Carbon Footprint

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Posted By : ScienceIndia Administrator

Carbon footprint is a measure of pollution that is generated directly or indirectly as part of our daily life actions. Our daily activities those make climatic changes, or cause global warming, being the reason for the release of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) to the atmosphere by burning of fuel or by agriculture and landfill sites. In addition to its production or consumption of food, manufacturing goods, buildings, roads and transportation of the goods and services also lead to gas emissions. In all these above cases gasses emitted by an individual process, event, or organization can be expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent.

In many of the cases, the total carbon footprint cannot be estimated exactly because of inadequate knowledge and data about the complex interactions between contributing processes, especially which including the influence on natural processes storing or releasing carbon dioxide.

Every human activity viz. transportation, product, agriculture, power, water, waste recycling, etc. will add a carbon footprint. The carbon footprint of an individual, system or an organization can be measured by estimating the potential GHG emissions by the activities denoted as carbon dioxide equivalent.

One of methodologies used for the estimation of GHG footprint is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).  When we consider a daily process or commodity for it to reach its destiny or place of use, the product under goes numerous modifications and processing. For example, to cultivate a product, export it, process it, and manage the waste generated in the process generates greenhouse gases (GHG) that are measured by “carbon footprint”.  If your car consumes 10 liter petrol per 100 km, then a drive of 500 km distance consumes 5 x 10 = 50 liter of petrol, which adds 50 x 2.3 kg = 115 kg CO2 to your personal carbon footprint [Petrol of 1 liter consumption emits 2.3 kg CO2; Diesel of 1 liter consumption emits 2.7 kg CO2]. Each of the following activities add 1 kg of CO2 to your personal carbon footprint:

  • Drive with your car a distance of 6 km (assuming 7.3 litres petrol per 100 km)
  • Travel by public transportation (train or bus) a distance of 10 to 12 km
  • Fly with a plane a distance of 2.2 km
  • Operate computer for 32 hours (60 Watt consumption assumed)
  • Production of 5 plastic bags
  • Production of 2 plastic bottles

Once the size of a carbon footprint is known, the calculations and measures can be made to reduce the carbon footprint e.g. by using technological developments, better process and product source management, carbon capture, consumption strategies, carbon offsetting and others. In addition to reducing our footprint, we could generate carbon offsets. The use of alternative energy such as geothermal, solar and wind energy would result in a major offset of the carbon emission. Instead of using personal transportation use of public transport, walking or using a carpool could, buying local goods and organic, reduce, reuse and recycle waste, etc will  result in significant reduction in carbon emission. It is a credit for the GHG’s reduction and is used to compensate the emissions from other essential processes. When the carbon footprint is reduced to zero we call that a carbon-neutral process.

Author: Venu Srivastav K, PA III,  Bioengineering and Environmental Sciences Lab, EEFF Department, CSIR-IICT.

Image: https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-8R765oR7h1Q/UuaSGFRw46I/AAAAAAAAA0g/BuhEHwfmK-k/s1600/carbon-footprint-green.jpg

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