A walk on the beach. Footprints in the sand. A brief reminder of our passing by before the next wave erases them forever.
If only we could be so fortunate with our carbon footprint. Our carbon footprint may not be visible to the next passerby, but its impact remains for the next generation nevertheless. The next wave or wind does not erase it but only stirs it around so our carbon residue impacts every living thing on the planet.
“Carbon footprint” is a media created term that can be difficult to understand. It is normally expressed in pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent (what’s that?). The average American creates about 20 tons or 40,000 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent every year. The global average is less than 4 tons per year. This is your carbon footprint which is usually defined as the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an organization, event, product, or person.
The largest contributors to our individual carbon footprint are readily identified. Transportation, specifically our car is at the top of the list, although air travel and even bus transit can be significant sources of carbon. Our households are probably next in line. Electricity, gas, and waste disposal are major contributors to our carbon footprint. Food is also a culprit that we don’t often think about in terms of global warming. Production of animal protein produces large carbon releases as does food that is transported long distances and heavily processed packaged foods.
While it may be difficult to grasp the concept of our individual carbon footprint, the implications are very real and very personal. Carbon dioxide continues to accumulate in the atmosphere. Every single year since modern record keeping was initiated in 1959, the average atmospheric carbon dioxide level has increased. This is the culprit responsible for global climate change, melting polar ice caps, prolonged heat waves, and rising sea levels.
Reducing our carbon footprint is easy to talk about but treads on many of the the icons of the the good life as we define it. We should drive less, drive smaller cars, fly less, ride a bike or walk more. We should opt for smaller houses and keep them warmer in summer and cooler in the winter than the perfect 72 degrees we have been conditioned to expect. We should eat less red meat-vegans have a significantly smaller carbon footprint.
Even if you can’t see it or even measure it very precisely, your carbon footprint is showing. More importantly, it will show dramatically in the lives and well being of our children and grandchildren. For their sake we all need to tread more lightly. Muscatine Journal column 7/05/14