What is a Carbon Footprint?
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to support a specific activity, and is usually equated as tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) (other greenhouse gases are included as part of this total and are weighted according to their carbon content).
A specific activity, like catching a flight, can have its own carbon footprint. It is also possible to approximate the carbon footprint of a person for an entire year. This would be done by adding up the collective greenhouse gases that all of your yearly activities produce, be they caused by the car you use to drive to work, the energy production required to heat and light your home, the power needed to produce the food you eat, and so on. Typically, we calculate a perons’s carbon footprint over a year.
Australia actually has one of the highest per capita carbon footprint in the world, and the highest of any OECD nation. In 2006, our per capita emissions were 28.1 tonnes of CO2 (or equivalent), with only five other counties in the world ranking higher – Bahrain, Bolivia, Brunei, Kuwait and Qatar. Not great company to be in, to be sure. Taking a look at the chart below, we can see that our per capita carbon footprint is twice the OECD average and more than four times that of the world average!
Source: Syed et al. (2007).
One of the primary reasons for the high level of our greenhouse emissions is due to electricity consumption. In fact, we utilise more than 3 times the OECD average – juse take a look at the graphic below.
Sources: IEA (2007a); DCC (2008b).
There are of course many ways of reducing our carbon footprint. Numerous government programs have been enacted to incentivise the installation of solar panels on houses and businesses around the country. Solar power, of course, being completely clean (the production process for the system aside). Unfortunately many of these assistance packages have been rolled back, as ultimately they are not as cost effective as large-scale renewable energy efforts such as solar thermal power plants, and wind farms.