WHAT IS A CARBON FOOTPRINT?
What is a Carbon Footprint? … As defined by Britannica: “Carbon footprint, amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with all the activities of a person or other entity (e.g., building, corporation, country, etc.). It includes direct emissions, such as those that result from fossil-fuel combustion in manufacturing, heating, and transportation, as well as emissions required to produce the electricity associated with goods and services consumed. In addition, the carbon footprint concept also often includes the emissions of other greenhouse gases, such as methane, nitrous oxide, or chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).”
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a Greenhouse gas, which as defined by Micheal Mann, of Britannica, is “any gas that has the property of absorbing infrared radiation (net heat energy) emitted from Earth’s surface and reradiating it back to Earth’s surface”. Other greenhouse gases you may be familiar with are as follows:
Methane Gas: CH4
“It is more potent than CO2, but exists in far lower concentrations in the atmosphere. CH4 also hangs around in the atmosphere for a shorter time than CO2—the residence time for CH4 is roughly 10 years, compared with hundreds of years for CO2″ (Rafferty, Britannica)
Methane naturally occurs in many wetlands as well as methane hydrates that have been trapped within our oceans and arctic permafrost … (as we know, this permafrost is now melting … releasing that trapped methane into the atmosphere). However, 70% of the total annual emissions of methane are due to human influence. Such as rice cultivation, livestock farming, the burning of coal and natural gas, biomass combustion, and decomposition in landfills. (Rafferty, Britannica).
One of the most popular statements surrounding methane gas is that of cows and going vegan. As silly as it may sound, the farts and manure of cows, pigs, and other livestock release significant amounts of methane. “Much of that increase comes from changes in how cow poop and other manure is handled. Compared to spreading manure on fields as fertilizer, storing manure in pits encourage bacteria that produce twice as much methane. Wolf’s group calculated a nearly 37% increase in global methane emissions due to those changes. In the U.S., the increase was 71%. California is a big offender in that category. Fart methane, on the other hand, was up 8% from the IPCC’s 2006 estimate…..Wolf and her colleagues estimated that livestock originated about one-fifth of methane emissions from 2003 to 2011. But they were responsible for between half and three-quarters of the increase in methane emissions seen over that time period.” (Lemonick, 2017).
Surface Level Ozone (aka. air pollution): O3
“The primary natural source of surface O3 is the subsidence of stratospheric O3 from the upper atmosphere toward Earth’s surface. In contrast, the primary human-driven source of surface O3 is in photochemical reactions involving carbon monoxide (CO), such as in smog.” (Rafferty, Britannica). Smog, as defined by National Geographic is, “air pollution that reduces visibility. The term “smog” was first used in the early 1900s to describe a mix of smoke and fog. The smoke usually came from burning coal. Smog was common in industrial areas and remains a familiar sight in cities today.”
“The amount of water vapor in the atmosphere cannot, in general, be directly modified by human behavior—it’s set by air temperatures. The warmer the surface, the greater the evaporation rate of water from the surface. As a result, increased evaporation leads to a greater concentration of water vapor in the lower atmosphere capable of absorbing infrared radiation and emitting it downward.” (Rafferty, Britannica) Of course, due to the fact that the earth is getting warmer (because of human interventions), we are indirectly increasing the amount of water vapor within our atmosphere.
Nitrous Oxide & Fluorinated Gases: N2O & HFC + PFC
“Nitrous oxides have small background concentrations due to natural biological reactions in soil and water, whereas the fluorinated gases owe their existence almost entirely to industrial sources.” (Rafferty, Britannica). Most of the time used in manufacturing facilities in very small quantities as they are considered, high GWP gases (high global warming potential gases) as they are significantly more potent than CO2.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlines the largest contributors to greenhouse gases as follows: Transportation (28%), Electricity (27%), Industry (22%), Commercial & Residential (12%), and Agriculture (10%).
What is a sink?
Oftentimes when talking about our carbon footprint, something called a ‘sink’ will be mentioned, so what are these sinks, and what do they do?
Earth has created what we like to call ‘sinks’ to provide an equilibrium of carbon within our atmosphere. Because, yes, carbon emissions are natural (to a certain extent) from the decomposition of organic matter, volcanos, and oxygen that is released from breathing. These sinks will naturally suck that carbon out of our atmosphere and put it back into the ground (where it belongs). Examples of these sinks consist of trees, plants, soil, and the ocean.
Post Industrialized Society
However …. a post-industrialized (human) society has disrupted this equilibrium unlike the earth has seen in millions of years.
With the extraction/mining of fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas we have created a society that has allowed for a plethora of advancements to human life, such as transportation, global communications, cultural awareness, medicine, health care, (WIFI!) and so much more. I mean it even allowed us to walk on the moon! It’s the reason I can sit here today and write this blog, why B&B Micro Manufacturing can build tiny houses for you all to enjoy, and why you can take your tiny house wherever you want! Our society couldn’t function without fossil fuels … Right???
Not Necessarily …. because of advancements in technology with renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower, we will be able to maintain the quality of life we have become accustomed to for the last 100 years. You can read more about renewable energy from B&B Micro Manufacturings blog, here.
We have been able to create one of the most beautiful and advanced forms of society to have ever been seen … but at what point do we take a step back and realize that we are destroying the ONLY thing that allows us to live. At what point can we come to the realization that money and politics (which we love so much) can actually help save our home .. instead of destroying it.
** This calculation from The Nature Conservancy is an estimate based on a small percentage of choices we make as individuals. Allow yourself a few tons of difference for your carbon footprint calculation! **
However, now that you have a rough estimate on the amount of carbon you are creating, what does this actually mean, and how do you reduce it?
