Over the past several years I have travelled all over the globe in aircrafts, trains, cars, buses and even motorcycles. I never really considered the effect this quantity of CO2 (CO2 is the chemical symbol for carbon dioxide) emissions would be having on the environment. I always thought emissions my travel produced would be at least equal to, or less than what was produced during my daily commute. Because I have always produced several tonnes of CO2 yearly, is it acceptable to continue? The media regularly report on the effects of greenhouse gases and what impact they are having globally. From the melting of polar ice caps to the bleaching of coral reefs, it’s clear that changes will have to be made, or we all face an uncertain and turbulent future. I decided to work out my carbon footprint and consider what I can do to make a difference.
What is a carbon footprint?
When you drive a car, the engine burns fuel which creates a certain quantity of CO2, depending on its fuel consumption and the driving distance. When you heat your home with oil, gas or coal, then you also generate CO2. Even if you heat your house with electricity, the generation of the electrical power may also have emitted a certain quantity of CO2. When you buy food and goods, the production of the food and goods emit some quantities of CO2. Your carbon footprint is the totality of all emissions of CO2 (carbon dioxide), which were induced by your activities in a given time frame. Usually a carbon footprint is estimated for the time period of a year. These emissions are one of the causes of global warming and other environmental problems. We all need to be working to cut back as individuals, business and at a governmental level.
How can I work out my carbon footprint?
You can work out your overall carbon footprint using a carbon footprint calculator. Once you recognize your own impact you can work on reducing your total carbon footprint and look into offsetting the unavoidable carbon emissions that we all create from time to time. Many of the online calculators encourage you to invest in a carbon offsetting project when you have completed the calculation. If you choose to do this, please make sure who you have selected adheres to either the Voluntary Gold Standard (VGS) or the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS). I used the Carbon Footprint calculator as their Offsetting projects adhere to the Voluntary Carbon Standard.
How can you reduce your carbon footprint?
When it comes to travelling, long haul flights are often inescapable. However, avoiding short hop flights can make a substantial difference. The short haul flights (such as internal flights in the UK and other small countries) are the ones which cause the most harmful emissions, so try to travel internally in a more carbon efficient way whenever possible. Planning your trips carefully so they are as direct and efficient as possible is also a substantial help.
Once you’ve done everything you can to trim your carbon footprint, it’s worth considering offsetting the carbon emissions that you can’t avoid.
The first carbon offsetting projects several years ago were focussed around planting trees to counteract CO2 emissions, but offsetting has come quite a long way since this method was criticized for not being effective enough. These days, your offsetting efforts are potentially likely to fund projects which take more of a preventative action, such as providing energy saving light bulbs to places that wouldn’t otherwise have access to them.
The idea being that we should truly focus on reducing emissions rather than just offsetting. The cost of offsetting is often rather cheap relative to the activity you are compensating for. For example, some flights can be offset for as little as £20, and some airlines will even include an opt in for offsetting in the ticket cost. Unfortunately, there are many fake projects and scams out there, to ensure you are actually investing in an offsetting project, look for the Voluntary Gold Standard (VGS) or the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS). VGS-certified offsets are audited according to the rules laid out in the Kyoto protocol and must also show social benefits for local communities. The VCS, meanwhile, aims to be just as rigorous but without being as expensive or bureaucratic to set up, thereby allowing a greater range of innovative small-scale projects.