The carbon footprint you leave behind

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series about carbon footprints.


From the moment you were born, you’ve been leaving a footprint. Have you ever taken time to look around and notice that you see some sort of development no matter which direction you turn?

It could be because humans have directly influenced 83 percent of the world’s land.

The world’s population is reaching 7 billion. If we continue at the current pace, scientists predict we will reach 10.5 billion people by 2050.

The United States, with a population of 304 million, is a leading contributor to carbon emissions along with China and India.

By their first birthday, Americans have generated more carbon dioxide emissions than a Tanzania resident generates during an entire lifetime, according to the National Geographic documentary “Human Footprint.”

Deborah Bird, a Pima Community College environmental biology instructor, explains it this way: “If you own two dogs the size of, let’s say German Shepherds, their carbon footprint is bigger than that of the average person from Bangladesh.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines carbon footprints as a measure of the greenhouse gases produced by a person, family, school or business through activities that involve burning fossil fuels.

Environmentalists say carbon footprints matter because global warming increases when more CO2 enters the atmosphere.

“In my lifetime, since I was born, CO2 has gone up more than 80 parts per million,” Bird said.

Young people today, through no fault of their own, use 55 times more resources than her generation did at age 20, Bird said.

One reason for the high consumption is American dependence on fossil fuels.

Many people would be surprised at the many consumer products manufactured using fossil fuels. Disposable diapers, for example, use one-half pint of crude oil per diaper, according to National Geographic. On average, people use 3,796 diapers in their lifetime.

Now think about how much food Americans eat and waste. As a nation, we average more than 6 billion pounds of food a day. We throw away 264 million tons of food waste every year.

If the U.S. and world populations continue to grow, how will we manage to produce enough food?

“We’re going to have to change our lifestyles,” Bird said.

She suggested changes such as growing food locally, without such an industrial focus, to lower carbon emissions.

“Humans aren’t long-term thinkers, which is what has helped us evolve and survive, but now it’s become an evolutionary disadvantage,” Bird added.

She said students need to realize that reducing carbon dioxide levels is a complex inter-generational project that will take a long while to complete.

However, people can make simple changes in their daily routines to lower their carbon footprint. For example, lowering thermostats 2 degrees in the winter and raising it 2 degrees in the summer will save 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year.

Even replacing one regular light bulb with an energy-efficient bulb can save one-half ton of carbon dioxide over the bulb’s lifetime. If every household did the same, it would prevent 500 million tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

To learn more about the carbon footprint you’re leaving, visit

Next issue: Carbon footprint exchange programs.


In a lifetime, the average American will go through:

  • 156 toothbrushes
  • 389 tubes of toothpaste
  • 656 bars of soap
  • 198 bottles of shampoo
  • 272 sticks of deodorant
  • Seven washing machines
  • 15 computers
  • 10 TVs
  • More than 13,000 beers

Source: National Geographic

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