, mostly) and recombines them with oxygen that is present in the atmosphere. The components of gasoline (and any other substance that is used for fuel) each have a molecular weight. Hydrogen has one atom, carbon has 12, and oxygen has 16. So, when the carbon from your exhaust combines with the oxygen in the air, you’re creating carbon dioxide; one carbon molecule and two oxygen molecules together are about three times heavier as the carbon that initially came out of your exhaust. That’s how it is calculated.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a great emissions calculator that can be found in the climate change section of their website. Notice how they don’t call it “global warming,” which implies an anthropogenic impact, rather than “climate change,” which denotes a naturally-occurring event. You enter a few simple facts, such as how much energy you use to heat your home, whether it’s from natural gas, coal, or oil. You also enter information about your vehicles, how much they are driven, and how many miles per gallon each vehicle gets.
Then, you enter your recycling information, which in a fun yet not incredibly realistic sort of way, shrinks your emissions by just a bit as you answer ‘yes’ to the fact that you recycle aluminum and paper.
After entering your information, the emissions calculator offers ways to reduce your carbon footprint. The first obvious step is to reduce the number of miles driven in each car. The form then tells you how much you will save annually, both in terms of your bank account and how many pounds of carbon dioxide will not go into the atmosphere, thanks to your changes. Then, it offers other solutions, such as performing regular maintenance on your vehicles and, if you can afford it, replacing your vehicles with models that get more miles per gallon.
It also offers steps you can take within your home to reduce your carbon emissions. Simple steps like increasing or reducing (depending on the season) your thermostat can make a difference; so can enabling the sleep feature on your computer. It suggests washing your clothes in cold water instead of hot, and line-drying your clothes instead of using your dryer. It also suggests buying green power (a program that allows consumers to buy energy from renewable sources) as a method of reducing your carbon footprint.
For the government to offer such helpful tips like these means we’re making great progress. Now, the important part is implementing these steps in order to make a difference.