I keep hearing comments in the media for the need to reduce our personal, corporate and global carbon footprints.
What the heck is carbon and what does it have to do with a footprint?
Before we dive into what a carbon footprint is, let's start with carbon, and as a gas, carbon dioxide (CO2).
The word carbon comes from the Latin carbō (“charcoal”, “coal”).
Coal, which is mainly carbon, is used as a fuel, are often referred to as a “fossil fuel”. It’s called “fossil fuel” because it comes from the chemical remains of prehistoric plants and animals.
And carbon is a basic element necessary for life, too. Our bodies are estimated to be 18% carbon.
Carbon, as a gas it's carbon dioxide (CO2), is one of a number of greenhouse gases (GHG) and the most common. But there are others, too.
Let’s meet them now. https://climatekids.nasa.gov/greenhouse-cards/ (be sure to click on each card to see its front & back)
Greenhouse gases (GHG) absorb and trap heat in the atmosphere like a greenhouse, hence their name and help warm our planet.
Earth’s existence depends on an exquisite and delicate balance of heat and cold. A Goldilocks zone: not too hot and not too cold.
Problems arise when this balance is thrown out of whack by the buildup of greenhouse gases (GHG) beyond the planet’s ability to use and/or absorb them. This disruption results in rising temperatures which is known as global warming. And global warming causes climate change with negative effects on our planet.
Who came up with this idea of a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is a concept which is related to, and grew out of an older idea of an ecological footprint, a concept invented in the early 1990s by Canadian ecologist William Rees and Swiss-born regional planner, Mathis Wackernagel at the University of British Columbia.
I initially thought the concept of a carbon footprint would have been promoted by large and influential environmental organizations like the Nature Conservancy, or perhaps the Sierra Club. What I discovered next surprised me. Ironically, it was popularized by British Petroleum (BP) in their early 2000s ad campaign: “Beyond Petroleum” (BP).
The BP ad campaign has been praised by some as being an exemplar of an oil corporation as a socially conscious company. Others have criticized it as presenting an inaccurate portrayal of the corporation.
Disagreements aside, let’s explore what a carbon footprint is.
It’s not visible like a footprint in the sand but everyone and everything has one.
The term carbon footprint is defined as the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG), usually measured in tons (2,000 lbs.) or metric tons (2,204 lbs.) , being emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere by an organization, event, product or individual directly or indirectly. And the symbol is CO2e.
Each of us contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG)emissions by everything we use, buy, eat, wear, how we travel and how we get around.
The average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons, one of the highest in the world. Globally, the average is closer to 4 tons per person.
So, if your carbon footprint isn’t visible, how can you wrap your head around what a ton of carbon dioxide and other GHG looks like, let alone 16 tons, if you live in the US?
In 2009, the United Nation’s climate talks in Copenhagen attempted to answer this question with the giant multi-media art installation by Millennium ART entitled, "CO2 CUBES: Visualize a Tonne of Change " https://youtu.be/ZfIM8f6nma4 . (best in full screen view) The cube is made of 12 shipping containers and measures 27′ x 27′ x 27′, the height of a three-story building. The CO2 CUBE represents one metric ton of carbon (2,204 pounds). It reflects the carbon footprint that an average citizen in an industrialized country produces in one month; this same amount is created by a U.S. citizen in only two weeks. The project's goal was that if the public could see the actual size of a ton of greenhouse gases (and not just imagine it), they would begin to understand their impact on the planet and work to find solutions to minimize the damage.
Another way to conceptualize a ton of carbon dioxide and other GHG is to use a carbon footprint calculator. Many are available online. None of them give an exact calculation of your individual carbon footprint. What they do is provide an indication of your carbon and GHG emissions based on the particulars of your life situation and personal choices you input into them.
Some calculators require you to gather as much information as possible about the things you and your family do that use energy before inputting this information in to it.
Others are more user-friendly and animated, too.
Another way to develop a carbon instinct is to watch a video(s) on how a seemingly ordinary thing(s) in your daily life then see the carbon footprint it creates.
Check out this video on the carbon footprint of a sandwich: http://www.facebook.com/NPR/videos/10155743247386756/
Calculating your carbon footprint is a way to figure out which changes you can make to have the most positive impact for our planet. These are personal and individual choices. Change isn’t easy and sometimes you have no readily available alternative but it’s a beginning.
I hope that this blog post gives you a basic understanding of greenhouse gases (GHG), the problematic impact of excessive GHG emissions and an understanding of a carbon footprint.
Next step for me, and I hope for you, too, is to explore the myriad innovative and intriguing responses to this issue of our time: carbon marketplace(s) where carbon is priced, usually by the ton, then traded almost like, a type of commodity; carbon offsets programs and projects where you buy carbon credits to negate your personal GHG emissions; making carbon credit donations, carbon capture, even carbon taxes.
