We hear the term carbon footprint a million times a day. And what exactly does it mean? Since it such an over-used phrase, it’s worth exploring.
Let’s first look at each word separately. Footprint is the total impact of something. And carbon is a chemical element commonly used as a shortcut for all greenhouse gases.
A carbon footprint then is an abbreviation to describe the impact of greenhouse gases on something. It can be anything – an activity, an object, a lifestyle, a company, a country, or even the whole world.
It is generally assumed that a huge part of climate change or global warming is caused by the release of certain gas types into the atmosphere. This is direct example of carbon footprint. What are those gases?
CO2 is carbon dioxide – the main artificial greenhouse gas. It is released when burning fossil fuels in homes, factories or power plants. However, other greenhouse gases are also important. For example, methane (CH4), which is mainly released by agriculture and landfills, is 25 times pollute per kilogram than CO2. Even more powerful, but emitted in smaller quantities, is a nitrous oxide (N2O). N2O is about 300 times pollute than carbon dioxide and emitted mainly from industrial processes and agriculture, as well as refrigerants.
As you see every gas has a different level of influence. That is why it is important to set up a universal measure term to be able to compare and measure emission levels adequately. There is generally accepted convention expressing the carbon footprint as the equivalent of carbon dioxide or CO2e. Therefore, the total impact of climate change on all greenhouse gases caused by an object or activity can be summed up and expressed as the amount of carbon dioxide that will have the same effect.
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