Carbon footprint refers to the total amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted directly or indirectly by an individual or group. Carbon footprints are expressed in units of tons (or kg) of carbon dioxide equivalent. In general, the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) are the primary contributors to an individual's carbon footprint. Assessing your own carbon footprint is the first step in taking responsibility for how your actions affect our planet. Indeed, most of the emissions contributing to an individual's footprint are produced from everyday activities such as transportation or heating a home.
As individuals, our direct contribution of greenhouse gases comes from activities over which we have control. For example, turning the heat up in your home will increase the amount of greenhouse gases released from the burning of fossil fuels. The largest direct contributors to the average person's carbon footprint are transportation, heating, cooling and electricity use. The indirect component of our carbon footprint derives from activities over which we have indirect control. A large part of this indirect component comes from the lifecycle of products we use. Cars, clothes, and other manufactured products take energy to make and dispose of, and hence their production, and eventual breakdown, emits greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases emitted by the provision of public services also contribute to our indirect carbon footprint.
We can exert some control over these emissions by making wise choices as consumers. Using reusable items (like water bottles) rather than disposable, saves both production energy and reduces our emissions from landfills. Eating less meat reduces the amount of methane gas released from livestock; although, this is somewhat offset by the energy used to produce what we eat in its place.
In the United States our indirect contributions are high. One recent MIT study showed that even the people with the lowest direct carbon footprint in the United States contributed 8.5 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents because of indirect services attributed to them. The same study found that in the United States, the average annual carbon dioxide emissions per person was 20 tons versus a world average of 4 tons. Recent efforts to use more renewable energy sources could help diminish the country's carbon footprint.
New York State
New Yorkers are avid energy consumers. New York is the eighth largest contributor to greenhouse gases by state. According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy, the average New Yorker produces approximately 11 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year.
Climate change increasingly poses a threat to New York's economy and natural resources, calling for immediate steps to reduce New York's carbon footprint. In 2004, New York State adopted the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires regulated utilities to obtain a minimum of 25% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2013. The "45 by 15" program, launched in 2007, intends to reduce the state's energy use by 15% and provide 30% of the state's power from renewable sources by 2015.
In 2009, for the first time, New York's State Energy Planning Board developed a comprehensive energy plan for the state. In addition, New York is part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a consortium of states that have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 13% below 1990 levels by 2019. Moreover, in August of the same year, Governor Paterson signed Executive Order No. 24, which set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in NY State by 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050.
In 2008, to focus on reducing the state's carbon footprint, NYLCV Education Fund launched its "Powering the Future" campaign, which hosted three policy forums focusing on energy efficiency and solar, wind and nuclear power. NYLCVEF's series of Policy Agendas for New York State - which can be found on our website - make emissions-reducing recommendations tailored to specific geographic areas and levels of government. To achieve the emissions reductions we need, NYLCVEF will continue to advocate for energy conservation and efficiency, investment in clean energy sources, improvements in public transportation and smart economic growth.
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