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Environment: treading lightly on the Earth
Environment: treading lightly on the Earth

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2.3.6 Carbon footprint at home

The carbon footprint, as an indicator of how heavily people are ‘treading on the Earth’ and affecting the climate, is a rather abstract idea. Videos 2 and 3 are a collection of extracts from a BBC/OU TV programme, Can we save planet Earth?, which provides striking images of a household’s footprint as black blocks of carbon coming out of a house, car and power station. Although the programme was made in 2006, the issues it discusses are still relevant today, even though some of the information it presents has changed. For example, as you’ve seen, China has now overtaken the USA to become by far the world’s largest CO2 emitter. Video 2 examines the carbon emissions of a fictional average suburban family – the Carbons – who live in a rich country, like the USA.

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Video 2 The Carbons
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Now watch Video 3 which looks at the Tans, a fictional and upwardly mobile couple who are about to move into a new apartment block in a suburb of a Chinese city, mainly fuelled by carbon-heavy electricity from China’s coal-fired power stations.

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Video 3 The Tans
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Activity 6 The Carbons and the Tans

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes
  • a.According to the video, what are the main sources of CO2 and other GHG emissions created by the Carbons’ and the Tans’ households?
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Answer

The Carbons’ main GHG emission sources shown on the video are: electricity for household electronics and appliances; their cars; food distribution and consumption; decomposing waste; and flights. The Tans’ main emission sources are not detailed, but focus on building construction and electricity from coal-fired power stations.

  • b.What major source of emissions does the video not mention explicitly?
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Answer

The direct emissions from the fuel (probably gas or oil) used for heating the Carbons’ house and providing hot water, and the indirect emissions from the production and consumption of the goods and services to support the Carbons’ and Tans’ lifestyles, are not explicitly mentioned.