Your Carbon Footprint: Calculating, Reducing and Offsetting Your Impact
Calculating carbon footprints
First of all, carbon footprints can be calculated in one of two ways: using a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method (more accurate and specific), or it can be restricted to the immediately attributable emissions from energy use of fossil fuels (more general). To use your car's carbon footprint as an example: the first method would take into account all carbon emissions required to build the car (including all the metal, plastic, glass and other materials), drive the car and dispose of the car; the second would account only for the fossil fuels that resulted from building, driving and disposing of it.
Further, there's more than one way to run the numbers, depending on how they're going to be used. Top-down calculations, like those done in the world map above and the US state map below, that calculate per capita carbon footprints, take total emissions from a country (or other high-level group, organization, etc.) and divide these emissions among the residents or otherwise applicable group. Bottom-up calculations, like with your car's carbon emissions from the example above, sum attributable carbon emissions from individual actions.
But it's not just about the carbon -- keep reading for other parts of the calculation.