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What’s my carbon footprint?

© iStockphoto.com / Morgan Lane Studios © iStockphoto.com / Morgan Lane Studios

By Alison Baenen
From Green Goes Simple

Greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide emissions, fossil fuels . . . unless you're an environmental policy wonk, an earth activist or an ecosexual (a new breed of online singles looking for sustainably committed partners -- seriously!), it's hard to keep all of today's green-minded jargon straight.

Carbon footprint -- a phrase that has become as ubiquitous in pop culture as "LOL" -- has a simple definition, but for the everyday person, understanding its parts takes some digging.

In short, our individual carbon footprint equals the amount of carbon dioxide we give off. You're giving some off right now just by exhaling, but what concerns environmentalists are the emissions we release indirectly.

Heating your home, driving a car and even buying a carpet (more on that later) all contribute to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Of course, some carbon dioxide in the air is natural -- and necessary, since trees and plants absorb it and use it for photosynthesis.

But climatologists are concerned that we're producing too much of it. The result is that carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is trapping heat from the sun and sending it back to Earth, resulting in global warming.

It's a big problem, but there are ways to reduce your own carbon emissions (carbon footprint sounds much cooler, right?), thus helping decrease global warming. Here are five easy ways to step lightly:

Change your bulbs.

Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). They last longer, use less energy and will save you money.

Take a walk.

Drive less, bike more. Your bod -- and the globe -- will thank you. 

Warm up your windows.

Adding a layer of insulation to your windows will keep warmth in and heating costs down.   

Reduce waste.

Cut down on what you throw away, and use reusable goods whenever possible. If you can, compost your food. Reducing household waste and putting energy back into the earth means less trash in landfills and more land to plant carbon dioxide-absorbing trees.

5. Go for small.

When it comes to rugs in your home, smaller ones require less energy to make. Perfect for your smaller footprint!

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