David, Laurie. Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming. New York, Orchard Books, 2007.
Berners-Lee, Mike. How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything. 1st Edition, Vancouver, BC ; Berkeley [Calif.], Greystone Books, 2011.
Thomas, Isabel. This Book Will (Help) Cool the Climate: 50 Ways to Cut Pollution and Protect Our Planet! New York, Random House, 2018.
“Household Carbon Footprint Calculator.” Environmental Protection Agency, 2021, www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator.
“Carbon Footprint Calculator.” Global Footprint Network, Global Footprint Network, 2021, www.footprintcalculator.org.
NASA Climate Kids. NASA, climatekids.nasa.gov. Accessed 3 June 2021.
Cole, Adam. “How Your Sandwich Changed the World.” YouTube, uploaded by Skunk Bear NPR, 20 June 2017, www.facebook.com/NPR/videos/10155743247386756.
“CO2 Cube Highlights.” YouTube, uploaded by Obsura Digital, 14 Dec. 2009, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfIM8f6nma4.
Some Related Books from Our Collection:
"How to reduce your carbon footprint: 365 simple ways to save energy, resources, and money" by Joanna Yarrow.
"The climate diet : 50 simple ways to trim your carbon footprint" by Paul Greenberg. New York: Penguin Books, 2021.
"Earth-saving acts for eco-warriors: join the fight for a sustainable future". New York: Sterling, 2021.
"How to unfu*k the planet: a little bit each day" by Jo Stewart. Melbourne, Vic. : Smithi Street Books, 2021.
"Inconspicuous consumption: the environmental impact that you don't know you have" by Tatiana Schlossberg. New York : Grand Central Publishing, 2019.
"The zero-waste lifestyle: live well by throwing away less" by Amy Korst. Berkeley, CA : Ten Speed Press, 2012.
"Living without plastic: more than 100 easy swaps for home, travel, dining, holidays, and beyond" by Brigette Allen and Christine Wong. New York, NY : Artisan Books, 2020
I often hear on the news, more so during these pandemic days, this phrase, “the number or percentage of individuals and families in the US living at or below the poverty level”.
It got me thinking. What constitutes poverty in America?
Here’s what I discovered:
President Johnson announced an “unconditional war on poverty” in his first State of the Union address in January 1964. He considered the depth and extent of poverty in the country (nearly 20 percent of Americans) to be a national disgrace that merited a national response. Since then there have been numerous efforts to improve the official poverty measure. Currently, there are three different versions of federal poverty measures: poverty thresholds, poverty guidelines (official U.S. poverty measure OPM) and beginning in 2010, Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM).
Poverty thresholds are issued by the Census Bureau. They are used for statistically calculating
the number of people in poverty without any geographic variation. Poverty guidelines, sometimes loosely referred to as the “federal poverty level” (FPL) are issued by Dept. of Health & Human Service and are administrative figures used to determine financial eligibility for certain federal programs. Guidelines vary by family size.
And there is one set of figures for the 48 contiguous states and D.C (below).; another set for Alaska; and one for Hawaii.
The Supplemental Poverty Measure or SPM was introduced by the Census Bureau in 2010 to provide an alternative view of poverty in the United States that better reflects life in the 21st century, including contemporary social and economic realities and government policy. As its name suggests, the SPM supplements but does not replace the official poverty measure (OPM), which remains the nation’s source for official poverty statistics and for determining means-tested program eligibility.
Another poverty measurement tool which has gained traction is a United Way project, the ALICE Report. ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed.
ALICE households earn more than the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), but less than they need to afford a basic survival budget. The ALICE threshold represents the minimum income level necessary for survival for a household. Derived from the House Survival Budget, the ALICE threshold is rounded to American Community Survey www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/programs-surveys/acs income category and adjusted for household size and composition for each NJ county.
Essex County, New Jersey, 2018 (below):
Sources: ALICE Threshold, 2007-2018; American Community Survey, 2007-2018
Source: ALICE Threshold, 2018; American Community Survey, 2018
The Household Survival Budget (see below) reflects the bare minimum cost to live and work in the modern economy and includes housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, technology (a smartphone plan), and taxes. It does not include savings for emergencies or future goals like college or retirement.
In 2018, household costs were well above the Federal Poverty Level of $12,490 for a single adult and $25,750 for a family of four.
Based on the overwhelming success of ALICE research in identifying and articulating the needs of vulnerable populations, this work has grown from a pilot in Morris County, New Jersey to 21 states and more than 648 United Ways.
