Lesson 1 Activity 1 - Carbon Footprint Calculator

In the online activity, students will use an online carbon footprint calculator to investigate ways of reducing their carbon footprint.
  • Watch video on the Carbon Footprint Calculator Activity
  • Review climate as a complex adaptive system
  • Complete the Carbon Footprint Calculator activity
  • Check your understanding
  • Consider changes that might help reduce your carbon footprint

Video on the Carbon Footprint Calculator Activity

Climate as a complex adaptive system: [download full document here]

  • The differences between climate and weather: Weather is the experienced temperature and precipitation on a given day or for a few days. Weather models track changes in weather systems and lose accuracy after a few days. Climate deals with change over decades or even 100 years into the future. Climate by definition is the statistics of the weather of an area over a long period of time.
  • Climate as a complex adaptive system: It is made up of many parts that are highly interconnected and interacting, there are feedback loops, there are non-linearities (evaporation, condensation), there are chaotic dynamics (small changes in initial conditions lead to large differences in outcomes), and there is distal causality (chain reactions can trigger events far away from an action’s starting point).
  • The evidence for climate change: The period between 1990 and today has been the warmest period in the global temperature record. Current climate change, according to the IPCC, is more than 90% likely to be human-induced. Carbon dioxide levels have been rising for at least 50 years. Carbon from fossil fuels is being added to the atmosphere. Evidence from ice cores show a very strong correlation between carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures.

Carbon Footprint Calculator activity:

In this activity, students will navigate to the Online Carbon Footprint Calculator on the EPA website and work through the calculator to gain an understanding of how their actions contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.  This calculator can be used individually.

  • One's carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group, etc.  
  • In this activity you will evaluate how you could reduce their carbon footprint through simple actions.
  • Next, navigate to the online calculator, at http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/students/calc/index.html   This calculator will work in any browser that is JavaScript enabled.
  • There is also a spreadsheet available on the EPA site at http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/students/documents/CalculateYourImpact.xlsx that can be used if you do not have internet access.
  • Have the students go through the calculator.
  • Collect results and discuss. Who is saving more carbon, and why?
     What changes help reduce the carbon footprint?
  • Go through the calculator together but only changing one aspect (e.g. taking the bus instead of cars). 
  • What was most surprising?
  • What would be the hardest and also the easiest changes to make?

Quiz questions

1 point
Which of the following factors is NOT causing more Greenhouse Gas emissions?

1 point
What is a carbon footprint?


Reflect on the characteristics of complex adaptive systems that can be seen in Climate and record these in your portfolio in "Reflections->Complex Adaptive Systems" under the heading "Climate as a complex adaptive system."

Record the results from the Carbon Footprint Calculator in this spreadsheet  Carbon Footprint spreadsheet and add it to your portfolio in the section "SL Nova Projects - Earth" under the heading "Carbon Footprint Calculation".