Your Carbon Footprint in Simple Terms

Updated July 2014

We all hear a great deal about our carbon footprint and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions these days.  According to, a carbon footprint is defined as:

The total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).

But it’s hard to understand the real impact that we have when the numbers are stated in obscure terms like metric tons of emissions. Here are a couple of simple facts to give you and idea of how much you are helping or hurting the environment.

Gas Can.jpg

Simple Fact #1

1 gallon of gasoline, burned in an automobile, produces almost 20 pounds of CO2 emissions.

This is from, the website of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Simple Fact #2

1 tree (in the humid tropics) absorbs on average 50 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) every year, or roughly 1 pound each week.

This is from Trees for the Future, a group driving environmentally sustainable land management projects focused on beneficial tree planting.

In an effort to provide a simple reference we will often refer to these facts in Simple Ecology articles to give you a relative understanding of the impact of your activities.  We have chosen to present them in terms of:

  • the equivalent CO2 emissions created if burning a gallon of gasoline

  • the time it takes a tree to remove this CO2 from the atmosphere

Here's an example:
If you drive a vehicle that gets 20 mpg you will emit ONE pound of CO2 every mile you drive.  For a 50-mile trip, it will take ONE TREE a full YEAR to remove this amount of CO2 from the atmosphere.  If you drive 10,000 miles per year, that’s 200 trees!  Hopefully this will give you an easy to understand perspective of the environmental impact that you have.