What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint estimates our own personal contribution of fossil carbon release into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. Some of this carbon dioxide is as a result of direct emissions that we have full control of (e.g. our use of petrol and natural gas) and the rest is from indirect emissions (emissions in another place) as a result of the electricity we buy and other purchases we make.
The idea of the carbon footprint is not without controversy. Some see it as a distraction that appears to shift the responsibility of reducing emissions from large institutions and governments to the individual. Whatever the original intention was, it is now a fairly widespread tool that helps to identify where small lifestyle changes can make big differences, and for this reason it is worthwhile finding out our own personal one. Indeed the idea of making emissions visible also applies to corporations, so today the same sort of carbon accounting is actually used by businesses to identify their own operations with high emissions. So it is a valuable tool to help whoever uses it to begin to make positive change.
A carbon calculator should cover direct emissions (your fuel use, also known as Scope 1 emissions) and indirect electricity emissions (Scope 2 emissions) and other indirect emissions (including your purchases, Scope 3 emissions).
How can I find out my carbon footprint?
There are a number of carbon calculators available online. Generally the shorter they are the rougher the estimate. You may be able to spot some fairly crude approximations used and your lifestyle might not fit the options, but once viewed as a rough guide they can provide some useful pointers to the parts of your lifestyle that have a big effect and those parts where you are already doing well.
Why not try the WWF carbon calculator and check your emissions:
Other calculators include:
CarbonIndependent.org carbon footprint calculator: https://www.carbonindependent.org/
The Resurgence Carbon Dioxide Calculator: https://www.resurgence.org/resources/carbon-calculator.html
While it is called a carbon footprint, the idea is really to look at equivalent carbon dioxide emissions that allow the effect of other anthropogenic greenhouse gases to be included as though they were additional carbon dioxide.
When it comes to carbon dioxide released, we are only interested in new carbon dioxide originating from carbon locked away that has been brought into the flows in the carbon cycle by human activity. That means carbon dioxide whose carbon comes from fossil fuels or from rocks or even from a reduction in biological storage (such as by deforestation, or more generally termed land use change). We don’t count carbon dioxide that has been naturally circulating through the atmosphere, oceans, plants and animals as it was in the pre-industrial era.