By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Monday is Earth Day, an international day to focus on the environment. Climate experts say our carbon footprint – the greenhouse gases we create – plays a big role in the warming of our planet.

So what makes up our carbon footprint? Good question.

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“In the United States, our greenhouse gas emissions have bounced around over the last few years,” said Jessica Hellman, director of the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment.

But here in Minnesota, our emissions have dropped even as our population has grown.

“That has largely to do in Minnesota with how we have cleaned up our electricity sector,” Hellman said.

Electricity makes up about a quarter of Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions. As we’ve moved away from coal and toward wind and solar, that’s fallen 30%. Our appliances also use less electricity.

Transportation makes up another quarter.

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“Transportation not as much progress because we still, for the most part, rely on gasoline to power our vehicles,” Hellman said.

Even though our cars guzzle less gas, we’re buying bigger trucks and SUVs. Third is agriculture, where both the fertilizer and animals create lots of greenhouse gases.

Rounding out the rest: industry, home and commercial heating and waste.

“If you calculate all the lightbulbs and bicycle rides, you could be discouraged, but you’re never just one person in society,” Hellman said.

Hellman says if you make environmentally-friendly choices, your neighbors might, too, along with lawmakers and companies that want to sell products to you. She says that’s where the real change comes.

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If you’d like to measure your family’s carbon footprint, check out this online calculator from the EPA.

Heather Brown