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Carbon Footprints

There’s a new buzzword that is elbowing its way into our conversations.
There’s a new buzzword that is elbowing its way into our conversations. Like most buzzwords, it often gets bandied about by people who may not quite understand what it means, but know that they need to say it lest they be accused of being behind the times.

So, what is a Carbon Footprint?

Carbon Footprint is a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of green house gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. (

Okay, so that really doesn’t explain anything, does it?

Depending on your own position on the spectrum, and on who you ask, the Carbon Footprint calculation was devised either by scientists or by global warming alarmists. Basically, though, it is a pop-science means of conveying to the general public just how much effect our use of fossil fuel-based energy sources have on the environment, and how much this contributes to global warming.

There are various websites which offer a Carbon Calculator — a means of calculating how much CO2 a household contributes through a number of activities, typically: heating, electricity usage, vehicle usage, transit usage, and airline travel.

Did you know... Electricity is one of the biggest producers of carbon emissions, so every time you make a coffee or turn the television on you are adding to global warming. (

I wonder if it occurred to them that it takes as much electricity to run a computer as it does a coffee pot or a television?

Sadly, some of these websites also offer you a chance to "offset" your carbon footprint by allowing you to purchase trees, or contribute to solar or wind energy projects. Personally, I’m very leery of anyone who both calculates my footprint and then solicits cash from me to offset this.

This is not to say that there is no real science behind the Carbon Footprint. Obviously every activity in which we engage that consumes energy contributes to the greenhouse gases being produced, and subsequently to global warming. How much of an effect each person has, however, is debatable.

Does one individual driving an SUV, or a V8-powered pick-up, or some other less fuel-efficient vehicle really contribute that much more to global warming than someone driving a more fuel-efficient one? Likely not, but it is the cumulative effect of tens of thousands of less-efficient vehicles that would be significant.

It is incumbent upon us all to not be wasteful. A 4-wheel drive vehicle may be necessary for some families living in the north. For others it may be a convenience, but not a necessity. For some it is neither. While that doesn’t make the SUV owner "evil," as some would suggest, it does give me pause to consider my own energy-use habits.

As many of you know, I have not owned a vehicle for almost seven years. I walk, take the bus, or ride my bike (in the summer). Still, when I can afford to buy another vehicle I will get one, but it will be as energy-efficient as I can afford.

As well, I look to savings around the house. I have a set-back thermostat, which is typically set at 17°C during the day, 18°C in the evenings, and 16°C overnight. If I get cold, I put on a sweatshirt or an extra blanket. I also do not turn a light on in a room unless I need it. I do my laundry in cold or warm water, with a cold rinse.

For me, it’s all about choices and finding a balance.

I know people who live a far more austere lifestyle, and I admire them for it. I can’t see myself going quite that far, however.

As some have suggested, we are simply experiencing a natural fluctuation in the earth’s climate. For the most part I agree, but I also think that our use of fossil fuels has subtly shifted the baseline of this cycle, with slightly warmer highs and not so cold lows.

As Africa and Asia rush headlong to catch up with western society this will only worsen, especially since they do not have the emission controls that we have put in place over the past five decades.

That does not mean we have no role to play. We can’t keep pointing at others and blaming them. We’re all peeing into the same pool. It really doesn’t matter if someone else is peeing more than we are.

NOTE: On Sunday 4 March, at 6:30 pm, Willowgrove United Church will host a screening of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, to be followed by a panel discussion. More details will follow when the panel members are confirmed.