A carbon footprint is historically defined as the total emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent. We generally have no idea about the amount of carbon dioxide and other harmful gaseous substances we are emitting into the atmosphere.
If you’re having trouble with calculating your emissions, you’re not alone. In a recent study, Northeastern University professor Amir Grinstein asked more than 1,000 people in three separate surveys to estimate their C02 emissions from a gallon of regular gas, and nearly everyone was way off—some by a factor of 100 or more. When asked to estimate the amount of CO2 emitted from a gallon of gas, most people weren’t even close. The correct answer is 9 kilograms, or about 20 pounds of carbon. Some study participants responded with an answer in tons. If we can’t estimate the CO2 associated with something as ubiquitous as a gallon of gas, we probably don’t know how much carbon is emitted from the food we eat, the energy our home consumes, or any other daily activity. In other words, the term “carbon footprint” is commonly used, but not at all understood.
The Ecological Footprint framework addresses climate change in a comprehensive way beyond measuring carbon emissions. It shows how carbon emissions compare and compete with other human demands on our planet, such as food, fibre, timber, and land for dwellings and roads. Measuring it in this way enables us to address the climate change challenge in a holistic way that does not simply shift the burden from one natural system to another. The carbon footprint is currently 60% of overall Ecological Footprint and its most rapidly growing component. Carbon footprint has increased eleven -fold since 1961. Reducing carbon footprint is the most essential step we can take to end overshoot and live within the means of our planet.