The Austin Chronicle

A Glossary of Cool

By Katherine Gregor, March 9, 2007, News

A quick definition of terms used in describing the Austin Climate Protection Plan.

Greenhouse gases: atmospheric gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect and thus to global warming. Human activities (particularly burning fossil fuels) are responsible for the buildup of excessive and fast-increasing levels of greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.

Renewable energy: wind, solar, biomass, and (debatably) water power, used to produce electricity. All are considered renewable because they're derived from resources that are regenerative or inexhaustible and produce a minimum of greenhouse gases.

Biomass energy: derived by burning solid bio-matter such as wood, corn, dried manure, the biogenic portion of municipal solid waste, and the nonedible portions of field crops – sugarcane residue, wheat chaff, corn cobs. However, net CO2 emissions can result, due to the use of fossil fuels to plant, fertilize, harvest, and transport the crops.

Carbon neutrality: a conceptual goal of being responsible for no net greenhouse-gas emissions. Going carbon neutral requires 1) calculating one's total climate-damaging carbon emissions, 2) reducing them as much as possible, and 3) compensating for one's remaining emissions, typically by buying a carbon offset credit (see "Carbon Neutrality").

Carbon footprint: a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by an individual person, organization, or company, as part of their everyday operations or lives. Typically measured in tons of CO2 emitted annually, one's carbon footprint is directly related to consumption of fossil fuels and of electricity from nonrenewable energy sources.

Carbon footprint calculator: a tool to measure one's CO2 emissions. For individuals, calculators consider factors such as car, public transport, and air travel; electricity and other utility use; energy efficiency of home appliances; home heating; diet and food transport; and all products and services consumed. Advice is provided on how to reduce one's "carbon footprint" in each area.

Zero net-energy capable: as applied to a home or other building, the capability to use minimal fossil-fuel energy and to self-generate renewable energy equal to the amount consumed, for a net use of zero. Typically, self-generation would be achieved with solar panels. Under the ACPP, this is the goal for all new houses by 2015.

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