The term carbon footprint has appeared in the news frequently with the explosion of information that has emerged about climate change. Carbon footprint is the overall amount of greenhouse gas emissions, consisting primarily of carbon dioxide, associated with an organization, event or production. It is one of the most common measures of the effect of an individual, community, industry, or country on the environment. An increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore in carbon footprint, is the primary event associated with climate change that has led to global warming.
Carbon Footprint and the Environment
Our increasing carbon footprint is having profound effects on the environment. Rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns are changing the growing patterns of plants and result in indigenous vegetation moving to increasingly cooler climates. Sea levels are rising as the temperature of our planet increases--warmer water occupies more space than cooler water. Rising seas will not only erode shorelines and destroy ecosystems, coastal cities and towns could be displaced by rising seas.
Carbon Footprint and Wildlife
As vegetation shifts climates because of increasing temperatures and shifting weather patterns, wildlife that depends on it will become threatened because it is unable to keep up with the rate at which the climate is changing. For example, migratory birds arrive at their destination to find that food sources such as plants bloomed too early or not at all and melting Arctic ice destroys hunting ground for polar bears. According to the Nature Conservancy, one quarter of the Earth's species will be headed for extinction in 40 years if climate change increases at its current rate.
Carbon Footprint and Human Health
Our increased carbon footprint has the capacity to harm our health. Most at risk are women in agricultural work and children. According to the World Health Organization, climate change is projected to increase the percentage of people in Mali suffering from hunger from 34 percent to at least 64 percent 40 years from now. An increase in malnutrition is caused by the result of climate change on food crops, such as drought that interferes with the growing season. Drought also causes diarrheal diseases as access to safe water is compromised. Vector-borne diseases such as malaria are increasing as the temperature increase allows malarious mosquitoes to survive in countries previously too cool for them. Lastly, increased air pollution has caused an increase in respiratory problems as asthma and allergies have increased.
Carbon Footprint and Economic Losses
The threat posed by our increasing carbon footprint on the economy is significant. Climate change will affect local economies dependent on land and natural resources the most, such as farms that fall victim to lowered crop yields. For example, according to the Nature Conservancy, economic losses due to our increasing carbon footprint and the resulting climate change has threatened the lobster industry in New England as catches have plummeted. In addition, the increase in ocean temperatures is threatening the survival of coral reefs, a $375 billion per year industry.
How Can I Reduce My Carbon Footprint?
Once people understand the affect that their carbon footprint hasg on the planet, they often want to know how they can reduce their carbon footprint. One easy way to reduce your carbon footprint is to minimize the energy you waste. Shut off lights, air conditioning, and electrical appliances when you aren't in a room and use heat and air conditioning sparingly. Switch to energy efficient light bulbs, which will not only help the planet but help your electricity bill, too. You can conserve water by taking shorter showers and keeping the water off while you brush your teeth. Conserve paper by using reusable canvas shopping bags. Buy locally grown produce or even better, start your own garden. Lastly, reconsider your transportation choices. Walking or riding a bike not only reduces your carbon footprint, it brings health benefits.
- "A Definition of Carbon Footprint, 'Ecological Economics Research Trends' "; T. Wiedmann, and J. Minx; 2008
- Environmental Protection Agency: High GWP Gases and Climate Change
- "BBC News"; The Health Risks of a Big Carbon Footprint; March 3, 2010
- World Health Organization: Protecting Health From Climate Change
About the Author
Alyssa Morse began writing professionally in 2006. She has a strong interest in writing about science, medicine and health, with work appearing on various websites. She conducts research in hematology. Morse holds a Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry and a Master of Science in molecular biology. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D in developmental biology.