What's Your Carbon Footprint?

How much carbon dioxide do you send into the atmosphere? Anytime you do something that requires fossil fuels — like riding in a car, flying in a plane, buying something, eating something, or even just watching TV — you emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Our individual carbon dioxide emissions are a part of the total emissions on Earth. All of the cars and trucks that we drive, the boxes we ship, the products we manufacture, the emissions from the food we eat, the air-conditioning we use in our buildings — it all adds up.

Some people emit much more carbon dioxide than others. Worldwide, the average person produces about four tons of carbon dioxide each year. In the United States, each person produces about 16 tons of carbon dioxide each year. Because carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, adding more of it to the atmosphere causes our climate to warm.

highway traffic

Driving a car that burns gasoline releases much more carbon dioxide than carpooling or taking public transportation, so driving makes your carbon footprint larger than other transportation choices. Ride a bike or walk instead to shrink your carbon footprint even more.


Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

You can figure out how much your actions affect greenhouse gases by using a carbon footprint calculator. A carbon footprint is the total amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of human activities. Your carbon footprint is the total carbon dioxide released due to your individual activities. Your household’s carbon footprint is the total carbon dioxide released by your home and all the people who live there. A carbon footprint calculator typically takes into account the greenhouse gases you produce at home and while traveling. It can also include the greenhouse gases produced to transport and make the food you eat and the things you buy.

Check out the carbon footprint calculators listed below and use one to calculate your carbon footprint:

  • CoolClimate Calculator: This in-depth calculator adds up your carbon emissions from home, travel, food, and shopping. It allows you to compare your footprint to others and helps you identify the changes you can make to reduce your impact on climate change.
  • Zerofootprint Youth Carbon Calculator: This kid-friendly calculator guides you through the process of calculating your family’s carbon footprint. You don’t need a login or email address, but you must name your school and birthday to use the tool.
  • EPA Household Carbon Footprint Calculator: Gather your home energy bills before you start for the most accurate calculation of your home’s carbon emissions. This calculator includes home energy, cars, and recycling, but doesn’t include other types of emissions. It includes helpful information about how much carbon dioxide you can save by making small changes around your house to decrease your impact on climate change.

Shrinking Your Footprint

Once you have calculated your carbon footprint, think about how you could make it smaller. We add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere as we go about our daily lives, but often we can make choices that reduce these emissions. For example, you might choose to ride a bike to the store rather than driving a car. Or you might find that renewable energy is available from your power company and make a switch. By reducing your carbon dioxide emissions, you will shrink your carbon footprint, and your choices will help keep the climate livable. The choices we make every day in our homes, our travel, the food we eat, and what we buy and throw away can help ensure a stable climate for future generations.

Different personal choices make different impacts on climate change.

Catrin Jakobsson, with data from Wynes and Nicolas (2017)