According to Wikipedia, ‘A carbon footprint is a measure of the impact that human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide.’
Individuals, nations and businesses are able to conceptualize their personal carbon dioxide contribution by means of the Carbon Footprint and thus react responsibly to the problem of global warming by reducing individual footprints.
The conceptual opposite of carbon footprint is ‘carbon offset’, or the removal of carbon emissions through use of alternate gadgets/technologies/processes that adequately reduce carbon emissions.
Global warming is caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases (primarily carbon-di-oxide, or CO2) in the upper levels of the earth’s atmosphere. The earth receives and releases heat periodically to maintain its balance. However, greenhouse gases interfere with the heat capture-and-release cycle by forming a kind of ‘shield’ or ‘barrier’ that prevents heat rays escaping from the earth. This leads to the gradual accumulation of heat in the atmosphere and consequent rise in temperatures all over the globe (the phenomenon that we all know as ‘global warming’). Its consequences are all too well known by now – ecological imbalances, rise in the level of water in the oceans (hence, the seas gradually entering and taking up the dry land on which we live), outbreak of several, dangerous diseases, catastrophic changes in weather and a myriad other effects.
Carbon footprint is a quantity (measured in pounds, kilo grams etc.) on account of the obvious advantages that numbers have over subjective verbal descriptions – some of these are discussed below:
A) Ability to quantify and compare objectively: Consider activity ‘A’ that has a 50 pound (carbon) footprint (say, driving a distance of 2 miles by car) and activity ‘B’ that has a 10 pound footprint (possibly, jogging the same distance). On account of carbon footprint being a number, we can say without any ambiguity or uncertainty that ‘A’ has a bigger carbon footprint compared to ‘B’, since 50 is greater than 10. (Hence, if A and B are activities that serve the same purpose, it will be beneficial to do less of A and more of B instead).
B) Ability to sum-up and Prioritize: (Carbon) footprint of industrial work-processes can be determined by summing up the footprints of their constituent activities. It is, therefore, possible to identify those work-processes that have bigger footprints and deal with them first while leaving out less important ones for later remedial action
C) Ability to forecast and aid better planning in cases of maintenance and new industrial projects
D) Statistics made possible and thus monitoring (control/feedback) of carbon-offset/carbon footprint reduction exercises
E) Enables precise calculation of taxes and other Government levies in case legislation is enforced at any point in time restraining the carbon footprints of businesses/individuals to acceptable limits
F) At a global level, to identify countries that are the biggest contributors to global warming