Carbon footprints are talked about often in media today, yet I think most people lack the scientific understanding to appreciate how this relates to their life. I don't mean this as a slam, but instead that is a rather complex scientific process that the media tends to gloss over.
Carbon dioxide has been a key to our planet keeping warm, and has a natural cycle that is millions of years old. Trees and other plants grow and trap more and more carbon dioxide each year as they mature (about 13-90 pounds of CO2). When plants die, they release the carbon back into the atmosphere. In fact, the spring tends to absorb more carbon dioxide, and the fall releases it as the leaves fall and decompose. If you burn down a forest or burn a log in a fire, you simply accelerate that decomposition and release the CO2 faster.
Millions of years ago, large groups of plant based organisms were trapped for a variety of reasons, and they eventually turned into coal, petroleum, and natural gas. All of these energy sources have been tapped in the last few centuries, releasing stored carbon back into the atmosphere.
This ancient CO2 is put into the atmosphere through many methods. Burning gasoline in your car releases CO2, as does electricity production and heating a home or water. Alternatives to all of these exist and do not emit CO2, such as solar and wind power, nuclear power, solar water heaters, along with using your own two legs to get places.
It is important to account for global warming gases because if we want to reduce our emissions, we need to know what we emit first. All of us can drive a Prius and feel good about it, but if we end up driving more and ultimately emitting more carbon dioxide, then we have not accomplished our goal.
For the last 1000 years, global CO2 levels were around 280 parts per million. In the last 100 years, that number has risen to almost 400 parts per million, and global temperatures are warming with that rise in CO2.
Whether or not you are alarmed at rising global temperatures, acidification of oceans, and other impacts by increased CO2 levels, I will give you a reason to care. The more CO2 that is released, the more expensive something is to purchase or operate, as show by our display energy savings calculator . Energy is expensive, so using less (and emitting less CO2) is good for the planet and your pocketbook. While we continue to research great alternatives for energy, efficiency is something that you have control over today and should be maximized while we wait for technology to catch up to our needs.