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Treading lightly: How to gauge my carbon footprint?

First, find out how big it is by using a free online calculator.

Liu Ning, a engineer, has been riding his bike to work along the waterfront for the past year during the morning commute in San Francisco, California.

Tony Avelar/ Special to the Christian Sceince Monitor

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Q: How can I measure – and then reduce – my overall “carbon footprint”? What are the major ­areas of one’s daily life that one measures?
Andy Fusco, Passaic, N.J.

A: With global warming dominating so many headlines today, it’s no surprise that many of us are looking to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases our activities produce.

By assessing how much pollution each of your individual actions generates – be it setting your thermostat, shopping for groceries, commuting to work, or flying somewhere for vacation – you can begin to see how changing a few habits here and there may significantly reduce your overall carbon footprint. A number of free online carbon footprint calculators can help you figure out where to start.

One of the best, in our opinion, is the University of California at Berkeley’s Cool Climate Calculator. The free Web-based tool takes into account daily driving mileage and grocery and electricity expenses, among other factors, to assign a carbon score. Users can then compare their scores to similar households across the 28 largest urban areas in the United States. Some of the results are surprising. For example, residents of ecoaware San Francisco tend to have bigger carbon footprints than those in more conservative Tampa, Fla. The reason: San Francisco has a higher cost of living as well as colder, wetter winters (requiring more fossil-fuel-derived heat).

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