There isn’t one single figure which defines poverty. There are multiple guidelines designated by various agencies in the U.S. – federal, state, local and non-profits.
Some programs call for a multiple of the federal poverty level (FPL); other it’s just the amounts determined by particular agency.
Geography matters. Cost of living ranges in different parts of America.
There are poverty guidelines, thresholds and weighted averages. Definition of income varies: net income for some programs; gross income for others.
What strikes me is how exacting and complicated it is to calculate poverty in America. And how much effort and research are invested in defining and calculating it.
Yet, what intrigued me more is when I discovered in the FAQs section of U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning (ASPE) website, that the federal government does NOT have official definitions for such terms as “middle class”, “middle income”, “rich”.
US Dept. of Health & Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning & Evaluation
United for A.L.I.C.E.
2020 ALICE Report for NJ
United Way of Northern NJ
https://www.unitedwaynnj.org is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, f
Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin - Madison
Books about & related to poverty and income in our collection:
"Maid: hard work, low pay, and a mother's will to survive" by Stephanie Land. New York: Hachette Books, 2019.
“$2.00 a day: living on almost nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaefer.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.
“Give people money: how a universal basic income would end poverty, revolutionize work and remake the work” by Annie Lowrey. New York: Crown, 2018.
“Nickel and dimed: on (not) getting by in America” by Barbara Ehrenreich. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001.
“This is all I got: a new mother’s search for home” by Lauren Sandler.
New York: Random House, 2020.
You would think that as the daughter of an Irish-Welsh mother who made AMAZING Italian food that I’d know the difference between PANCETTA and PROSCIUTTO.
Not so. But I'm learning.
Here’s what I discovered:
Pancetta is a cured meat made from pork belly and needs to be cooked before eating. Pancetta is Italian for “bacon”. The key factor is the need to cook it. It’s cheaper, too.
Prosciutto is a cured meat, too. It is the Italian word for “ham”. I found there’s a hierarchy of cured ham, and not just Italian, each with its own distinct taste: speck (Italian), jamon serrano and jamon iberico (Spanish), even American prosciutto exists.
Spanish jamon iberico is the most expensive and perhaps the rarest of the cured hams listed above. It comes from a special breed of free-range black-skinned pigs native to the Iberian Peninsula. Famously, they forage for acorns in protected oak forests. This ham costs $100.00 - $200. per pound.
Speck and jamon serrano range from $25.00 to $35.00 per pound.
But Italy’s prosciutto di Parma is best known.
It’s even named-protected. A combination of factors gives it its distinctive character - location (Parma), the breed and diet of pigs, section of pig used (the hind leg), curing method and length of curing time. It’s all natural, too. The price reflects this tradition-bound method ranging from $22.00 to more than $40.00 pound.
It is one of few hams awarded the elite PDO(Protected Designation of Origin) status from the European Union.
PDO certifies high quality European foods that are produced using traditional methods in a specific region.
Prosciutto di Parma is fully traced from the birth of the pigs to the final product which is branded with the Parma Crown as a guarantee of authenticity, quality and consistency.
I guess by now you can tell I’ve been taken by both the unique flavor and history of prosciutto di Parma.
No more pancetta for me.
So, next time I make Lidia Bastianich’s recipe for Verza e Prosciutto (braised cabbage with prosciutto) from her cookbook, Lidia’s commonsense Italian cooking: 150 delicious and simple recipes anyone can master, you can bet that I'll go whole hog (no pun intended) and get prosciutto di Parma. Recipe only calls for 3 ounces.
List of Italian cookbooks from our collection:
Lidia’s commonsense Italian cooking: 150 delicious and simple recipes anyone can master by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich Tanya Bastianich Manuali. New York: Knopf, 2015.
“Italian moms: something old, something new: 150 family recipes by Elisa Costantini with Frank Costantini. New York: Sterling Epicure, 2018.
“This is Sunday dinner: 52 seasonal Italian menus” by Lisa Caponigri. New York: Sterling Epicure, 2018.
“Felidia: recipes from my flagship restaurant” by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich with Chef Fortunato Nicotra and Tanya Bastianich Manuali. New York: Knopf, 2019.
The Curiosity Corner is Glen Ridge Public Library's new virtual locale where fleeting questions are captured and pursued.
You know the ones that pop into our mind while we're having our morning coffee, walking our dog or just taking out the trash. Our usual response is: "Where did that come from?" Yet these questions spark something in us. Lighthearted, silly or serious, let's give them their due. You never know where they may lead us - perhaps to new interests or hobbies that could enrich our lives.
Plan on meeting me at the Curiosity Corner at the intersection of Wonder and Why right here on this blog. It's where I'll offer up my own question(s) then share with you what I discovered.