Carbon cover

Updated: Aug 31 2008, 06:40am hrs
You know your shoe size. But you probably dont know your carbon footprint, particularly the footprint of your home. The term carbon footprint is used to describe the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere each year by a person, household, building, organisation or company, said Cathy Milbourn, a spokeswoman for the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

One of the main sources of greenhouse gases is the home. For individuals, about 40% of our carbon emissions come from our homes, said Eric Carlson, the executive director of Carbonfund.org, an environmental group in Silver Spring, Merryland. Activities outside the home, like driving or flying, are part of the problem, too. But what happens in the kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom and yard is important, from heating to cooking to using products whose manufacture produces emissions that can be harmful. According to the EPA, the average carbon footprint for a two-person household in the United States is 41,500 pounds a year. Thats far from the ideal: Carlson said he hopes that all households, no matter the number of people living there, reduce their levels by as much as 50 to 80% in the next 40 years.

So, what to do now

Significantly reducing your carbon footprint usually requires a dramatic lifestyle change, said Craig Diamond, the director for strategy and operations of the Climate Trust in Portland, US: People have to decide how important it is for them to contribute to the solution. Among the appliances that add to the overall number are stoves, barbecues, refrigerators, fans, microwave ovens, televisions, radios, air-conditioners, lights, computers, virtually any device the average person uses in a day. Even simple tasks like mowing the grass can add to the problem if the device uses gas or electricity, Diamond said. Lighting a gas or electric fireplace raises the number, while using a wood-burning fireplace does not. Breaking old habits is not easy, but experts say the rewards are worth it. Those who reduce their carbon footprint by decreasing their energy use, reduce their energy costs as well. Replacing an inefficient hot-water heater with an energy-efficient model can reduce annual carbon-dioxide emissions by as much as 3,285 pounds and energy costs by $263, Consumer Reports says. Lowering a houses temperature by five degrees for eight hours while people sleep and 10 degrees while they are at work can save 3,150 pounds in emissions and $252 in annual energy expenses.

Harvey Sachs, a senior fellow at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in Washington, said that upgrading inefficient systems could save 30% in heating costs. To reduce energy expenses and carbon levels, buy appliances with the EPAs Energy Star label, said Enesta Jones, an EPA spokeswoman.

NYT / Jay Romano

Calculate your carbon profile

Nadav Malin, editor of Environmental Building News, a newsletter in Brattleboro, Vermont, suggests: The Cool Climate Carbon Footprint calculator (coolclimate.berkeley.edu); The Low Impact Living calculator (lowimpactliving.com); The World Resources Institutes calculator (safeclimate.net) For instance, if you are a frequent flier multiply the number of miles travelled by 1.61 to get kilometers travelled. Then, multiply it by .18 kg CO2 per km to get total kgs CO2. This number is multiplied by 2.2046 to covert to pounds of CO2. The calculator uses emissions factor (.18) for short haul flights used by the GHG Protocol Initiative.