What is a carbon footprint?
Everyone in the world has a carbon footprint. It is a measurement of the amount of CO2 emissions that each person is responsible for as a consequence of their day-to-day activities – or “carbon” for short. This is measured in metric tonnes of C02.
Activities come into 2 categories:
Direct – heating the home, driving a car, flying on holiday etc
Indirect – consuming goods and services such as food, bank accounts etc
The sustainable average footprint for the planet is reckoned to be about 1 metric tonne per person. But figures for 2011 show the whole world emits 4.49 tonnes per person.
As you’d expect the developed countries have larger footprints (more cars, bigger houses, more consumption). Thus the average American has a footprint of 18 tonnes and the UK average is 10 tonnes.
There’s a useful interactive map showing 2010 emissions here.
China, by contrast, emits under six tonnes per person, India only 1.3. However these will rise rapidly if the use of fossil fuels is not reduced very swiftly or methods of carbon capture implemented.
The principle of “contraction and convergence” says that developed “wealthy” nations such as the UK and USA should reduce emissions by more whilst the emerging nations grow emissions by less in order to achieve an acceptable average whilst being equitable.
The infographic to the right shows how much carbon each nation emits in relation to all other countires. It is important to note however that climate change is a global issue and all nations should aim to reduce emissions reguardless of how much they or their neighbors produce.
HOW WE MEASURE UP
The average UK person is reckoned to use carbon in the following proportions:
Gas, Oil and Coal - 15%
Electricity - 12%
Car use - 10%
Public Transport - 3%
Holiday Flights - 6%
Direct - 46%
Food and Drink - 5%
Clothes and stuff - 4%
Car Manufacture - 7%
Household fittings - 9%
Leisure - 13%
Financial Services - 3%
Public Services - 12%
Indirect - 54%
On first reading it’s energy in the home.
HOW DO WE USE OUR CARBON
Looking at that average 10.3 tonnes it follows that approximately 2.78 tonnes comes from our use of gas and electricity in the home. This is why a UK push to increased use of renewable energy will make such a difference. It is estimated that the UK has the potential with wind and tidal power to generate a large proportion of its energy from renewables. However we are severely lagging.
But hold on one moment…
Air travel may not seem much at 6%. However, high altitude aviation has a greenhouse effect over and above that of carbon dioxide alone, but this is not reflected in government indicators. The factor is reckoned to be close to 3. This means that if you take a winter break to Florida the global warming effect is equivalent to emitting about 4.85 tonnes C02 i.e. close to the total of average direct emissions and 1.75 times your home emissions.
Driving is bad, right?
Also, while driving is often considered one of the largest contributers to fossil fuel emissions, its effect on the environment is eclipsed by aeroplane usage. You would have to drive a new model Ford Focus 1.6 for 30,000kms before you eclipsed the global warming effect of that cheap flight to Florida.