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
As established above, our carbon footprint is a combination of all of the things we do, use, consume, and throw away. Every aspect of our lives and the decisions we make within them have a direct effect on not only ourselves and the planet, but all other living things that surround us. The mixture between the rise in consumerism, human population, and a plethora of other socio-economic factors, has catapulted us into a world where we face extreme environmental impacts. Forcing us into the corner to decide between a world with a dried-up and irreversible depletion of our carbon budget, or, one that honors the planet in which we reside.
However, I must note that this is not meant to scare you into living a life that ‘environmentalists’ are trying to force upon you. It is a very real and very prominent threat that has been backed by multiple scientists and countries within the Paris Agreement.
HOW DO I REDUCE MY CARBON FOOTPRINT?
We’ve uncovered the mystery behind a carbon footprint and how it affects us and our atmosphere, so how do you lower your carbon footprint?
Live Smaller !
Tiny houses can bring a lot to the table in regards to reducing your carbon footprint. Due to tiny houses being substantially smaller than traditional homes, they have a smaller area to heat and/or cool. Meaning, it takes less time and energy to create a comfortable temperature, directly decreasing your carbon emissions. Apart from the actual size of tiny houses, the quality and choice of construction is an important factor when thinking about sustainability. New construction is oftentimes valued for its aesthetic appeal, while in reality, the real value behind newer construction is the efficiency it provides. At B&B Micro Manufacturing, every house that leaves our shop is done to the highest degree of quality and craftsmanship. Our training and quality control experts make sure sills, windows, and doors are properly sealed, your floors, walls, and roofs are thoroughly insulated, and energy-efficient appliances are installed. Tiny houses allow for peace of mind knowing that you are taking an active approach to sustainability. Contact us now to start your own tiny house journey!
Invest in renewable energy sources
Read B&B Micro Manufacturing’s blog on renewable energy sources: HERE !
Watch your utility usage
OR better yet, go off-grid
Read B&B Micro Manufacturing’s blog on the difference between grid-tied and off-grid living: HERE
Lower your waste
Read B&B Micro Manufacturing’s blog on how to go zero/low waste: HERE !
Eat less meat & dairy products
Going vegan/vegetarian has become a popular trend in recent years. As with any diet out there on our social media feeds, there are positives and negatives. One of the largest positives of veganism/vegetarianism is the environmental impact it has. As stated above by Lemonick of Forbes, “Wolf and her colleagues estimated that livestock originated about one-fifth of methane emissions from 2003 to 2011. But they were responsible for between half and three-quarters of the increase in methane emissions seen over that time period.” By cutting out (or significantly decreasing) the amount of meat and dairy products we consume, we are aiding in the reduction of poorly managed livestock farming.
** If you are a LOVER of meat and dairy (I do not blame you, it can be very delicious and nutritious) try to purchase these products from local farmers instead. Go to your local co-op, butcherer, dairy farm, etc. where they are likely practicing safer and more sustainable methods of farming. It is also always beneficial to be supporting small local businesses!! **
If you live in the Berkshires, try these businesses:
Wild Oats Market, Williamstown, MA
Guidos Fresh Marketplace, Pittsfield & Great Barrington, MA
Berkshire Food Co-Op, Great Barrington, MA
High Lawn Farm, Stockbridge, MA
** Sold at many grocery stores throughout the Northeast **
Brazeaus Butcher Shop, North Adams, MA
Mountain Top Country Meats, Savoy, MA
Guidos Fresh Marketplace, Pittsfield & Great Barrington, MA
Use public transportation / walk & bike more often
As stated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.” To aid in the reduction of this number, walk/bike within a few miles of your home/work. It not only helps to reduce your carbon footprint but also gets you moving outside. It’s a win win situation! Get acquainted with the infamous Greyhound and Peter-Pan bus lines as well as our trusty Amtrak lines. (Download the app/visit the website Wanderu for all things public transit).
Asmelash, Leah. What You Need To Know About Carbon Footprints. CNN. September 8, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/08/us/carbon-footprint-facts-trnd/index.html
Britannica. Carbon Footprint.
Calculate Your Carbon Footprint. The Nature Conservancy. https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/
Greenhouse Gas Emissions From A Typical Passenger Vehicle. United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-typical-passenger-vehicle
Harvey, Chelsea. How The ‘Carbon Budget’ Is Causing Problems. Scientific American. May 22, 2018. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-carbon-budget-is-causing-problems/
Lemonick, Sam. Scientists Underestimated How Bad Cow Farts Are. Forbes. September 29, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/samlemonick/2017/09/29/scientists-underestimated-how-bad-cow-farts-are/?sh=4ebf8ca978a9
McCarthy, John. Greta Thunberg Understands The ‘Carbon Budget’ – Do You?. Global Citizen. September 24, 2019. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/what-does-a-carbon-budget-mean/
Mann, Micheal. “Greenhouse Gas”. Britannica. 03.19.2019. https://www.britannica.com/science/greenhouse-gas
Rafferty, John. 5 Notorious Greenhouse Gases. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/list/5-notorious-greenhouse-gases
“Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions”. United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions
Smog. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/smog/
Top 20 Ways To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint. Global Stewards. http://www.globalstewards.org/reduce-carbon-footprint.htm
Vetter, David. Here’s What You Need To Know About The 2020 Global Carbon Budget. Forbes. December 11, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrvetter/2020/12/11/heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-2 020-global-carbon-budget/?sh=6b1a833d1fd5