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How to Calculate Carbon Footprint

Mukulika Mukherjee Feb 24, 2020
Carbon footprint is the indicator of the total amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere annually, as a result of our day-to-day activities. Every person can have a different value for his carbon footprint, which is determined by his way of living. Read on to know how to calculate your own, and find out if you are indeed doing your bit to save the environment.
If you ponder on your daily routine, you'll find activities such as driving a car, watching television, talking on the phone, browsing the net, using the dishwasher to clean dishes, washing your clothes in a washing machine, etc. Now, what if I tell you that each one of these activities and many more, that you indulge in during the course of a day, contributes to the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted on the planet?
Would you be shocked to know how such "innocuous" activities could go on to adversely affect the environment? Well, shocked as you may be, or even amused, this is the truth and you cannot deny this one. With every passing second, you are adding to the carbon dioxide emissions even if you are unaware of it. And in today's times, when we are desperately trying to save the environment, this definitely is no good news.
Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases that are responsible for maintaining the earth's temperature. The earth reflects around 30% of the light that it receives from the sun, in the form of infrared radiation.
If this reflected energy were to escape, the temperature of the earth would drop to somewhere around -20° C. However, the greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere, trap the energy radiated by the earth's surface and re-radiate it in all directions. This increases the effective temperature of the Earth, making it suitable for sustaining life.
However, excessive amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can lead to a drastic increase in the average temperature of the Earth. This phenomenon is termed as global warming, and is a serious environmental concern today.
So, how you can stop the damage caused to the environment, you may ask. Well, while you can't bring these activities to a stop, reducing them to some extent can definitely help and for that you first need to know how much you are contributing towards global warming.

Calculating Carbon Footprint Manually

As discussed above, the carbon footprint of an individual is nothing but the total amount of carbon dioxide that was released into the atmosphere in a year, directly or indirectly, due to the individual's activities.
So, while activities such as using electrical appliances, add to your carbon footprint directly, others like purchasing imported stuff and even purchasing anything new, for that matter, can also make a difference. So, how do you calculate your own carbon footprint? Here's an easy way to do so.
However, note that the method given below only tells you how to find an approximate value, as it takes into account only the activities that result in maximum emission of carbon dioxide. To calculate, consider the various elements which cause emission of carbon dioxide.

Electricity Consumed

To calculate the carbon dioxide emitted by the total amount of electricity (in kilowatt-hour or kWh) used by you, first add up the electricity bills for the year and then multiply it by 1.34, which is the average amount of CO2 in pounds that is emitted per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated, in the U.S.

Cooking Fuel Used

Now, calculating this might be a little tricky as not all of us use the same kind of fuel in our homes. However, considering the standard rates of CO2 emissions for each fuel, we can easily arrive at a figure by multiplying the total quantity of fuel used throughout the year, with the standard rate of emission of that fuel.
 Given below are the standard rates of emission of CO2, for some common fuels.
  • Fuel oil (per gallon) - 22.38 lbs
  • Propane (per gallon) - 12.67 lbs
  • Renewable wood (per cord) - 0
  • Non-renewable wood (per cord) - 5180 lbs
  • Natural gas (per ccf) - 11.70 lbs

Use of Vehicles

When it comes to the vehicles you drive, your carbon footprint depends on the miles per gallon or the mileage offered by your vehicle, and on the total number of miles that you drive per year. Now, if you are wondering how driving a vehicle can contribute towards your carbon footprint, it is due to the burning of fossil fuels such as petrol or diesel. 
You can calculate the gas emissions from vehicles in the following two ways.
  • Collect all your gas receipts for the entire year and add them up. This will give you the gas consumed throughout the year, in gallons. Now, multiply this value with the standard rate of CO2 emissions for the fuel. It is 19.56 lbs for unleaded petrol and 22.48 lbs for diesel.
  • Another way to calculate is to divide the number of miles traveled in the given year by the vehicle's mileage. This way you'll again obtain the number of gallons used. Multiply this with the standard CO2 emission rate for your fuel.

Travel by Air

Now, if you have traveled by air to any destination then you have also contributed to the global warming in some way! So, how to calculate it? Well, for shorter flights of duration less than 4 hours, multiply the total distance (in miles) by 1100, and for longer flights with of 4 hours or more, multiply the total distance (in miles) by 4,400.
Now, add the figures obtained in the steps given above, to obtain your carbon footprint.
Thus, we see that calculating our carbon footprint is not that difficult after all, So, what are you waiting for? Grab a pen, paper and calculator and get started! For, finding our carbon footprint and taking steps to reduce it, is a small step that each one of us can take in keeping our planet green.