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Carbon Dioxide Calculator Table of Contents: (1.) The Carbon Cycle and Mankind

Carbon Dioxide Calculator

Table of Contents:

(1.) The Carbon Cycle and Mankind

(2.) Activity: Calculating Your Emissions of Carbon Dioxide

The Carbon Cycle and Mankind

We have seen that plants sequester large sums of carbon in themselves.  They are able to do this since, on average, photosynthesis produces more sugar than what is need by the plant during its respiration phase.  As long as the plant is alive, it will continue to take carbon dioxide out of the air.  However, we also found that a plant will return all of that carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere after it dies if the wood is burned or allowed to decay.

In this week’s lab, we are going to investigate what effect mankind has on the carbon cycle.  In particular, we are going to estimate the amount of carbon dioxide that each one of us is responsible for emitting each year.  This analysis is going to study only those day-to-day activities that emit carbon dioxide, and not look at the unique events that we have that also emit carbon dioxide (like bulldozing a forest and grinding up the trees).   Our modern way of life relies heavily on the emission of carbon dioxide.  When we think about this, we often limit ourselves to the use of automobiles and trucks and a few industrial processes.  We understand that when we burn the gasoline in our engines, we are oxidizing the fuel and creating carbon dioxide.  However, there are other activities in our life that also emit CO2, even though we do not see the oxidation. When we use electricity, we are also emitting carbon dioxide.  The majority of the electricity created in the state of Georgia is derived from burning natural gas or coal.  We also emit CO2 when we heat and cool our homes, since this requires the use of electricity or the burning of natural gas, propane, heating oil, or wood.  Even our creation of garbage releases carbon dioxide in the environment.  If this garbage is put into a landfill, it decays and puts CO2 back into the atmosphere.  If it is recycled, energy of some form will be used to accomplish this, emitting CO2 in the process.

Calculating Your Emissions of Carbon Dioxide

So how much carbon dioxide is emitted to the atmosphere through your daily activities? To answer this question, you will use an online
Household Carbon Footprint Calculator developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The calculator sums the carbon dioxide produced by your driving, electricity use, and waste disposal, and provides you with an estimate of your annual carbon dioxide emissions. The calculator then allows you to see how changes in your lifestyle could reduce your carbon dioxide emissions.

Before you begin
Americans tend to contribute a lot of carbon dioxide through driving, so it is therefore vitally important that you know your vehicle’s gas mileage. To assist you, the US Department of Energy and EPA have created a web site that allows users to look up the gas mileage for any vehicle made from 1985 through the present. Your first step is to determine your vehicle’s gas mileage from this site. After entering the year, make, and model of your vehicle, you will be provided with its city and highway gas mileage. For simplicity’s sake, assume that half of the miles you drive are highway travel, and the other half are city/suburban travel unless your mileage patterns differ. To obtain a single value for gas mileage, simply use the average of the city and highway mileages listed.

Vehicle Fuel Economy Resources

Online database of vehicle fuel efficiencies

U.S. Department of Energy

Complete the
Household Carbon Footprint Calculator and enter the appropriate information in the Activity sheet. The use of the calculator is largely self-explanatory, so detailed directions will not be provided. A few comments, though:

(1.) In the Transportation section, make sure you select the appropriate time frame (week or year) for your entered mileage.
(2.) In the Home Energy section, enter the average of your summer and winter electric and gas bills.

Household Carbon Footprint Calculator

Allows users to analyze their emissions of CO2 and learn ways to reduce them

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

*Note: If you have trouble loading the page, press the reload button or try a different browser.


Let me know if you have any problems with it.


The activity sheet will ask you to enter and analyze values from this first run of the calculator, and then use the subsequent section of the calculator to investigate how you can reduce your carbon dioxide emissions. A portion of the activity asks you to consider the change from a conventional vehicle to a more efficient gasoline/electric powered “hybrid” vehicle. To learn more about such vehicles, visit the link below.

Hybrid Electric Vehicle Program

Information about hybrid vehicles

U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Transportation Technologies

Greenhouse Gas Calculator: Personal Impacts 2

ESA 21: Environmental Science Activities

Activity Sheet

Personal Impact Analysis

Name: Professor:

1. (15 points)
Calculating your total emissions:

Enter the values from the

Household Carbon Footprint Calculator
in the table below and calculate the percent of total emissions for each.

(*Note: If you have trouble loading the page, press the reload button or try a different browser.)


Lbs. of CO2 per year

Percent of Total Emissions

Household Vehicles

Home Energy – Natural Gas

Home Energy – Electricity

Home Energy – Fuel Oil

Home Energy – Propane

Waste – Emissions after Recycling

Total Annual Emissions


For each question below, fully explain your answer.

2. (15 points) In what category were your emissions highest? Does this surprise you? Why or why not? Please explain fully using at least one paragraph.

3. (15 points) How did your household’s overall emissions compare with the average of 60,000 lbs. per year? Does the magnitude of your emissions surprise you? ? Why or why not? Please explain fully using at least one paragraph.

4. (10 points)
Making Changes:

If your results are typical, your emissions from Transportation comprised a significant amount of your overall emissions. Let’s see how a highly fuel efficient vehicle would affect your carbon dioxide contributions. A number of “hybrid” gasoline powered vehicles are currently available, and these vehicles get significantly higher mileage than conventional vehicles. One example is the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid, which has a combined (average of city and highway) fuel efficiency of 42 MPG. In the first part of the
What You Can Do to Reduce Emissions section, enter the appropriate value to increase your current vehicle’s mileage to 42 MPG (enter the difference between your current MPG and 42 MPG). Hit the Tab key to register the change, and list the resultant reductions below. You can obtain the New CO2 emissions by subtracting the “lbs CO2 avoided” from your previous total, or by scrolling down to the end of the calculator.

Percent Reduction in CO2

New CO2 emissions

Switching to hybrid vehicle

5. (15 points) After seeing the carbon reductions and visiting the web site on hybrid vehicles, would you be willing to seriously investigate buying such a vehicle? Explain why or why not.

6. (15 points) Clear the preceding change in vehicle mileage by highlighting the value you entered, entering “0” in its place, and pressing the TAB key. Then proceed through
Reduce Emissions section, and choose at least three options that you would be willing to embrace. If you need to enter values (more MPG, thermostat changes, etc.) make sure they are reasonable changes. List the three changes below and list the percent reductions in your total emissions that occurred as a result of each.


Percent reduction in annual CO2 emissions

7. (15 points) Seeing the reductions in emissions that occur as a result of these changes, would you be willing to immediately implement any of them? Explain why or why not.

Greenhouse Gas Calculator: Personal Impacts 2


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