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Have you got a BIG carbon footprint or a small carbon footprint?

I don't know if you have noticed, but climate change and the environment have been very much in the news recently. One of the more recent studies has reported that unless we radically reduce our greenhouse gas production then within the next 40 years we may end up raising global temperatures to such an extent that the Greenland ice sheet would melt. Preventing changes like this is going to involve us all having to make changes to our lifestyles and one way of starting this process is to learn about our carbon footprint and whether we need to reduce it.

So, what is a carbon footprint?

Your carbon footprint is a measure of the effect you have on the climate in terms of the total amount of greenhouse gases which you produce (measured in units of carbon dioxide [or CO2]). By measuring your carbon footprint you can get an idea of what impact you as an individual have on the climate and how that compares with a theoretical ‘ideal’ footprint which, if produced by everyone would lead to a sustainable level of greenhouse gas production. This ‘ideal’ footprint is estimated to be about two and a half tones of CO2 per person per year. If your footprint is larger than this you are encouraged to try to reduce it.

How big is your footprint?

The easiest way to estimate your footprint is via the web. There are numerous calculators on the internet – just type ‘carbon footprint calculator’ into Google and you should find plenty to choose from. Different calculators use slightly different ways of estimating footprints, but, in general, they use information like your annual household energy consumption and your annual travel profile (train / car / plane and usage for each) to estimate how much CO2 you will produce in a year.

What next?

Having done the calculation, if you find that your footprint is larger than the ‘ideal’ then how about trying to reduce it. Again, a quick search on the internet will reveal numerous suggestions, but for those of you without internet access, here are a couple:

  • Reduce or stop flying – flying is the single most damaging means of travel per mile.
  • Save energy at home – e.g. insulate, turn down the heating, use energy saving devices.
  • Cut down on your use of paper and buy recycled paper products.
  • Eat locally and seasonally grown food.
  • Use renewable energy – consider switching to a clean energy (Green Power) supplier.
  • Change your travel patterns to reduce your fuel consumption.
  • Offset your CO2 emissions by buying carbon dioxide credits or investing in sustainable technology development.
Phil Le Sueur (Church and Environment Group)
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