Your carbon footprint


To heighten awareness of the ecological impacts of personal consumption and production. Think of a carbon ‘footprint’ as our impact on the planet as we walk across the earth. In low-tech, agrarian societies, the footprint may be small, people may rely on little more than resources locally available, the elements (soil, sun, rain …), and their wits for survival (hoping their government isn’t selling off their resource base to multinational corporations). In industrialized settings, the chains of production and consumption are global, and most of us don’t have to think much about where the things we consume came from. Even if we want to, it can be hard to track down sources and quantify resources and energy consumed in the entire process (I recommend you watch Annie Leonard’s 20-minute film Story of Stuff to orient yourself to this assignment.)

We live in a society that is inextricably connected to the rest of the world. The US population, with 4.5% of the world’s people, uses 25-30% of the world’s natural resources. Critics (of using that statistic) counter that the US economy’s productivity makes up for that discrepancy (in other words, it is 4-5 times more productive, largely through automation and intensive manufacturing). Your job here is more focused on personal consumption: I would like each of you to take some practice, habit, behavior, etc., in which you engage, and examine its carbon ‘footprint.’ What are the consequences of your consumption? And what feasible alternatives might exist to reduce it?

There are a few things involved in this—parts of the paper include:

  • Identify (your idea) / justify (why you chose it);
  • Describe the practice you’re examining and will alter for a time, and discuss the environmental/carbon impact of what you currently do. Discuss it in the terms used for such subjects (in other words, in understanding carbon footprints), whether it’s measurement in calories, pounds/tons of CO2, etc. (one measures energy, the other waste).
  • Examine/analyze (using supporting source material of a high quality)
  • Discuss/reflect.
  • an understanding of what a ‘footprint’ is, and how it is calculated.
  • You will also need to assess the impact of your change—current practice/habit compared to new practice/habit. This doesn’t have to be a big change (e.g., purchasing an electric car). It could be quite small, because the idea is to understand what the footprint concept is all about, and how changes can affect it. So you could choose something you do in the kitchen, in the garage, at work, at play, etc. You will need to:
    • Report on your findings, and extrapolate to the general population—not everyone, but for instance parents with infants in a given year, or whatever the population that might be affected by a change in its consumptive habits.
    • Produce a paper that should be 5-7 pages (no more than 8–I’ll stop reading after 8 pages), and in it
      • show that you understand the footprint concept (20 pts),
      • have put effort into the paper and thought into your choice (25 pts),
      • used high quality sources to inform your paper (20 pts)—at least five sources
      • Support claims with evidence from your source material (20 pts), and
      • written it coherently and proofread it (15 pts). You should identify high quality sites that help calculate carbon footprints (one example).


  • Obviously, some reading on carbon footprints, and how they are calculated (provide a list—for instance, electricity produced by wind has a lower carbon footprint than the same produced by burning coal).
  • Information/research specific to what you’re examining—it could be your daily commute, switching from driving to walking, carpooling, bicycling, it could be changing meat consumption (eating less beef, raising chickens, etc.). It could be understanding the carbon footprint of being an online student (thinking about electricity, computers and their life cycles, savings in transportation, paper/printing, waste produced [especially when upgrading]), etc.

Videos to orient your thinking:

Elements to be evaluated:

  • Demonstration of effort (intellectual and otherwise, originality is key); 25 points
  • Demonstration of understanding of the carbon footprint concept (of the point of the assignment and the application of your project to the concept); 20 points
  • Quality of source material (at least five sources of high quality, properly cited at the end in a reference section, and in the body of the paper [use APA]. If you’re using a .com site, you will have to work twice as hard to defend its inclusion in the paper; 20 points
  • Thoughtful use of supporting evidence (primary and secondary—primary could include notes you’ve taken on [for instance] family members’ reactions to your project and how it might affect them); 20 points
  • Writing (Grammar, organization, journal of at least 500-1000 words); 15 points

100  pts possible, due Dec 9 in Canvas.