Environment and Society in a Changing World

Written Assignment 2: Carbon Footprints and Individual vs Collective Action


This assignment  requires you to write  a clear, well-organized paper (500-750 words) which responds to the prompt provided below and demonstrates you have read the material in the modules.

First and foremost, I am grading your comprehension of the course material. To get a good grade, you must show me that you have read and understood the content from the modules we have covered so far.

Second, I am grading for critical thinking and analysis. How well do you form and support your arguments with evidence from the course material or external sources?

Third, I am grading for clean and quality writing. This means your paper should be well-written, thoroughly proofread, answer all parts of the prompt, and cite and format any/all sources correctly (see course Orientation for guidance on the APA style we expect you to use in this class).

Written Assignment Instructions

The global carbon cycle refers to the processes by which carbon is emitted, transferred, and stored within the Earth system. Carbon is usually emitted in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4), often through the use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil. These carbon emissions are first stored in the atmosphere and can be transferred out of the atmosphere via processes such as vegetation respiration, through which plant life absorbs carbon dioxide. Figure A.2 displays schematically other facets of the carbon cycle, such as carbon transfer from the atmosphere to the ocean.

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Figure A.2: A generalized schematic of the carbon cycle
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Carbon Processes:

Atmosphere: Burning Fossil Fuels, Decay, Respiration, Burning, Photosynthesis, Carbon Dioxide Exchange with the oceans. All except photosynthesis put carbon into the atmosphere.

Oceans: Carbon Dioxide exchange with the atmosphere, phytoplankton, sinking sediment, deep circulation, rock formation, weathering and run off. All except rock formation put/spread out carbon in the oceans.

Carbon Stores:

Sediments and sedimentary rock (caused by rock formation), ocean surface (caused by CO2 exchange), deep ocean (caused by sinking sediment, run off, phytoplankton and circulation), atmosphere (Caused by all atmospheric carbon processes listed above except photosynthesis), vegetation (caused by photosynthesis), soil and organic matter, coal, oil & gas.

Credit: Science Learning Hub – Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao, University of Waikato, 

The global climate cycle has become of heightened interest in recent decades, as fossil fuel burning has rapidly increased the amount of carbon stored in the atmosphere. Paleoclimate records – indicators of previous climate conditions – show us that the Earth has had drastic swings in atmospheric carbon levels throughout its 4.6 billion year history, which initially suggests that there is nothing abnormal about present atmospheric carbon levels. However, the rapid rate at which carbon is being stored in the atmosphere is leading to abrupt shifts in climate conditions. The speed at which these climate changes are occurring threatens the ability for animals – including humans – to adapt successfully. Accordingly, there is a pressing need to reduce carbon emissions from the industrial to the household level.

In this assignment, you will be examining your carbon footprint and how you and others like you can reduce their carbon footprint through individual or collective action. A carbon footprint is an indicator of the amount of carbon dioxide and methane we produce through various activities, either individually or collectively. It includes the carbon produced through how we travel (e.g., via car, airplane, or public transit), our home energy use, and even our diets. For example, consuming beef products produces carbon in multiple ways, including but not limited to: decreased carbon sequestration due to deforestation for cattle grazing, methane emitted by cows, and the emissions of vehicles transporting meat to a grocery store. An important takeaway is that although our actions may not always directly produce carbon, the choices we make can indirectly result in carbon emissions.

Writting the paper

To write this paper, you must do some research. First, read about carbon footprints on The Nature Conservancy carbon footprint calculator website and the Global Footprint Network website. As you read, think about the spatial patterns of carbon footprints (i.e., how carbon footprints vary by individual, household, state and even country). Consider the international differences between net (i.e., total) carbon emissions and per capita (i.e., per unit population) carbon emissions. Feel free to find other external references on carbon footprints. Remember to in-text cite and reference all external sources.

Second, use either the United States EPA Carbon Footprint Calculator or The Nature Conservancy Carbon Footprint Calculator to estimate and analyze your carbon footprint. Note that most of your carbon footprint is indirect and will be determined by your lifestyle. Find out what choices (e.g., transportation, diet, etc.) have the most substantial carbon footprint.

Finally, consider individual and collective actions that can be made to reduce carbon emissions. Consider your personal carbon footprint as you propose ways to decrease carbon emissions. Feel free to research some ideas for these actions – just be sure to cite and reference your source(s).

Based on the previous activities, write a paper of 500-750 words responding to the following questions:

  1. What is your carbon footprint? Include a screenshot of your carbon footprint. What habits or choices (e.g., amount of travel, shopping habits, etc.) explain your carbon footprint? Note: Your income is used to estimate your carbon footprint from the use of industrial goods. This is not a very exact estimate. Do not mention your income in your written assignment.
  2. How would you explain the spatial differences in carbon footprints? What factors (e.g., wealth/GDP, population, etc.) would you attribute to these spatial contrasts in carbon footprints? You may need to reference outside source(s) to fully respond to this prompt.
  3. What individual and collective actions can be taken to reduce your individual carbon footprint and the carbon footprint of your community or country?

You  must engage at least three course concepts  in your paper. Remember engaging a course concept means defining that concept and explaining how it helps you think about the theme of your paper.  Please bold the concepts you engage in your response.

Review the grading rubric before completing your assignment.