What's Your Carbon Footprint?

Contributor: Roxann Penny. Lesson ID: 12759

Do you leave footprints when you walk on the beach or in the mud (but not in the house, of course!)? You leave ecological footprints when you turn on a light, ride in a car or throw out trash! Really!


Earth Science, People and Their Environment

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Did you know that every time you turn on the lights in your home, drive to the store, or turn up the thermostat, you leave a "footprint" on the Earth? Continue exploring this lesson to find out more.

What is a carbon footprint?

To begin, take a closer look at the meaning of the expression, "carbon footprint." A carbon footprint is the general term used to quantify the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere from using fossil fuels. Now, if your general response to this explanation is a mild "Huh?", don't worry — there is a simpler way of understanding what a carbon footprint is.

Take a look at this brief animated video, 5 Facts About Your Carbon Footprint, presented by the National Park Service, explaining what a carbon footprint is and why it matters. Pay attention so you can answer the questions below:

When you are finished watching the video, reflect on the following questions and record your thoughts in the spaces provides below. Then, discuss your answers with your instructor:

You may be wondering what the term "fossil fuel" means. Fossil fuels are natural resources that were formed within the earth a long time ago. These fuels are used to produce energy. They include coal, natural gas, and petroleum.

  • Can you guess some things that each of these fossil fuels is used for?

Every day, tons of fossil fuel sources are extracted from the earth to produce goods and services. When some of these fossil fuels are used, they produce potentially toxic gases into our atmosphere. For example, automobiles use petroleum to move. The petroleum used produces carbon dioxide as a by-product.

Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring gas. It is odorless, and is formed in nature when oxygen, water vapor, and carbon atoms are combined. However, when excessive amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere, they can trap too much heat within the Earth's atmosphere. This can be problematic for various reasons.

  • Can you think of some these reasons?

Reducing your carbon footprint!

There are many things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. With your parent or teacher, brainstorm some ways you think you can reduce your carbon footprint. When you are done, watch this video, presented by Curious Kids: Eco Footprint, to learn more about carbon footprints. While watching, see if any of your brainstorming ideas appear in the video (The relevant part of the video is a bit long and will end at 22:16, so get comfortable):

ecological footprints

  • Do you always remember to turn off the lights when you leave a room?
  • Do you recycle?

Previously, you learned that reducing your carbon footprint doesn't have to be complicated; what really matters is how proactive you are in preventing waste and conserving energy.

Continue to the Got It? section of this lesson to assess your understanding of what a carbon footprint is.

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