What is Your Carbon Footprint?

The age old question, “How many people can the earth support?” has now become, “How much land do people require to support themselves?” This is called a “carbon footprint.” Each and every one of us impacts the earth with our daily routines, just by being alive. How much impact we have depends on our habits and rate of consumption of natural resources: water, wood, coal, gas and oil.

According to www.carbonfootprint.com; “Carbon Footprint is a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide.” At this Web site you can also learn how to calculate, reduce and offset your carbon footprint.

Our daily habits are wasteful. We live in a culture in which we turn natural resources into waste faster than any other society on the planet. The carbon footprint is a rough measure of how much productive land any person uses to support their lifestyle. The formula: total amount of productive land divided by the total population of the planet = about 4.6 acres per person. The average American carbon footprint has been calculated at 25 acres -- that is five times the average Asian or African footprint. If the world’s population lived like American live, FIVE planet Earths would be needed for survival!

James Merkel, author of the book Radical Simplicity, lives in Vermont. He is the Sustainability Co-Coordinator at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Merkel advocates the use of fewer resources by making small changes that can drastically affect one’s carbon footprint. Merkel says, “Becoming a hero is not necessary.”

Here are some simple suggestions from his book:

Reduce car trips in half by combining errands.

If you are bored, go for a walk, not a drive.

Visit a friend; choose the one who lives closest.

Merkel’s book has an ecological footprint quiz to help you figure your individual impact on the planet. For more tips from Merkel, look on-line at http://www.dartmouth.edu/-sustain/tips.html.

Every one contributes to this problem daily. The good news is every one has the power to contribute to the solution daily. The goal is to reduce the daily amount of resources used. To solve a problem this large, we must think small and close to home.

Plant trees or find companies that plant trees to reverse one’s carbon footprint. Trees are needed for cleaner air and they give off oxygen. Trees absorb the carbon dioxide that human activities emit. This is called a carbon neutral purchase. It offsets the damage done to the planet by planting a tree or supporting a project to reduce climate change. Some say it helps to ease the guilt from using so many resources, I say any small effort on our part is a valiant effort.

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch is setting a good example by making his Washington D.C. office carbon neutral. Hopefully other public and private figures will follow suit. Carbon neutral is helping to find the balance to give back to society what resources have been used. In Congressman Welch’s case, his job requires frequent travel by airplane and automobile. His use of fossil fuels adds up quickly, so he is offsetting this by helping to fund a methane digester at a Vermont dairy farm and to install a wood chip boiler at the Vermont Technical College.

Water is our most precious resource, for we cannot survive without it. Be more aware of the amount of water used for each activity. Energy is used to heat water. Fossil fuels are used to create most energy. Use less hot water, take shorter, cooler showers, bathe less often, and put in low flow toilets and showerheads. Purchase newer model appliances that are more efficient. Wash your clothes with cold water.

Recycling is another way to reverse the impact on the environment. Recycle as many products as your community collects. Remember to purchase products made with recycled materials to close the loop. For example, if a glass bottle ends up in the dump and a new bottle needs to be made to replace it, twice the resources have been used to make two bottles. However, if a recycled glass bottle is reused, the second use only requires a little hot water and soap to sterilize it. Or it may take on a second life in a new form as a recycled glass product.

An increasing number of companies are taking an ecological approach; the number of Web sites that address this problem are growing daily. To find out more about your effect on the planet, to calculate the size of your footprint, or to make carbon neutral purchases, go to the following Web sites: www.carbonfootprint.com, www.carbonneutral.com, www.myfootprint.org, www.panda.org, www.bestfootforward.com, www.climatefriendly.com, www.redefiningprogress.org.

Linda K. Schneider is the District Manager at Ottauquechee Natural Resources Conservation District, located in White River Junction, Vermont. This District covers 18 towns in Windsor County and one in Rutland County, Killington. 802-295-7942 x11 linda.schneider@vt.nacdnet.net http://vacd.org/onrcd