How to Calculate Your Carbon Emissions

Aubrey Vaughn
December/January 2007
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You've heard of global warming and carbon offsets, but have you ever wondered about the connection and what you can do about it?

'Carbon emissions' refers to the carbon dioxide that's released into the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels. The carbon dioxide becomes trapped, allowing more of the heat from the sun to remain in Earth's atmosphere. An excess of carbon dioxide occurs when more emissions are released into the atmosphere than can be consumed by CO2-absorbing forests and oceans, also known as carbon sinks. Elevated CO2 levels in natural ocean sinks are already killing reefs, fish and other ocean life. And as the build-up increases, atmospheric temperatures rise ? i.e. global warming ? which causes extreme temperatures (hot and cold), increases flooding and expands desert areas, and causes more intense weather disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

Burning fossil fuels in cars, planes, homes, factories and power plants is the largest contributor to global warming today ? which is why smart driving, energy efficiency and reduced use of nonrenewable energy sources are key factors in fighting climate change. Doing your part to combat unnatural climate change is made simple by tallying your personal carbon emissions, then making a plan to reduce the amount.

Fortunately, calculating your carbon footprint is easy. There are a number of Web sites that offer carbon calculators for individuals, businesses and organizations ? you can even determine the emissions for a specific event, such as a wedding ? and it takes just a couple minutes. Here are just a few:

Environmental Protection Agency
Climate Crisis

Emissions are determined based on the size of your home, number of residents, driving (car size and mileage) and other factors such as whether or not you use EnergyStar appliances. Most calculators require basic information, though it helps to have your annual estimated mileage and average energy use available (in kWh, therms or gallons, if you use electricity, natural gas or heating oil, respectively). You can find monthly fuel usage numbers on your regular utility bill.

There are a number of ways to cut down carbon emissions, including carpooling, regular car maintenance, flying less, combining trips, making your home more energy efficient and switching to renewable energy sources, among others. According to SafeClimate, the average American produces 9.44 tons of carbon dioxide annually. That's the emissions equivalent of cutting and burning all of the trees that would fit in a football field-sized swath of the Amazon rainforest. Once you've found your number, you'll know just how much you need to whittle down. Many calculators tell you where you use the most energy and provide tips for lowering your use.

You can find great tips for reducing your carbon footprint at home here and here. Don't forget responsible travel and work, and carbon offsets for the numbers that just won't reach zero.

Have you calculated and reduced your carbon emissions? Share your tips and resources in the comments section below.

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