The “carbon” part of “carbon footprint” refers to the carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming. Robert Fulford offers the following etymological description of the “footprint” metaphor:
In the 1960s, the term was used to describe the landing area for spacecraft, or the land covered by a building.
In the 1970s, it was used to describe the “sonic footprint” (noise pollution) of aircraft.
In the 1990s, it was used to describe the area covered by broadcasting satellites before finally assuming its current ecological significance.
We call it a carbon footprint because it is associated with what you leave behind. We leave footprints after we walk or run and the carbon footprint is the amount of carbon we use that we leave behind.
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