A footprint in the sand brings back fond memories of days at the beach. A wet footprint suggests fun at the pool. A carbon footprint is a different story. That’s an indication of the amount of greenhouse gases –especially carbon dioxide– being put into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat and contribute to global climate change. Data released by the University of California, Berkeley, indicate that the average American household has a carbon footprint of 48 tons per year.
By far, the biggest direct impact made by the average American comes from transportation. Each household generates over nine tons of greenhouse gases solely due to fuel for cars. For every one gallon of gas used by a vehicle, 24 pounds of carbon dioxide are released into the air. Indirect transportation, including gases produced when manufacturing vehicles and gasoline, creates about six million tons. Another two million tons come from riding in airplanes and using mass transit. Sharing transportation can reduce some of the negative effects of transportation.
Household fuel makes the greatest carbon footprint within the average home. Natural gas is responsible for a little more than two tons, while electricity causes about seven tons. In fact, household electricity is responsible for approximately 13 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions in the United States per year. Refrigerators are the biggest culprits among household appliances. Water, household waste, and home construction each release about one ton of greenhouse gases. Solar, wind, water, and nuclear power do not directly produce greenhouse gases, but they contribute to the carbon footprint when plants and other materials, like wind turbines and solar panels, are constructed.
Meat is a good source of protein, but it’s also responsible for the greatest amount of emissions related to food: about two tons per household. Cattle, sheep, and goats release a large amount of methane into the atmosphere as part of their bodily functions, and additional gases are produced transporting and preparing meat for market. Chicken has a smaller carbon footprint than other types of meat. While other foods have less of an impact, it is not negligible. The production and preparation of fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy generate about two tons of gases per household.
Goods and Services
The goods and services used by each household are responsible for about 12 tons of greenhouse gases each year, fairly evenly split between the two categories. At more than two tons, health care is the leading cause. Other major contributors are entertainment, clothing, and education. In addition, the excessive packaging of many products generates a great deal of carbon dioxide. Much of this is due to the electricity used in the production of goods and the gasoline needed to transport them.