Carbon footprints: Personal footprints
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There are several ways of calculating your carbon footprint. One approach simply takes the total greenhouse gas emissions for a country and divides it by the number of people in the country. This gives the average carbon footprint of a citizen of the country. Based on this calculation the average UK resident is responsible for between 10 and 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. A more accurate method involves calculating the emissions associated with your specific activities. This method calculates emissions from everything you do: how you travel, how you heat and power your home, food, shopping habits, holidays – all activities that have carbon emissions associated with them. It is a more accurate method because it includes the carbon footprint of imported products that you use, and excludes carbon emissions from the production of goods for export.
The average carbon footprint of a typical UK resident is between 10 and 15 tonnes, but this can vary widely because of a number of factors. Wealth is a large determining factor; generally speaking the more money people have, the larger their carbon footprint, owing to car ownership, foreign holidays and greater shopping habits – all of which have carbon emissions associated with them. Of course, the picture is not always clear cut. Less well-off individuals may have disproportionately larger carbon footprints if they live in poorly insulated housing in remote locations, while wealthier people living in urban areas may have smaller carbon footprints because of having smaller homes in built-up areas and not using private transport.
Research suggests that the age group with the biggest carbon footprint in the UK is 50–64. High car dependency, holidays abroad and eating out means the average personal carbon footprint of people in this age group is about 13.5 tonnes per year. The age group with the second biggest carbon footprint is those aged 65–74. The under-30s age group has the smallest carbon footprint at an average of 11 tonnes.
The largest single contributor to the average personal carbon footprint in the UK is the ‘home and energy’ category at about 27%. This includes the emissions associated with the gas and electricity people use to power and heat their homes. The next largest category is ‘government and fixed capital’ at about 26%. This encompasses the emissions associated with the country’s infrastructure and buildings under government control, such as hospitals and police stations. Personal travel accounts for about 17%, consumables (including appliances, furniture and electronics) account for 12%, services (such as water supply, insurance, education) 11% and food and drink 7%. These percentages represent averages and are likely to vary widely for different individuals.
There are a number of components within individuals’ carbon footprints over which they have little or no personal control. These include the emissions associated with public buildings such as hospitals and schools whose carbon footprints are largely controlled by government decisions. Another area outside personal control is electricity generation. Electricity is provided through the national grid and is drawn from various sources. Currently in the UK the majority of electricity is generated by fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gases. UK consumers have limited control over this – apart from reducing electricity use and switching to a supplier that draws more of its power from renewable energy.