It’s hard to imagine that one person can have a significant impact on the environment. After all, aren’t petroleum companies mostly to blame for global warming? You might be surprised to learn that the average person produces up to 16 tons of carbon emissions. What is your carbon footprint?

What exactly is a carbon footprint?

carbon footprint

A carbon footprint is used to measure the amount of carbon dioxide people emit into the earth’s atmosphere. A simple task like driving to work produces carbon emissions. How? Your car burns fuel, most likely gasoline. This produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and releases them into the planet’s atmosphere.

Other daily tasks include burning coal, propane, and other fuels for heating, cooking, lighting, and general household activities.

According to the EPA, residential and commercial areas account for approximately 13% of carbon emissions. Although it is a smaller percentage compared to that of industry processes, transportation, agriculture, and producing electricity, all these activities are part of daily life.

For instance, carbon emissions from transportation include driving your car, and the fuel a ship uses to deliver products ordered from another part of the world. Agriculture produces the food you eat, and the national grid supplies residential areas with power made from burning coal.

The bottom line is this: carbon emissions are produced by a collection of human activities.

Why are carbon emissions bad for the planet?

carbon emissions

When the sun shines on the surface of the earth, it produces heat and temperatures rise. This is natural, and not harmful so long as heat is able to escape into space.

Unfortunately, the high amount of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere today trap this heat on earth. Unable to escape, the heat makes the planet warmer and warmer, hence the term global warming.

Global warming causes extremes in temperature and weather such as heatwaves and droughts. Ice in the Arctic as well as glaciers gradually melt, leading to higher sea levels and thus putting many coastal areas at risk of being immersed.

Weather events also increase in intensity. Because hurricanes are caused by the difference between hot and cold air, extreme temperatures make storms more intense and destructive than they could have been.

Needless to say, unstable and destructive weather patterns ultimately affect the economy, particularly agriculture. In recent years, the number of deaths resulting from natural disasters has been devastating. In addition to loss of human life and decline in economic activity, global warming affects the natural cycles of plants and animals too.

So, the effects of greenhouse gases on the environment are very extensive. The good news is that carbon emissions can be reduced if all people become aware of their carbon footprint and make the necessary changes.

How to calculate your carbon footprint


To determine your carbon footprint, you first need to be aware of the sources of your carbon emissions. The most common include the burning of gas, oil, liquid propane, coal, natural gas, kerosene, and wood.


Although electric cars are gaining traction, most motor vehicles still use gas. To calculate your car’s carbon emissions, you need to answer a few questions. How many miles or kilometers do you drive a year? How many miles do you get per gallon, or how many kilometers can you drive per one liter of fuel?

Say, for instance, the average person drives 15,000 miles a year. Continuing with the example, assume the person can drive 20 miles on a single gallon. Divide the number of miles with the number of gallons (15,000/20) to reveal the number of gallons used per year (750 g/yr.).

Now to calculate the carbon emissions. Take the number of gallons used per year (750g/yr.) and multiply it by 19.6. This should give the number of emissions in pounds (14,700 pounds).

Other Common Fuels

Fossil fuels commonly used in the home – oil, liquid propane, coal, wood, kerosene, and natural gas – also emit greenhouse gases, although to a lesser extent. To calculate the CO2 produced when burning these, first determine how much fuel you use.

Oil, kerosene, and liquid propane are measured by the gallon. Natural gas is measured in Therms. Coal and wood are measured by the ton.

If you use 300 gallons of oil a year for heating, multiply this number by 22.4 pounds. The final result – 6,720 pounds – is the amount of carbon dioxide the fuel releases into the atmosphere per year. As a quick reference, multiply the amount of each fuel you use with these numbers per pound.

Amount of oil you use X 22.4 pounds

Amount of kerosene you use X 21.5 pounds

Amount of liquid propane you use X 12.7 pounds

Amount of natural gas you use X 12.1 pounds

Amount of coal you use X 4,166 pounds

Amount of wood you use X 3,814 pounds

What to do with the results

Knowing how much carbon emissions your fuel use produces can help paint a clear picture of where to start reducing your footprint. It puts you in a great position to seek alternatives that are healthier for the environment.

While some people prefer to stop driving and cycle to work instead, others may opt to carpool. Switching to solar lighting and appliances in the home is also a helpful step. Replacing traditional heating systems and technology with eco-friendly alternatives can seem insignificant, but as more people become environmentally conscious, the positive impact is starting to add up.

It is also a good idea to join a local or online group of environment-conscious people to learn more about cutting back on carbon emissions. Green living is a fascinating lifestyle with unlimited possibilities.

TODAY more than any time in human history, the world is witnessing the effects of global warming caused by carbon emissions on an individual and corporate scale. However, if collective human activity is the cause of climate change, surely the collective effort of switching to eco-friendly alternatives can help restore the world.